Humanity, Culture and Performance Reviews

Performance reviews spark fear in the hearts of managers and employees everywhere. You know you are going to have to sit down with your manager, justify your performance, possibly get a reality check and hear some tough feedback. All accross a boardroom table, fully documented and ready to submit to HR. Then if you don’t improve we are going to use that document to support the performance management process, right through to termination. No pressure people – Performance Reviews are supposed to be fun.

I believe that people working together in communities who share common goals are naturally cooperative and collaborative.

We want to to help each other to support enduring success. Naturally collaborative and cooperative people are always receiving feedback and training, the group calls out bad behaviour and the team develops. Think about a team that you know that works really well together, could be a sports team or a family setting. Do they need a performance review to keep them on track. No, no they don’t.

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Perhaps the reason we dislike performance reviews as we know them is because they actually grind against the core of how we want to operate.

We want to be open and honest, receive feedback in the moment and not feel we need to defend ourselves on paper. We just want to do our jobs, receive feedback and contribute. Performance reviews often symbolise a one time a year feedback session fraught with frustration and headaches for everyone involved. Despite the various attempts to rename it as a performance discussion or one-to-one they are what they are. The manager providing feedback disguised under the veil of a two-way-dialogue.

Performance reviews are personal. Sadly there are lots of managers who don’t connect with their team. If your team doesn’t respect you they certainly don’t care for your feedback. They are most likely job hunting as we speak. We have all been there, working for a manager we don’t trust and couldn’t really give a toss about. Yet they are entrusted to give performance enhancing feedback. Seriously. Just. No.

I don’t have the answers about how to improve this dismal situation and neither do the 1000000000 other HR articles on the internet so it seems.

I do think however that the secret to the Performance Review is closely tied to how and who we recruit and the culture we develop. For some reason, I think if you can truly nail recruitment and you have the right people in the right roles at the right time, trained to do the job they are in.. and they enjoy their work – Performance Reviews will just happen and they will be a natural part of coaching and mentorship.

Right now the situation for many is a performance review system to satisfy performance management needs. Not a process born from a great culture.

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How should we structure the HR department?

A while back I went for an interview to become a Regional Manager for a large supermarket chain. During the group interview process I sat through an information session about the company and a Q&A.

When I asked who looks after the HR department and that side of things, the senior manager said that HR was a waste of space and an unnecessary business function (oh snap!)

When I asked who deals with those traditional HR items I was told they instilled a Grandfather policy by where you escalated things to your manager’s manager to keep a layer of separation. Any advice regarding policy or legislation was handled by the legal teams and basic admin was completed by payroll. Okay I thought, I get that…

So then I asked about culture, actually I asked something like what events do you celebrate internally and are there cultural milestones that define who you are as a business. I was met with a blank stare and a comment about sometimes people receive birthday cards from their manager and then the conversation was dismissed. Oh.

I asked whether they had a HR business partner to help guide operations in creating HR systems and processes for their teams. More blank stares. I knew then it wasn’t going to work out – if you know me, you will know one of my biggest passions is how we make workplaces more awesome so this role pretty much stomped all over that.

However this interview exposed me to a whole new way of approaching the structure of HR teams which as been swirling in my mind ever since.  Have seen HR set up in a few ways including:

  1. Outsourcing – hire a consultancy to become your HR team and pay for what you use essentially.
  2. Hire everyone – massive HR teams which act as a safety net for managers (and get made redundant in tough times).
  3. Business Partners: Where HR coaches managers how to execute the process, stepping in only if its high risk.
  4. All Admin – the internal team offers no strategic value and external consultants rotate through ‘innovating’ the business.
  5. I don’t need no HR – they totally wing it or build it out all together (as above).

Personally I think the only sustainable methods are to either outsource your HR team or build an internal team of business partners streamlining the admin process. Speaking generally, competent and capable line managers can manage most of the day-to-day things that most large HR teams are dealing with. HR does not need to sit in on every Performance Management meeting or every interview. It’s certainly not my job to sit down with employees I’ve never worked a day in my life with and tell them they need to improve. That’s the manager’s job, but many HR advisors and managers find themselves involved in this stuff.

It’s 100% my job to support managers to make the right decision when it comes to the tough people issues. It’s my job to build systems, processes and provide advice that makes managing people easier.

It’s not my job to manage operational teams explicitly , that’s where we are getting it wrong. HR is spending too much time doing the jobs of managers or doing admin tasks that robots can do.

When I first started my career in HR I was told that the Happy HR Ratio was 1:50 employees and over the past few years I have seen this number stretch out to 1:200+, so you don’t have to be a genius to realise that HR needs to get smarter with how they use their time and where they put their resources.

It’s time to get real and think about the value you offer as a HR professional.