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.

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.

One of my least comfortable memories as an HR Director was presenting a new pay and grading system to my senior leadership team. My team had worked for months on it – and in my view, it was a thing of beauty.

Continue reading HR: Human, Not Process, Experts

We’ve read the research, we’ve got the feedback from our people, or we’ve reflected on our own experiences. So, we all now know that rating people doesn’t help improve performance or motivation. And yet, we really worry about what will happen if we get rid of them! In this blog we look at the consequences of getting rid of ratings – both real and imagined!

How will we know who’s the best/worst performing? How will we differentiate performance?

This is a common worry, that if we can’t give our people a number out of five, we won’t have a clear picture of performance in the organisation.

It’s important to look at the assumptions behind this concern to be able to recognise it’s not valid.

How will we give out bonuses fairly?

This is another common concern. We have this view that if the bonus is determined by a number out of five – then it’s more objective, less arbitrary. It isn’t. If a manager is determining a rating, then the bonus pay out is determined by his or her judgement. This is just as subjective as a line manager having discretion over the amount of money they should get. The majority of companies who have got rid of ratings have given line managers the autonomy to make decisions about pay and bonuses. And this is the right course in my view. We should treat them as grown-ups who are capable of managing the staff budget as well as the other budgets they have. If we are really worried, then we can use calibration sessions to sense check their decisions. These sessions can be much more helpful when discussing additional factors such as market rate and what matters to the individual, than the ratings calibration sessions we’ve held in the past when we fight over who should be a 3 or 2.

How will we know if managers are doing it properly?

Like many of our bureaucratic processes, the cumbersome appraisal system was typically designed to compensate for managers who can’t or won’t manage their people effectively. HR has felt good because at least our people are getting one feedback conversation a year, for example. Ratings sometimes provide some kind of reassurance to HR that managers are having ‘proper’ performance conversations. Sadly, this is not the case. Great performance conversations shouldn’t end in a number out of five or a ‘meets expectations’ statement. When you exclude the top percentage, we’re managing to demotivate the majority of the people who work with us – even if the pre-rating conversation wasn’t bad! The way we get to know whether our managers are helping their people to improve their performance is to ask the people themselves. Instead of looking at our appraisal completion rates or, God forbid, our ratings distribution curves – we can be reassured or worried by asking people via surveys, focus groups or through conversations.

What will we do about poor performers if we don’t have ratings?

And finally, the question that will sometimes come up – although, thankfully, it’s asked less often than it used to be – What will we do about poor performers if we don’t have ratings?

Behind this concern is the (honestly) absurd reasoning that we should apply something that doesn’t work, that often de-motivates our people and frustrates our managers across the whole organisation – simply so we can get to the 2-3% of people who perform badly. Seriously?! If you have a poor performer, then document the hell out of that situation. But let’s not design around the lowest common denominator and make everyone document an annual conversation, that doesn’t drive better performance, just to have the paperwork for the tiny percentage that might get nasty and legal.

There are consequences to giving up ratings, sure. For example, we have to be able to explain and get support for an approach that isn’t as clear cut or clinical as an annual appraisal. We also have to re-focus our efforts away from ensuring compliance with a system and onto coaching for better conversations. But dropping them will help build better performance and higher motivation. Which is kind of why we introduced ratings in the first place isn’t it?!

The frequent check-in. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? So why is it so difficult to achieve and how can you make it a reality. In this blog we look at what the HR teams who have managed it are doing right.

The ones who are enjoying the most success tend to adopt four key approaches.

They build from scratch

One of the most common mistakes we see, are HR teams trying to hold onto the old system whilst encouraging the move to frequent check-ins. They retain the annual cycle, the end of year forms, sometimes, even the ratings – and then try and layer frequent check-ins over the top. You can understand why they adopt this approach as it feels less scary if they can point to the incremental nature of the change. But rarely do we see frequent check-ins become the norm whilst they cling to the old structures. If the old structure remains intact, the focus on the check-in gets lost. Managers continue to see performance management as a formal process that they have to do at certain points in the year. Completing their forms and giving out ratings remain the key outputs.

