Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

andy-lippok's picture

Abolish performance appraisals

By Andy Lippok on June 21, 2022

As Coens & Jenkins outline in their book "Abolishing Performance Appraisals", and as I've encountered in numerous on-line discussions and with hunderds of people within many organisations, and as outlined in a paper written by Prof Phil Taylor at the University of Strathclyde, I believe that performance management as practiced in many organisations is no longer fit for purpose and should be consigned to Room 101 and the dustbin of HR history. Whilst the original purpose and intentions of performance management might have had worthy motives, as applied in many organisations now it has morphed into something that is the new workplace tyranny. It no longer accomplishes the intended goals, drives an overburdening bureacracy and worst of all a real fear amonst many employees. Much better to follow the advice contained in the book by Coels & Jenkins and commence with the question "what problem are you trying to solve".

By getting the people to design a proper solution to the problem the organisation really has, then one dispenses with the typical command and control approach of the top-down hierarchy, and rids the organisation of fear and anxiety, and enables people to work better together by bing more adaptable.

HR process being hacked:Performance Management

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andy-lippok's picture

Hi everyone, thanks for joining the team.
I guess we need to figure out how best to approach taking this further. I await some guidance that may perhaps appear from one of the hackathon leads, but I wondered whether in the meantime we could all get onto Google+ (I've only just registed and got started so am very much a novice), so that we can make use of the circles and then the hangout feature to perhaps do a hangout shortly (countries and timezones permitting). I will try to get you all into my network on Google+ and let's see what happens!

stephanie-sharma's picture

sounds good Andy!
thank you!

stephanie-sharma's picture

Really appreciate this 'headline' and hack!
What if performance appraisals were 75% objective (this means NO manager evaluations!) and 25% subjective (some manager evals and peer reviews? What if the individual decided how he/she would be measured?
It is human nature to be measured. The most basic need to drive engagement is "know what is expected" and this could be (though is rarely done today) part of the appraisal process.
The reason appraisals are viewed as a horrible waste of time by both managers and those they manage is that a) they are opportunity based (instead of success/achievement based) b) did not include my input about what should be evaluated and c) are highly highly subjective.
We need a system to determine objectively who should be promoted let alone retained. We are horrible at managing people out and this is as painful for them as it is for their manger! Objective, individual defined expectations would eliminate a lot of this - you did or did not achieve what you set out to, now what?
The majority of organizations promote from within and are inconsistent in using science to understand fit for the new role. Additionally, they use current performance as a sole indicator of future performance in a different, new role. Subjective information is largely all that is available and therefore used. This creates promotion of the wrong folks and a culture of inequity with those that do have the talent and could perform in the role.

I agree the days of command and control and manger led are of the past and hierarchical. I also challenge that we need a performance culture to drive our human nature and differentiate and stimulate things like creativity, innovation and flux.

stephanie-sharma's picture

Hi All! My apology for not yet commenting and adding to this robust discussion! I will be commenting on Thursday. Thank you for understanding around travel and holiday time in the US. I am honored to be a part of the group and hope I can add value to the discussion!

michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Andy, thanks for your contribution--would love to hear your perspective on what are some of the specific changes you'd make to the performance appraisal process (e.g., what information is gathered, and from who? who often does the appraisal happen? who performs it? what happens afterwards?)



andy-lippok's picture

Oh, I almost forgot. You know the almost obligatory "ratings bell curve" used by many organisations to determine the pecking order, and often pay and bonus, let me relate what I've seen happen. Along with their manager a team decides on a rota for who will be rated in the top, middle and bottom categories, then next year they move the people around through the rota. Cheating? No, survival in a flawed system. A manager will not recruit the best person he can, because it will upset the rota. Cheating, No, survival in a fundamentally flawed system.

