If you live in the UK then, like me, you have probably been engrossed in the scandal at the Post Office that has dominated headlines for some time. If you’re not in the UK, then a quick recap. The Post Office was a beloved institution in the UK, but faulty software led to over 900 people, who ran individual post offices across the country being wrongly convicted of theft – many serving prison sentences and some taking their own life. The scandal, media coverage and ultimately court hearings that ensued has led to those convictions being overturned and a settlement of £58 million being awarded to the wrongly accused sub postmasters. It also led to a public inquiry.

I’ve followed the story avidly – shocked and incredulous at both the personal tragedies and the evidence of corporate wrongdoing. But it was a comment by the new CEO of the Post Office, Nick Read that prompted this week’s 5 Minute Monday. In an interview with the BBC on their excellent podcast The Great Post Office Trial, Mr Read was attempting to defend the fact that bonuses had been paid to Post Office executives to incentivise them to help with the public inquiry. He wanted his managers to be helpful to the inquiry, he explained, to be transparent and to provide the necessary documentation, but that also he needed them to go above and beyond and that the best way to that, and I quote ‘is to incentivise them to do it’. I’m sorry?! The organisation that he leads has been responsible for what is being called the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history – and he believes he needs to incentivise senior managers to help put things right?!!!

For me, this comment exposes yet again the problem with one of the strongest of the deeply held beliefs in corporate life – that unless you dangle a financial carrot, your people won’t be motivated.

Research tells us that bonuses don’t work

Interestingly, research suggests that, by and large, bonuses are strikingly ineffective. Studies show that offering incentives for losing weight, quitting smoking or using seat belts, for example, is not only less effective than other strategies but often proves worse than doing nothing at all. Incentives do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviours. They do not create an enduring commitment to any action. At least two dozen studies over the last three decades have conclusively shown that people who expect to receive a reward simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all.

Dangling a financial carrot can lead to a temporary uplift, but it won’t last – and worse, by introducing external, financial incentives, you actually destroy the motivation that was there without it.

Not everyone wants money – and if we do, then not everyone wants it for the same reason

Our bonus systems are based on the myth that money is what everybody wants and that if we get it, we will have happier and more engaged employees. Indeed, several studies over the last few decades have found that when people are asked to guess what matters to their co-workers, or, in the case of managers, to their teams, they assume money heads the list. But put the question directly; “What do you care about?” and money typically ranks only fifth or sixth.

Giving money is easier

So, why do we continue to believe that our people are only interested in more money? Maybe, in part, it’s because money can represent many different things that many of us do want, such as power, freedom, security, appreciation, etc. Giving money is an easy ‘catch-all’ and much simpler than trying to really get to what each of the individuals in our team really value. Managers often use incentives as a substitute for giving workers what they need to do a good job. Treating workers well—providing useful feedback, giving them the right mix of support and autonomy – are great management practices. On the other hand, dangling a bonus in front of requires much less effort.

But for me the argument that bonuses will keep people focused on doing the right thing is the most flawed. Research tells us that bonuses can:

These beliefs about the effectiveness of bonuses endure because we have held them for so long and because we’ve built our performance and reward structures around them. And yet the evidence is there, and has been for years, to show that these bonus myths should be challenged. Incentivising people to do the right thing isn’t necessary. What IS essential is having people in your organisation who know what the right thing is and who want to do it BECAUSE it’s the right thing – without the need for additional money.

It’s hard to argue that investing in for our employees’ health and wellbeing is anything other than a good thing. And I’m not going to. Argue I mean. But I do think we should question the corporate approach to health and wellbeing and ask whether the things we’re doing are really helping? Or are they unnecessary investments that delude us into thinking that the health and wellbeing box can be ticked? We should question whether our healthy snacks and instructive posters are addressing the real barriers to feeling well. Or whether they are yet another example of the parental relationships we foster in most organisations? Should we be the caring parent and provide the right kinds of food, exhortations and education? Or should we look at the things we do that create/add to the stress in the first place and try and reduce those?

Health and wellbeing at work is now a massive industry. It currently stands at $53 billion and is set to grow to $97 billion by 2027. That’s a lot of yoga classes and Fitbits.

