Death to the Annual Review

IBM is recently among the growing list of companies throwing its annual performance review system out the window.


Taking a step back from time to time and looking at the bigger picture is always a good thing, yet reviews purportedly rank alongside undergoing a root canal on the list of the least favourite things to do both for employees and managers...go figure. It's definitely time for a redesign and rebrand.

The conversations appraisal processes aim to facilitate are important to people, and key to the employee meaning quotient. Naturally, good appraisal processes are shown to have more engagement from their people. 

But, it's definitely not just a one-time-a-year conversation. It should be an ongoing dialogue about the employee's journey with a company, from the moment he/she joins and focused on him/her. Constant ongoing feedback and communication is important (all ways – up, down, right, left!). To state the obvious, we can't realistically expect people to recall the course of the entire year at one point in time. Personal and professional motivations and goals change. And each person is unique. Further, if a manager is truly trying to support his/her team and influence a change in behaviour, that doesn't happen overnight. 

Can the process be less cumbersome, less painful, and maybe even slightly fun?

Feedback is meant to be a good thing – not leave the recipient feeling defensive, surprised, beaten down, or inflated (if no ‘real’ feedback is given due to fear of being honest). Effective feedback helps people improve and achieve their own goals and the company’s goals.

Companies getting it right are employing more ‘in the moment’ feedback – formally and informally, incorporating innovative uses of gamification, and focusing on the individual and understanding his/her talents, goals and motivations. "360 feedback” has become a permanent fixture in processes, and these companies are rolling it out with the right training on giving and receiving it.

Well done to those companies leading the way. After all, most people don’t like root canals. 

Ashley Walker is Founder & CEO at Culture Engineers, and advises clients on internal & external communications strategy, branding, employee experience and management practices.