Driving Performance Culture

Company Culture

Several years ago now, we committed to 360° performance reviews (employees reviewing each other in addition to their manager). For a while, reviews happened every quarter. This cadence became difficult for both the team and management to run efficiently. Many team members would ask for an extension, which was tough within three months, or they would get it done, but their responses lacked substance. The process also required a lot of time from managers.

Now, we conduct performance reviews semi-annually. The team provides solid feedback, and the process is straightforward. But like many things, you solve one problem, then you surface another.

Despite a robust performance review process, we have had under-performing employees given Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) and employees who ask their manager how their performing. This makes me think there's an opportunity to revisit our semi-annual performance review process, and maybe that means saying goodbye.

Every day, team members experience one another, and naturally, they have feedback for each other. When they do, there are several ways the feedback may get handled:

  1. They brush it off and stay quiet.
  2. They seek advice from their friends and family.
  3. They share the feedback with their co-worker's manager.
  4. They have one-on-one with their co-worker.
  5. They talk to the co-worker's manager who prompts a group conversation.

Whichever approach the employee takes, there's no direct tie to the other employee's performance review unless it's around that time of year or the manager takes note. This is one of the reasons I believe in promoting the manager feedback channel because, at a minimum, the manager is in the loop.

Kate, Director of Client Services, and I recently discussed a framework for addressing feedback for her team following her Upward Feedback session. Given the sheer number of people the Client Services team interacts with daily to manage clients and project teams, it is not uncommon for Kate to receive feedback from her team's co-workers or Barrel leadership.

Like any manager, Kate may not have been involved in the situation where the feedback was derived. Rather than play messenger and deliver the feedback for them, we agreed that she'd start setting up a chat between herself and the parties involved. She'd facilitate the conversation, take notes, and follow up with written notes afterward to confirm alignment.

There are two key benefits to this process:

  1. The manager takes ownership of the feedback and the team's performance.
  2. The feedback is documented so the manager and employee can reference it later.

The question remains, what about performance reviews?

In a perfect world where this is happening across the agency, performance reviews and PIPs might no longer be necessary. We wouldn't need specified times in the year to gather and address feedback because feedback would be happening daily. We wouldn't need a process to document and give feedback to an underperforming employee because feedback would be addressed and documented daily.

There is a lot to consider with a change like this, but the possibilities are exciting. I love the idea that no one ever gets a performance improvement plan because, in essence, we're all on one from the start, looking to get better every day. A shift like this could normalize feedback and further promote a performance culture.

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This post originally appeared in Edition No. 095 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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