Most of our health and wellbeing support falls into one of the following:

  1. Giving health education and instructions such as ‘take a break from your screen’, timely pop-ups reminding employees to ‘now drink some water’ – or my personal favourite that I saw recently – advising women to ‘practice your pelvic lifts’ via a poster on the back of the ladies’ loo door!
  2. Protecting employees from stress by putting in place certain restrictions such as the French ‘right to disconnect’ law, banning email sending after certain hours.
  3. Gifts and perks such as gym membership, a back massage at your desk, or fresh fruit.
  4. Training for both managers and employees in how to spot signs of mental health problems and
  5. Providing professional help to tackle these issues such as Employee Assistance Programmes.

Our health and wellbeing initiatives tend to be patronising

I’m not suggesting for one minute that these things are bad, nor do they come from anywhere other than positive intent. However, as with many employment initiatives, they can tend towards being patronising and fail to address the real causes of poor health and wellbeing.

Instead of acting like a caring parent, who knows what’s good for our people and gives out remedies, it would be great to see organisations taking a different approach. We should instead be tackling the causes of stress and creating environments where our people feel comfortable about owning their own health and wellbeing, in the knowledge they will be supported.

In my view, any effective approach to health and wellbeing should include:

A determination to move the relationship with our employees to one of trust.

Rather than providing tons of rules on flexible working, adopt the Swiss Re approach where they tell their people, ‘own the way you work’. This tells their people that they are expected to know when, where and how they work best and that their needs will be accommodated. Instead of loads of policies, encourage your people to #DoTheRightThing as they did at Transport For London during the pandemic. When we feel trusted to do the right thing, we feel more energised and engaged.

As adults we know what’s best for our own health and wellbeing too. I definitely eat more chocolate than I should, but is that because I don’t know that it’s bad for me – or because, even though I know the dietary dangers, I choose to do it anyway? What I need from my employer is not necessarily advice or training or incentives to be healthy. What would be helpful is knowing that I am trusted to work in ways and at times that I can balance effectively with the other demands in my life. And that if I need time off or to take my foot off the gas, that I will be supported. Of course, it’s great to be given healthy perks, but I question whether they can transform my health and wellbeing.

Line managers seeking to understand our employees as individuals and accommodating their needs.

Managers holding frequent check-ins, asking the right questions, relentless listening – should be at the heart of any wellbeing plan. Whether it be Entry Interviews or Stay Interviews like they do at Webroot and LinkedIn respectively, to try and understand from the outset, how they can create the best working environment for each individual. Or ensuring that reward and recognition is based on what is valued by that employee like they do at Baptist Healthcare. Or knowing how best to support individual needs like during onboarding like they do at Wipro. The line managers who can adapt their style to accommodate the needs and wants of each of their team members will create a more supportive and fulfilling work environment. When we talk about a duty of care to our employees, that’s about treating them decently, not just looking after them when things have turned to s**t!

Creating a Feeling of Belonging

70 separate studies show that feeling socially accepted is a key factor in helping our new hires be successful. And that sense that you belong, that you are accepted for who you are, that you matter, that your ideas and views are wanted and that you are valued, become even more important as time goes by. So whether it’s putting in place buddy systems like they do at Buffer, giving employees their own intranet page to let colleagues know who they are as a human being, not just their role description and CV, as they do at AirBnB, moving to peer to peer rewards as they do at South West Airlines, creating a sense of belonging should be key to our health and wellbeing plans.

HR as mediator rather than grievance process administrator

If we think about the grievances we’ve had to deal with in HR, or the people who go off sick with stress, we can often relate the origins to the breakdown of personal relationships at work. An individual starts to feel excluded, not valued and the options available to them to try and resolve this are nearly always procedural. In my experience individuals haven’t necessarily wanted to take the nuclear option of a grievance but just wanted things to change. Maybe we should change our focus from the effective implementation of a grievance procedure or an EAP, to early intervention when relationships start to sour? HR as mediator rather than process administrator.

Remove the hassle

Finally, our health and wellbeing plans ought to focus not just on what we do for our people – but what we take away. If we can reduce those daily frustrations, those small irritations and barriers to people just getting their work done, wouldn’t that at least help with people feeling less stressed out? One of the benefits of the current crisis is that it has given us clarity about what actually matters, and we have been able to cut through the red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy that we’ve been inflicting on our people for decades. So, maybe now’s the time to follow Pepsico’s ‘Process Shredder’ or TD Bank’s ‘Kill a Stupid Bank Rule’ example to make our people’s lives a bit easier. Or replace that cumbersome in-company tech with intuitive, easy to use options like WhatsApp. Or allow employees to buy the tech that works for them with an allowance like they did at Google.

