‘Organic’ Performance Reviews

Anyone who follows me on twitter (@annetomk) knows that I just discovered the existence of organic cigarettes. I am struggling to understand who buys these. If the point of organic is to be healthy and toxin-free, isn’t this a direct contradiction to inhaling poison into your lungs? How is organic nicotine or tobacco better than non-organic?

I can only assume that somehow, the folks buying these cigarettes have jumped on the organic bandwagon and figure that if organic fruit and dairy is better for you, then the same should apply to everything, even cigarettes. (Disclaimer – if you are an organic cigarette smoker, I would love to hear from you and understand your reasoning. Because I just don’t get it.)

Even as I’m judging these smokers (and I’ll admit I’m feeling kind of judge-y about them), don’t we all miss the point of things, figuring if the ‘organic’ label is good, it can be applied everywhere? In HR, it can be easy to jump on to the next big thing without taking the time to understand how, or even if, what’s new and shiny actually fits into our business and our HR strategy.

One new and shiny thing in HR is to do away with annual performance reviews. I know that some HR pros and their organizations are thoughtful when planning this process. But I see a lot of articles about getting rid of the annual performance review and they seem to be replacing annual reviews with more frequent reviews, such as quarterly, but they aren’t changing the content. To me this is like continuing to smoke, but now my cigarettes are organic.

Annual reviews are not problematic only because they happen infrequently. They are problematic because of the kinds of conversations that happen and don’t happen, the kinds of bureaucratic paperwork involved, and because of a lack of managerial training in how to share feedback. Making the reviews quarterly addresses the frequency, but more frequent ineffective conversations with more frequent paperwork requirements are not going to magically solve employee and manager dread of reviews.

Before throwing out the annual review process, HR should be taking a hard look at what the review is intended to do. Even though annual reviews may not be serving their original purpose, that purpose still exists and needs to be filled in some manner. The main problem with reviews is a lack of honest conversation around performance. Those conversations are key, but reviews were also created to document performance and to inform salary increase decisions. Documentation is still a necessary evil, and salary decisions still need to be made. If we choose to get rid of performance reviews, we must be ready to address these issues with something else.

Every employee has a right to know if their work product is successful or not, and if not, how they can improve. Every manager has the responsibility to share that information, and HR has the responsibility to make sure that managers are trained to do so, and are held accountable to share performance feedback. If this can be successfully accomplished within the paradigm of the annual review, then why change the process? If we still want to change the process, let’s start with ensuring that effective performance conversations are happening, hopefully beyond the review cycle and into the day to day life of our organizations.

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