The worst part is how the practice of performance appraisals is being used in many organisations - as Fiona relates in her comment with the report from Strathclyde University - to the very detriment of people's health and wellbeing. As the report says, PA has morphed form a once benign mechanism into the new tyranny of the workplace. Often I am ashamed to say that I worked in HR and was a party to this flawed mechanism, one can see why I would certainly consign this to Room 101.

andy-lippok's picture

Michele; the answer is simply just stop doing performance appraisals! This practice is symptomatic of a top-down, command-and-control organisation containing managers and HR who wish to typecast, categorise, compare people as if they were machines. People are people, infinitely variable and cannot be placed into a simple box, rating, or onto a bell-curve that someone designed to simplify the collection of data onto a computer system. No-one needs to be appraised, or rated, or judged, or described by anyone other than the employee.

If a manager really wants to know how well her people are doing, get out of the office and spend time with the people where they work. It was Taiichi Ohno at Toyota who remarked to visiting Americans when they found him eventually on the factory floor "I don't make cars in my office!" Far better to rate, judge, quantify the performance of the system (the way the work works and which determines 95% of the performance of the organisation), than spend the futile time on rating the people.

I would encourage everyone to first read the book by Coens & Jenkins. What they proposed in their book was, if you want to provide feedback then at worst give employees feedback, but best to let the employees work out what and how to obtain their own feedback. If you want to coach people, then coach them - don't appraise them. If you want them to be trained or be developed, then do so - they don't need appraisal mechanisms to do this task.

The key to understanding appraisals and performance management, the underlying assumptions and beliefs, and why they are so bad and fail spectacularly to improve the real performance of the organisation and its people, is in first understanding to what extent the way we think greatly impacts and shapes the outcomes of our endeavours. Only when we understand fully the nature of our thinking can we effect the transformational chnage we desire.

fiona-savage's picture

In my first roll as a regional sales manager supporting 8 sales reps, I was expected to try and spend 2 consecutive days with each of them in the field. This amounted to 16 days a month out of the 22 days. How can you support, coach and mentor from an office?

As managers we need to understand what barriers our teams face and our role is to help remove these barriers, by feedback back to colleagues, in my case sales and marketing. All sales territories have variation and can never be made equal in business potential. A CRM system encourages management and marketing by numbers!

Managers need to be in the field or on the factory floor, only then will they understand their teams and individuals are performance.

fiona-savage's picture

As a believer that organisation are organic entities not machines and that the science of complexity prevails, I would like see organisations remove unnecessary tools and policies. You have to eliminate strait jackets like performance appraisals. As Andy has said in another min hack "The role of management is to remove obstacle" So completely abolish appraisals.

A favorite story of mine:

An HR departments grads individual 1-5 or uses bell curve.
The HR director was asked by the union representative;
“If half your team of Einstein’s would they still grade them in the same way, 1-5 or uses bell curve?
The HR director replied “yes we would need to know who the best…was “
The Union representative then asked;
“If you had a team of idiots would they stilt grade them using the same system…… “There was no response…

I would suggest the alternative is to place the responsibility with each person in the organisation to work to the common purpose of the company. That is if the organisation has a clear common purpose all can buy into!

Andy what are your thoughts?

Completely agree with you that abolishing appraisals is the right thing to do.. So the next question that comes to mind is how do we rate people and compensate them? There are multiple models that are already in use in some of the most radical organizations.

Some of them being:
- Let the team decide who gets how much of the pie.
- Performance related incentives have shown to be ineffective once you cross a threshold. So, have competitive base salaries (benchmark with the market, skills, etc) and do away with the incentives (which then will also reduce the dependency on performance appraisals).

I have also submitted a few hacks which could help in this regard. You may want to check the following hacks:

- Handing out Promotions, where i speak about teams becoming the most basic component of an organization.
- No More Annual appraisals

fiona-savage's picture


Mental health of workers is being put at risk thanks to the "relentless pressure" of management systems meant to improve their performance, according to a new report.

Strathclyde University researchers examined the use of performance management – such as setting targets – after unions raised concerns that far from encouraging staff, it is in the worst cases being used to "manage" workers out of the door, by assessing them as underperforming and sacking them. Unions and researchers both claim workers have suffered extreme stress, depression and in a few cases threatened suicide.