As I mentioned at the start, I don’t want to dismiss the well-intentioned efforts of typical health and wellbeing approaches. But if we focused more on the causes of stress – the lack of trust, the managers who lack empathy, the things that make us feel excluded and the daily hassles and frustrations, maybe we wouldn’t need to spend all of that $53 billion on things that try and fix the problem?

The benefits of curiosity have been acknowledged for a while now.

And, being curious can even lower your stress levels!

But curiosity is a bit like keeping fit – we know it’s good for us – but some of us do it less than others.

So why are some of our leaders not as curious as we want them to be? There are three key reasons:

Showing curiosity can make us anxious

From school age we try and avoid things that might make people think less of us – so-called interpersonal risks. Showing curiosity involves taking these risks. For example, we worry that asking questions might be perceived as a weakness. We fear we’ll be judged incompetent, indecisive, or unintelligent.

And the more experienced and the more of an expert we are, the more risk we face. We believe we’re expected to know more than others. Leaders also tend to believe they’re expected to talk and provide answers, not ask questions.

It’s easier not to be curious

It’s easier on the brain to keep doing things as we’ve always done them. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that our curiosity decreases with each year that we’re in a role. Interestingly, Standard Chartered Bank have refocused their leadership development budget on emerging, new leaders, because they tend to be more curious, more intellectually hungry, and open to change than senior leaders.  

Being curious can take longer

And the final reason we avoid showing curiosity is that it can make it harder to work at pace. We all feel the pressures on our time and the need to deliver results quickly. If we ask more questions, it can slow the decision-making process down. We worry that if we surface too many alternative options, our ability to deliver quickly may be compromised.

So, it’s easier, safer and more efficient to NOT be curious. These barriers to curiosity are completely valid. So how can we help leaders address these barriers and generate the benefits of being a curious leader?

Help them expand their sources of stimulation

Often the only forms of communication our leaders receive from HR are requests for information or instructions to do something. We can play a big role in helping them widen their sources of stimulation by providing a steady stream of interesting articles, videos or podcasts about people leadership. We can go further and create a separate learning area on our main comms platform where we post these resources and then get a conversation going – asking for their opinions.

Help them to ask better questions

When 230 high-level leaders in executive education classes were asked what they would do if confronted with an organizational crisis most said they would take action. Only a few said they would ask questions rather than simply impose their ideas on others.

Leaders can develop curiosity throughout their organizations by being inquisitive themselves.

Many companies are encouraging this by replacing their cumbersome and ineffective performance management systems with a simple focus on asking questions. Like at Atlassian where managers ask these three questions in their weekly one-to-ones:

Similarly, at Ernst & Young, they have implemented the practice of ‘Leading with questions’. They realised that the leaders who were thriving at EY tended to ask better questions that helped generate creativity and fresh thinking.  They also created higher levels of trust through not just listening to fix but listening to learn. HR provided prompts and advice to their leaders to try leading with one question before getting into default conversation mode. If you want to help your leaders ask better questions, check out The Conversations Toolkit – simple tips and conversation starters to help leaders and managers have better 1-2-1s.

Reward their learning, not just their results

And finally, if you’re going to make curiosity a good thing in your organisation, then it has to be rewarded. At Survey Monkey, they conduct town hall meetings at which they celebrate the “question of the week,” chosen from employee surveys. They also have a peer recognition program to reward people who dare to be especially candid. Encouraging curiosity can mean seeing failure through a different lens. If you’re not failing, then you’re probably not innovating enough and so leaders in some companies are consciously celebrating effort, learning and yes, even failures. Like at Dermalogica where the senior team rewards the failure of the month.  

So, help to generate more curiosity by providing leaders with interesting resources, embedding the skill of asking great questions and celebrating what people have learned as well as what they achieved.

The results are in!