HR teams that have the courage to start from scratch are typically more successful as new behavioural patterns can be formed without the temptation to slip back into the old. For example, the human instinct to put off that potentially tricky conversation till the end of year review can no longer be indulged. The HR team can focus all of their efforts on helping managers and employees have better conversations rather than completing the paperwork.

Have the confidence to completely get rid of the old and build the new from scratch. Abandon the annual objective setting, the end of year review, the ratings, the forms – all of the performance paraphernalia we have built up over decades. Have the courage to adopt a minimalist approach that says the ONLY thing that helps people to improve performance is to have great and frequent conversations.

They help managers to do it differently

Much of our performance management training for managers has centred around the completion of the process rather than how to actually help their employees do something better next week than they are doing today. HR teams who are getting traction with frequent check-ins are supporting managers to have better conversations instead.

This includes helping managers to move from seeing performance management as the means of judging or assessing an employee and instead of providing coaching support. For example, EY’s ‘Leading with Questions’ initiative which helped managers have better coaching conversations through ‘listening with curiosity’ or Cargill’s ‘Everyday Performance Management’ and their focus on the development of coaching skills and two-way conversations.

It doesn’t always have to be a training programme. Sometimes, just providing managers with a few choice phrases or questions to kick things off can be helpful.

They resist the temptation to compensate for poor managers

HR professionals carry a terrible burden that shapes almost everything we do; we believe we are responsible for compensating for poor managers. Almost all of our heavy, bureaucratic processes are driven by the desire to prevent our employees suffering at the hands of managers who have no interest or skill in developing, engaging and leading their people. So, we make them do an annual appraisal to ensure that they have ‘at least one conversation a year’ and give out ratings so that they ‘let their people know how they are doing’, etc. Whilst they may be worthy aims, our mission to save employees from rubbish managers is really holding us back from doing anything new. The HR teams who are managing to get frequent check-ins going typically resist the urge to compensate. They accept that whilst they will make significant gains in performance and motivation from a new approach, there will be consequences that may feel uncomfortable at first. By removing the structural constraints of the traditional PM system, they will be leaving the poor managers to their own devices and that may mean some of them do nothing at all to help their people in terms of performance.

To help us get over any guilty feelings we might have, I’d suggest that we ask ourselves two questions;

  1. Do we honestly believe that the experience of an annual performance review at the hands of a poor manager would be a positive one?
  2. Is it fair to inflict a process that is a miserable one for the majority, just so that we can force poor managers to do something they don’t want to do?

Hopefully our answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘NO!’ and we can focus less on mitigating the impact of poor managers and more on helping them improve or move on!

They let employees determine how frequent a check-in should be

One of the dilemmas that I see HR teams wrestling with is the question of ‘how frequent should a frequent check-in be’? Often, they go for the nice neat answer of once a month or weekly. To me this is a classic case of applying old thinking to our new approach; trying to apply a structure from the centre to cover a multitude of different needs. Companies like Vistaprint who have been successful in getting frequent check-ins going have applied them alongside the newer approach of being ‘employee-centred’. So, instead of having a recommended frequency, they encourage managers to find out from their employees how often they might need or want one – or establish a framework where the employee is the person who ‘makes it happen’ rather than the manager.

So, in summary:

Find out about the latest trends in performance management with our latest animation.

We are seeing a wave of new trends in performance management that take less time, cost less and actually drive up performance – which was kind of why we started this whole thing, right? Oh, and they can be done as easily over Zoom as face to face. This short video talks you through them.

If you want to help your leaders and managers have better conversations to improve performance, then you might want to check out Leader Box – the new app from Disruptive HR that offers leaders and managers really simple tips and conversation starters.

Hear how Essex County Council transformed their approach to performance management. From research to ensure their approach was user-centred, to getting rid of ratings, becoming employee-led and focusing on ‘in-the-moment’ feedback!

Nebel has done some really exciting things during her time at fashion retailer River Island. In this interview Nebel shares how she uses ‘agile hr’ as well as some great innovations in performance management and employee engagement.