Dissecting "Crowdsource Your Performance Review" Published in HBR Blog - Part 1

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On June 15, Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce published a blog post (not an official HBR piece) entitled Crowdsource Your Performance Review, stimulating some interest in the idea.

Let's take a look at what Mr. Mosley says about performance management and employee reviews with a critical eye. Due to the length of the critique, we've broken up into several sections.

A Fundamental Confusion About Performance Management and Performance Reviews

Sadly, Mosley seems to make a common mistake by confusing performance management with performance reviews. While he starts off talking about appraisals he ends the article thusly:

When looking for better performance management processes and outcomes, look to the collective intelligence of your enterprise

One of the reasons employee reviews are so disliked and ineffectual is that companies do only the appraisals, as if they are the whole enchilada of managing performance. In fact, managing performance involves many more important steps than appraisal -- appraisals being one of the least important. Apparently, Mr. Mosley sees them as one and the same -- and thus the mistakes of generations will be repeated. No amount of technology can fix the mistake of thinking performance reviews are the whole ball of wax we call performance management.

So, at least for me, there's a credibilty problem.

Nobody Likes Performance Reviews

Mosley starts his article by citing a survey that found that 45% of HR professionals question whether performance appraisals accurately reflect performance. It's amazing that so many DO feel that appraisals are effective performance barometers, given that it's so difficult to measure performance both objectively and meaningfully regardless of how you do it.

(note: Apparently the "study" was done by Globeforce (with SHRM), a pattern often seen where research is done by interested parties with vested interests)

Fair enough, though. Your honor, we stipulate that few people -- managers, HR professionals or employees LIKE appraisals, or have great confidence in them.

New Approach Needed

Mosley states:

Most people know that employees dread annual reviews, but when nearly half of HR professionals agree, it's clear we need a new approach to how employee performance is measured and evaluated.


In fact not. There's no mystery about how to MANAGE PERFORMANCE. The ideas have been around for about fifty years, and certainly I've expounded on them in my books and other publications. We don't need yet another technologically based solution that lamely attempts to solve a human being issue using software. It doesn't work. No amount of fancy software alters the interpersonal issues: that the communication between "evaluators" and "subjects receiving feedback" will always be difficult.

What we need to do is make some significant shifts (see almost anything else on this site) from appraising performance to managing it while at the same time, making the process something that adds value for all players -- organization, manager, employee.

Changing the sources of feedback, or changing how data is supposedly collected doesn't change or address the issues of relationships, fear of evaluation, and so on.

Manager's Lack Recording Tools?

Mosley suggests the following:

For example, managers are tasked with using only their own observations and analysis to appraise employees, yet many don't have the tools to record pertinent events as they happen.

In one short sentence, we have two serious flaws -- in fact inaccuracies of significant impact.

First, Mosley suggests managers are told to use ONLY their own observations and analysis. No. There is no reason why managers can't go "outside" to gather data. In fact, they often do just that if they take their tasks seriously.

Information from customers has long been part of the information managers use, simply because it's so important. Even when there is no formal system to capture customer impact, do you think for a minute that a manager of sales people doesn't take into consideration customers viewpoints. While we don't claim that managers always seek out that information, it surely comes in on its own in the form of occasional complaints and compliments (ask any retail manager to confirm this).

Managers will often consider comments from others internal to the organization. There's no restrictions per se, except that managers need to be accountable and responsible for ensuring appraisal data is lawful.

Bad managers perhaps don't do this. Then again, bad managers will mangle information coming through crowdsourcing too.

Second, Mosley suggests "they lack the tools to record..." They may lack fancy computerized tools, which don't really fix appraisals anyway. To my knowledge, there are still pens, papers, laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones and personal organizers that can be used to make notes regarding performance. Or as I've said:

It doesn't matter whether you document performance on fancy forms, complex software, or a roll of toilet paper you carry around. What matters is communicating the information and using the information to remove barriers to performance and that process has nothing to do with the medium.

Good managers who understand how to manage performance rather than to sit back and lower the boom during yearly performance reviews, do this kind of thing. They do make notes. That what we teach them to do.

Managers Lack Insight Into Employee Performance?

Mosley goes on to state:

No matter the grievance, the effect is largely the same: managers lack the insight into employee performance to make traditional performance management processes work most effectively.

Notice the confused use of performance management and employee reviews. That aside, this is one of the most scary notions, because if it's true, then WHO does have that insight? Apparently, Mosley believes "the crowd" has it.

If managers lack the insight, then what and who CAN they manage? Can they set goals with employees that reflect organizational goals, values, etc? Can they make personnel decisions? Presumably faced with their own lack of insight, they'd be incapable of making even elementary decisions, never mind those that affect the welfare and health of both the organization and its employees.

If you look at very poor managers, you'll find them guilty of all kinds of sins -- one of which would be that they have no clue what's going on anywhere. Good managers, however, DO know what's going on, have a darned good idea of who is working well, and who not, and indeed have the insight they need, BECAUSE THEY REALIZE ITS THEIR JOBS TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON.

For more of this critique, see Part 2 - coming soon


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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