Nearly a thousand of you kindly responded to our recent poll where we asked the question ‘What will you be disrupting in HR in 2024?’ This is what you told us:

Leadership Capabilities 37%

HR Skills and Mindsets 24%

Core HR Processes 22%

Digital and AI in HR 12%

Other 5%

Leadership Capabilities

So, regardless of sector or geography, our focus remains on helping to improve our leaders’ people skills. This supports the anecdotal feedback we get from our conversations we have with HR professionals who tell us that the biggest issue they still face is poor line managers. Whilst it’s a bit depressing that, despite our efforts, the experience of many employees isn’t great because of a rubbish boss, there is some good news. Instead of resorting to the ubiquitous leadership development programme, HR is getting savvier when it comes to providing help. You’ve recognised that expensive, one-size-fits-all training programmes for time poor managers is not going to deliver. Instead, we’re seeing more innovative approaches such as peer-to-peer learning, bite-size delivery, nudge-based techniques and user-friendly toolkits that show greater understanding of how people learn and the best way to get leaders to engage.

If you’re planning on disrupting leadership capabilities in 2024 our top tip is to create leadership persona – 3 or 4 types of leaders that work for you – so you can be more targeted in both the types of development you offer them but also the messaging you use to convince them to get involved.

HR Skills and Mindsets

The second biggest focus is on improving ourselves which I think is really positive! We’ve been a bit like cobblers’ children with the worst shoes – always focusing on others and neglecting our own development. As with leadership capabilities, you’re doing things differently. You no longer have to take time out from busy schedules to attend lengthy and frankly, old fashioned training programmes. You’re embracing the range of different learning options and finding cost effective and higher impact ways to develop the team. You’re also changing what you learn as well as how. You’re recognizing that there are a whole new set of skills that the modern HR professional needs, including how to be more agile, how to use data and insights, marketing skills and consultancy.

If you’re planning on disrupting HR skills and mindsets in 2024 our top tip is to focus on two or three key skills that you want to prioritise. We’d suggest focusing on consulting skills, influencing leaders and agile HR.

Core HR Processes

Nearly a quarter of you are planning to disrupt those old-school HR processes that are well past their sell-by date. Performance management remains the most popular for transformation, but talent management, hiring and onboarding are also seeing some radical overhaul. You’re no longer just accepting so-called best practice and you’re recognising that some of these processes just aren’t adequate for a disrupted world. There are some really exciting innovations happening and those tired old processes are finally being replaced with agile, employee-centred options.

If you’re planning on disrupting core HR processes in 2024 then our top tip is to choose one and ask yourself ‘how do we want our people to feel at each stage?’ This will help you be more creative and innovative than simply challenging yourself with changing the process.

Digital and AI in HR

Despite the noise, moving to digital and AI solutions in HR is only the priority for a minority of you. I think that’s understandable. It is a confusing marketplace out there with numerous providers and multiple products. The world of AI is still so new and can seem a bit murky with many of you preferring to keep it in the ‘watching brief’ category for now. I anticipate that this will change over the coming months but for now it’s an also ran.

If you’re planning on disrupting HR with through digital or AI this year, our top tip is to make sure you’re not simply digitising processes that don’t work. Better to transform your approach to, say, performance management first – and then look for a digital product to support rather than assuming a digital solution will do the transformation for you.

So, an exciting and big agenda for you this year. A mix of experimenting with the brand new (AI) and tackling the perennial problems (leadership capabilities). Whatever you’re disrupting this year – it will be worth it! Good luck!

My first job was as a teacher in a college. Being new, I would put heart and soul into coming up with well-structured lesson plans filled with interesting ways of delivering the content. I really enjoyed the lesson planning. The bit I hated was when the actual students arrived in class and “messed up” my beautiful plan by not learning in accordance with it! I quickly realised that teaching was probably not my true vocation and thought I’d learned a valuable lesson myself – that real life has a nasty habit of messing up carefully laid plans.

But clearly, I failed to learn that lesson because, fast forward to my career as an HR Director, and there I am repeating the mistake – this time with succession plans. I was told by HR experts that the succession plan is one of the things I HAD to do. And so I dutifully complied in every organisation I worked in. And not just to tick the governance box for our potential CEO replacements, but often going much further and producing numerous succession plans to cover off our Divisional top teams as well. Once I’d got a couple of names in each succession box, I would feel a lot better. We can sleep easier, I thought, we have our list. But, just as my students messed up my lesson plans, so my identified successors would mess up my succession plans.  They would leave. They wouldn’t be willing to relocate. They would struggle with additional responsibilities. They wouldn’t like the role that had been assigned as “theirs”. I began to realise that the comfort I thought I was getting from a nicely completed succession plan was an illusion.

