A conversation with a HR person and a...not HR person - Part 2

So now that we’ve introduced Kevin and his background, let’s dive into what he’ll be presenting about with Dominion Systems. Like I mentioned in last week’s blog post, Kevin and I wrote blogs with similar subjects but vastly different outlooks. Here are a couple thoughts Kevin had about the past, present and future of performance reviews.

Paul Petroskey (PP): So now that we know the history of Kevin, what has the history of performance reviews been like?

Kevin Brozovich (KB): Oh gosh, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say people have been miserable with them forever. It’s funny, I actually looked this up at some point and it turns out the Chinese were the first ones to have performance evaluations in 500 BC or something ridiculous like that.

PP: Yeah! I read that article too! It was in Harvard Business Review or something like that. (It was actually in the New Yorker - http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-push-against-performance-reviews)

KB: Yeah. So I’m thinking really? We’ve been tortured for 1500 years? But it makes sense if you think about it. If something is worth doing, it’s worth measuring. Right? It makes sense that that kind of measurement goes back as far as it does. It gives that competition and recognition people inherently want. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t know what you’ve accomplished.

Talking about present day, I think that there needs to be ‘something’ but what I will say is what we have now doesn’t work.

So, over history, for the most part it’s been the ‘exceeds expectations, meets expectations, doesn’t meet expectations’ in one form or another. The challenge with that is that they’re not great measures, they’re not well defined and they’re very subjective to individual leaders. And they don’t do anything to drive engagement. So then people started to experiment with different things.

They started doing MBOs (management by objectives) and that was okay. There was the very fluffy narrative – let’s write a paragraph about Paul and that’s going to be his review.

Well what does that mean? What do I say about Paul that is meaningful to him and that I can compare to others or use for a development plan? So MBOs came and went.

Then people said we have to do this harder, so they’re going to do the force ranking. This got a huge push behind enormous companies like Microsoft, Pepsi, Ford, etc. Jack Welch, of GE, was a big BIG advocate of this model, scrutiny notwithstanding.

PP: Is this the system amazon uses that had all that backlash a couple of months ago?

KB: I don’t think I heard about that story.

PP: It’s the system where every year they figure out the bottom 10% of performers and cut those employees.

Example of a forced ranking system.

Example of a forced ranking system.

KB: Oh yes yes, that’s it! So basically what you do is you put everyone on a bell curve and you cut the bottom employees every year. There have been a number of brutal assessments of forced rankings, Ford actually got sued over it. What ended up happening was that it was their longer termed employees that always seemed to come out at the bottom, so they had a class action age discrimination lawsuit happen because of that. Understandably, they no longer use forced rankings.

And with Microsoft, there’s this great article called Microsoft’s lost decade (http://www.vanityfair.com/news/business/2012/08/microsoft-lost-mojo-steve-ballmer).

What they cover in the article is that the forced ranking system contributed to Microsoft having all of its quality issues, losing its innovative touch and almost killing the company. All of those issues were attributed in some way or another to forced rankings.

PP: I would imagine being engaged and getting work done would be difficult if you’re constantly afraid of your job.

KB: That’s exactly it, and it leaves teamwork in shambles, right? Because if we’re coworkers and we know somebody has to be on the chopping block…

PP: It promotes a backstabbing environment.

KB: Exactly. What engagement do I have if I know that I can be fired at the end of year? Not because I’m a bad performer, but just because I’m not viewed as the best performer. And the other thing is that there’s no specific measurable to determine that. The ranking is typically done with post it notes on the wall in the conference room.

PP: It’s making me nervous just thinking about it.

KB: Right? If you’re not the most popular, you’re out. I just hated that.

PP: Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like they’ve been doing the exact same thing for 30,40,50+ years but just switching;

  • The name of the process or;
  • Switching between qualitative and quantitative.

One year it might be ‘you’re a 4, great job’ other years it might be ‘you’re performing above average, keep it up’. Then it’s back to ‘you’re a 2, work on that’ and then ‘you’re below average, that’s not good.’ You understand what I’m trying to say?

KB: Yep, I can totally understand that. The latest and greatest, and what I’ll recommend in the presentation is a combination of two things.
One is regular coaching. And for me, that means a minimum of monthly sit-downs and employee feedback discussions. Those discussions consist of a stand set of questions going of what’s working, what the frustrations are, what’s not working, what we could do better and what are the employee’s goals. More frequently is obvious but monthly is reasonable. In addition to that we advocate, because a lot of organizations believe they want some sort of measure, is what we call ‘behaviorally anchored ratings systems’ or BARS for short. How this system works is you define the competencies for a role and then you define those at various levels. I advocate not even using numbers but just keeping descriptions. 

What you end with is you look at ‘Paul’ and one of the key parts of his job being customer service. Then we give 5 examples of customer service ranging from phenomenal to terrible and decide which example represents Paul the most accurately. Now when Paul says, "hey I want to do better", you can say easy, let’s look at the levels above you and there’s Paul’s metric. 

I think the combination of those two systems is the most impactful. 

PP: How do you come up with those descriptions? What defines good customer service? How do you make define it so there’s no way it’s subjective? 

KB: It’s a lot of work. So, I like to interview incumbents in the job and then the leader and between those two parties, you can identify what the expectations of the position really are. 

Side note - I think this aspect is critical. You need both sides to weigh in to get a crystal clear picture of the position you’re trying to define. Plus, getting those viewpoints from both sides of the aisle eliminates any misunderstandings between boss and employee. 

Usually I’ll take a leader when I’m doing the interviews and say, "think of your best employee and how they'd handle this situation and then think of your worst." Typically the top level requires (still using the customer service example) not only being phenomenal at customer service, it requires being able to almost mentor others into highly effective mindset. You see that this is the person that’s so good at it, others turn to them for help.

Come back next week for the final part of this 3 part series. And don't forget to register for the webinar Kevin is partnering with Dominion for.