Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Annual Review... or something else

"Annual Review", there...I said it! No other phrase within the business world congers such demons or causes such drastic emotional and physical negative reactions from people. This process has so broadly been abused over the years and so much has been proven wrong about it, that it is really surprising anyone even does it.  I think Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software does a good job of summing it up here!

Last year we did a pretty good job breaking this equation... you can read about it here! The general feedback from the team members was positive and most felt like it was of high value to all members involved. We are now a year older and I hope a little wiser and we did a refactoring to make it even better.

During the training of the process we stressed how the process was more about creating discussion points as opposed to, evaluating, scoring and ranking. Despite how hard we tried to communicate this, it seems all of the questions still came down to the point system or scoring (which doesn't exist). So I tried to do a better job of understanding of what was going on here.

Working from the outside in... I tried to reflect on the best reviews I had done and what was different about them. The easiest (and most effective) reviews were hardly reviews at all and more of just conversations. The consistent thing about these reviews were they were with people that were very, VERY self aware.  When the person was self aware we simply agreed on areas and methods of support and both found the process easy and of high value... well worth the time, effort and energy. So maybe that is the key! Instead of focusing on a one way review of performance, we should be focused on alignment of performance between the parties involved. Maybe finding the discrepancies in performance and expectations, understanding context and specifics, and agreeing on or being aligned across them should be the focus... Maybe working (coaching) toward self awareness is ultimate goal in all this? Think about it, if everyone in your organization was self aware or if all leaders and team members we aligned on performance levels and expectations, would we still need an annual review? Couldn't we simply agree on salary increases and call it done?
A rose by any other name wouldn't smell as sweet. This might be true for flowers but I am not so sure about business processes. We weren't ahead of ourselves enough this year to get the name changed, but next year there is a pretty good we will be having an Annual Alignment Process (AAP) instead of having an Annual Review Process (ARP)! If you are interested in what we came up with you can down load the paper version of the Annual Review Process (ARP) here! The online process will be part of SPARC'D.

Two more points about APR...

While discussing the APR with some other organizations one mentioned that while they asked the team members to not look at it as a scoring mechanism, behind the scenes they would use it to create a score and then the score would be utilized to manage salary increases. Having a hard number just feels so good! :D  In a recent meeting with my fellow Senior Support Team members, our wisest member posed a question. "How did we get here?" on this team I think he meant. It must have been a rhetorical question because he answered it himself pretty quickly. His answer was money though, "we all got here because we suck at a lot of things." This might seem odd, but it was true. The reason we all raised to the senior level wasn't because we were great at everything... but just really, really good at a few. There's a whole book dedicated to understanding this... Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, where he describes that the really amazing people are those that have a few incredible strengths, as opposed to those with few weaknesses. By simply scoring people your outliers might come up on the low side... even though they are adding the most value to your organization.

Lastly... and this is one you all know. If you are finding out things, new things in the Annual Review Process, you have all ready failed! :( The APR should be just a summary of things already known... it should be happening on a micro level throughout the entire year. I think single handedly the most important thing we have done at our company is implement what we call a "30 Day Check-In". It's NOT a one on one (1x1)  and no matter how engaged you are with your team member it should be scheduled for 30 minutes EVERY month. If you are doing your check-ins then the ARP is a breeze. :D

If you are interested the paper version of our Check-In Process can be found here! The online process will be part of SPARC'D.

So I ask you...  how does your annual review process smell? Like something from the past? or more like a rose?  :D