Perhaps the bigger wake up call was the realisation that the flaw in my succession plans wasn’t just the successors, but the incumbents themselves. I was asking senior leaders to identify their successors through a process that was mis-matched to the fast-paced and disrupted world they were identifying them for. My succession planning processes always seemed to have the same problems, such as:

There are of course some innovative approaches that some organisations are using to identify, if not their certain successors, then a group of people who can provide leadership in the future. I’d like to highlight three:

Don’t try and allocate people into roles – just agree your subs bench

Instead of succession planning within silos, get clusters of leaders from different teams to identify the internal talent that’s available? If you add into the mix a couple of external perspectives who can help you think through how the roles and capabilities might need to change, you get a breadth of opinion that might lead to some interesting results.

Build talent communities

I recently met with the Head of Digital for a well-known media brand. He talked about how he had been courted for nearly two years by the CEO of his current company. No hard sell. No vacancy. Just having dinner every now and again. Building relationships with individuals who may or who may never become part of your organisation takes effort but is something all of our leaders should be doing if they’re serious about robust succession. I think the facilitation of this is a key role for HR Directors of the future.

Choose your leaders through their followers

I was very interested to hear about an approach to succession planning that didn’t go top-down, but bottom up. Using Network Analysis tools, the teams, not the incumbents were asked a series of simple questions such as:

“Who do you trust?”

“Who do you go to for connections?”

“Who inspires you?

“Who stretches and develops you?”

This lead to a number of potential successors being identified who had those attributes that meant people would follow them and would perform better. Identifying your future leaders through the people who will be led by them could provide you with some great additional insights.

When I reflect on the results of my succession efforts, I have to acknowledge that they failed to produce what was needed – capabilities for the future, movement and the creation of opportunity, a range of leadership styles and perspectives. Succession plans, like so many of our talent processes try to provide an organisation with certainty. They say “We can be certain that we have the leaders of the future because we have all the boxes filled”. But HR shouldn’t be offering this kind of guarantee. We should be brave enough to tell our organisations that we can’t possibly be certain about who exactly will fit which role, by when. All we can offer them are some future-proofed attributes that, if possessed by enough people, might enable our organisations to survive or thrive. Attributes such as curiosity, connectivity and insight, humility and self-knowledge.

I used to be a big fan of 360 feedback. It seemed like the ideal way to make the performance review discussion more well-rounded and richer. And I believed that it helped people to accept and work on feedback if it came from a wider range of sources than just their line manager. But over the years I have become convinced that 360 feedback is a waste of time.

There are a number of reasons for wanting to get rid of 360 feedback.

It’s bad data

The performance data guru Marcus Buckingham is really interesting on this and it’s worth reading his Harvard Business Review article on 360 feedback from a few years ago. In summary though, he says that no individual is capable of rating another person’s behaviours in a consistent and objective way. By having multiple subjective opinions through a 360 – you actually compound the problem. For this reason alone, we shouldn’t be bothering with them.

A bureaucratic nightmare

The second reason to give up 360 feedback is the bureaucratic nightmare it presents. Once a year, you get a deluge of 360 surveys to complete – and the more senior you are – the more you get. I have filled out tons of these as a leader and I can honestly say that, despite wanting to take each one seriously and give it lots of attention – when you get to the 20th one that week, you rattle through each question at speed – giving it minimal thought. 360 feedback is a pain for leaders – taking up time they haven’t got – to answer lots of questions about someone with whom they rarely come into contact. Even those leaders who are undoubtedly more conscientious than me will be just trying to clear the backlog of 360’s as quickly as they can.

Of course, we then have all the bureaucracy about signing off nominated reviewers, getting all the reviews done and the 360’s published. I once had a Head of L&D who felt he had to help each recipient understand their feedback which led to a massive delay in everyone getting their reports. The whole process can take weeks. Not really appropriate for a fast moving world.

The lack of outcomes

But the main reason why we shouldn’t be bothering with 360 feedback is because they don’t lead to changes in behaviour. To illustrate my point, I thought I’d tell you about two people I worked with who, I believe, demonstrated the two classic responses to 360 feedback.

First up – Grant – a very senior colleague. He and I both received our 360 feedback as part of a leadership programme we were on together. He read through his – a fairly mixed bag to be honest  –and shrugged. His attitude was that if they hadn’t bothered to tell him to his face, it wasn’t worth bothering about. I kind of admired his thick skin but what a waste of time for all those reviewers.

The second person worked for me – Diana. Her report was glowing – with the exception of one verbatim comment which was very critical of her. She immediately ignored all of the many positive reviews and got very upset by the one negative review. She became frantic trying to work out which colleague it was who was so damning and openly defending herself against the reviewer’s comments. What a waste of time for her.

Most people tend to react like Diana to 360 reviews. We will skip past the meaningless spider diagrams that rate us against the competencies and which we can’t really make sense of – and jump straight to the comments. Some we recognise from feedback we have already had – in which case – why did we need to read them in a report? And some are new. And if this new feedback is anonymous – isn’t it probably right that we don’t give it too much credence? Now, of course – if all the anonymous, new feedback is from your direct reports and is negative, then this should probably give you the incentive to reflect upon your management style. But if none of your team have felt able to talk to you directly, what are the chances that you are going to read the feedback and react positively and openly? Slim to non-existent I’d have thought!

360 feedback is bad data, is time consuming and doesn’t drive changes to behaviour. It’s time to trash them along with the other big set annual pieces.

It’s not often that you leave a working day full of energy, inspiration, and hope. Well, that’s what happened at our recent One Day Programme in London. We arrived in a room full of dynamic people who want to make change happen in HR. We are so thrilled to be on the journey with them. Every time that we deliver one of our One Day Programmes to such wonderful people, we leave feeling rejuvenated and thankful that we get to work with such incredible people in our industry. So what did we do during our One Day Programme? Read on to find out more! 

Our One Day Programme encompasses various topics from the world of HR. From performance management to retaining talent to leadership development to diversity and inclusion to recruiting the right person and onboarding, we covered so much during our day together. Our aim with the One Day Programme is to train our delegates on how to deliver HR differently – always putting people first and being disruptive in our thinking. We want to help HR professionals build a people strategy with impact, influence and credibility. We want to be insight-led, whilst also people-first in our mindset. We want to treat our people as adults, consumers and human beings. In our programme, we guided our attendees through the latest thinking in HR and how to put these ideas into practice. 

It is with this truly disruptive thinking that our delegates leave our sessions determined to be a force for change in their companies and in the industry. With clear action points such as changing prescriptive policies for principles, using employee persona to help customise what we do, to overhauling our key people processes – it’s clear that there was much food for thought during the session. We find that the HR industry is constantly evolving, and with these sessions, there is always so much for us to listen, learn, and take on board into our job roles. One of our most reflective takeaways from the day was to always start with a curious mindset – whether that be in your professional or personal life.

We are heart-warmed by the popularity of these sessions as well as the feedback that we receive afterwards! It’s great to hear how eye-opening these sessions can be, as well as how motivational and inspirational for delegates. We always strive to make the sessions as personable as possible.

Our favourite feedback from the session –

“I absolutely recommend this programme for HR professionals (of all levels) who value curiosity and agility, and are looking to move the needle on HR’s overall business impact.”

What lovely words – thank you to all our delegates! 

For us, the best part of our One Day Programmes is actually not the day itself. It’s what comes afterwards. All delegates receive a free Disruptive Club membership worth £300. Alongside the training and toolkits, the Club hosts a vibrant chatroom, a forum for the energy, networking and conversations of the One Day Programme to continue.

Join us for our next One Day Programme in London on 6th June 2024. Find out more and book here.

June 6th Delivering HR Differently:  How to make change happen
This workshop is all about how to change HR. How to build a people strategy with impact, how to build influence and credibility and how to make the changes you want to see happen

We hope to see you there!

HR has believed what we’ve been told about performance management for decades. We have believed the accepted wisdom that if we want managers to take care of people performance, then they have to:

Yet despite telling managers that this will lead to higher performance and despite trying numerous wheezes to get them to do it well (like automating it, putting it all on one page or providing a guided distribution of ratings that they have to comply with), we are still left with the awful truth that
traditional performance reviews don’t work. They simply don’t drive better performance or higher motivation.

So, traditional performance management is costly. It takes up lots of our time. And over 80% of us don’t believe it helps with our performance nor find it motivating. And yet we still do it. Every single year. The annual performance review.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that 87% of HR leaders are considering making changes to this tired old process. But where do you start? What are the options for making changes? And how do you take your leaders and employees with you? The team at Disruptive HR have put together this comprehensive guide to help you answer these questions. It will take you through the key trends in performance management and choosing the approach that’s right for you. More importantly, perhaps, it will give you insights into how you can convince leaders that the time for change has come and provide tools and tips to build manager and employee confidence and capabilities. Finally, it will explore some of the worries we may have about swapping our old system for something new – and provide you with ways of
addressing them.

Download your FREE Complete Guide to Changing Performance Management here.

To mark the start of 2024, here are some New Year’s resolutions you might want to think about!

  1. I’m going to get rid of our ‘probation period’ to prevent loads of new hires worrying themselves sick for three months just to ‘get’ the one person who didn’t work out.
  2. I’m going to abolish performance ratings so that no-one has to suffer the indignity of getting ‘meets expectations’ for yet another year.
  3. I will rip up our 9 box grids and resign myself to the fact that no-one has understood how to fill them in – EVER! 
  4. I will replace our 3,782 employment policies with a funky welcome guide.
  5. I will stop telling everyone they have to be in the office three days a week and try to remember how we found we could actually trust people to work how they wanted during Covid.
  6. I will not sit in on any more interviews. Taking the notes and supervising managers is not a great use of my time…
  7. I will push back on any manager who thinks ‘it’s better if HR has a chat with them’. It’s not ‘better’, it’s avoidance.
  8. I am going to remind myself every day that I came into HR because I was interested in people – not process!

Happy New Year from Disruptive HR!!

It’s costly and takes a huge amount of time and over 80% of us don’t believe it helps with our performance or find it motivating. And yet we still do it. Every single year. The annual performance review. In HR we have been told for years that if you want managers to take care of performance, then they have to:

Yet despite us telling managers that this will lead to higher performance and despite us trying numerous wheezes to get them to do it well; like automating it, putting it all on one page or providing a guided distribution of ratings that they have to comply with – we are still left with the awful truth that traditional performance reviews don’t work. They simply don’t drive better performance or higher motivation.

So why doesn’t traditional performance management work? Here, in our view, are the top four reasons:

Annual objectives can’t keep pace with the disrupted world we live in

The idea that a target we set in January will be still relevant by December is risky at best. In addition, the idea that every person’s objectives can be neatly aligned with the senior team’s is just not rational. Objectives that do work tend to be team based and refreshed by the team on a regular basis.

Feedback that is only given in a huge lump once a year is pretty pointless

We wouldn’t do this with our kids would we? Imagine if our child was doing something that deserved our approval or censure … would we make a note of it and raise it with them three months later? Of course not! Feedback that works is given at the time when the behaviour is fresh in the person’s mind. The way we give feedback too is not conducive to changing someone’s performance. We sit people down and give them feedback in an incredibly parental way – which of course immediately puts someone on the defensive. Think about an appraisal that you have had in your life. Think about all of the appraisals you’ve had ….. and the amount of discomfort you felt. This is because your brain is sensing threats – lots of them. You can’t help it. It’s a totally natural response. The Neuro-leadership Institute has shown that the words “I’m going to give you some feedback” has the exact same effect on the brain as a reaction to walking down a dark alley at midnight and hearing someone running up behind you – or the threat of physical pain. This means that all of our brain resources are rushing to avoid or resist the threat. Conversely, the part of our brain that encourages engagement, openness, curiosity and problem solving – all the reactions you want from an employee in an appraisal –  shuts down. The best forms of feedback are through frequent check-ins and ideally owned and driven by the employee themselves.

Performance ratings are ‘bad data

Our ability to rate another human being consistently and objectively is fundamentally flawed – not because we are bad managers – but because we are human. It’s worth checking out the work of Marcus Buckingham on this – he’s got a great 12-minute video on why performance ratings are not reliable data. For example, our ratings tend to be based on what we can remember from the last few weeks – so called ‘recency syndrome’ – rather than a whole year.

Traditional performance management doesn’t improve performance!

But more than anything, the problem with ratings is that they don’t drive better performance! If the conversation is going to result in a grade, we want to show ourselves at our best, to cover up any failings that might downgrade us. But if we want performance improvement, then we need the employee to be open and curious and driving a conversation about how they can improve and what they’ve learned from things that haven’t quite worked. Ratings and grades just get in the way of better performance.

Annual objectives, once a year feedback and a rating. These traditional performance management tools belong to another era. They are based around the fact that we don’t trust managers to manage.  And it’s time for something different; employee-owned discussions, frequent check-ins and absolutely no ratings!

If you’d like to find out how to change your approach to performance management – check out our FREE Complete Guide to Changing Performance Management.