Could social media revolutionise the performance appraisal process?

Jenny Hill , 22 May 2012


It’s 1950, you’re walking down your office corridor to the filing room, you see two people in a meeting room, a manager and an employee; there’s an appraisal going on. Now fast forward, it’s 2012 and you’re on a video conference call, two people in a meeting room catch your eye; there’s an appraisal going on.

The workplace today has changed beyond recognition; new technology is continuously bringing efficiencies to our way of working. However, one thing remains constant - the performance appraisal process.

Let's be fair though, there have been a few notable advancements in performance appraisals since the 1950's. The first variations came with the introduction of Management by Objective (MBO) later referred to as Management by Results (MBR). The 1980's saw a move towards competency based evaluation. Then, as a way to inject objectivity, 360 degree feedback became popular in the 1990's. However, the fundamentals have remained the same; the manager is ultimately responsible for giving the employee feedback.

Now, consider Generation Y for a moment, will they be content to wait for their annual or bi-annual review to find out how they're doing? Probably not! Their world is a sharing world - it's instant and on tap. They're part of a new generation where continuous communication and collaboration is the norm. This surely begs the question; how can we align the performance management process with today's social way of thinking and communicating? 'Social' is already working in other HR processes; recruitment and learning for example. Is it time to add performance management to the list?

Per Fragemann founder of Small Improvements, a social performance cloud based platform, certainly thinks so. Fed up with using a traditional appraisal process, he decided to create his own. "Back in 2009 I managed a team of 20 people, but the tool we used for reviews just killed me. The more staff I got, the worse the user experience. What's more, we wanted to do reviews more frequently to avoid the once a year terror. We wanted to be able to share some of the feedback and parts of the objectives with other staff. We were able to create a system that puts the end user first." says Per.

Social performance management fosters a supportive and collaborative work culture where your employees are primarily responsible for requesting their own feedback, not annually but daily in real-time. Feedback then becomes interactive, timely and focused. By using social HR technology, constant feedback is streamlined between manager and employee. The result …… the employee becomes more engaged and the manager gets meaningful, real-time information to improve performance immediately.

Let's take it a step further and add goals to the equation. With the accelerating speed of change in organisations and the demand for quick responses, annual goals or objectives can quickly become obsolete. Social goals, on the other hand, evolve and change in real-time. Goals are worked on collaboratively across teams and the organisation as a whole. Individual performance is monitored continually and has direct relevance to results. Teams can rally around goals in an easy, open and social way. Teams stay focused on what really matters and individuals are encouraged to work towards driving the key targets that impact the business. Furthermore, employees are publicly recognised or instantly rewarded for their contribution and achievements. The result …… employees know how they're doing; they feel more motivated, focused and accountable.

And what about coaching - a key element of performance management? The traditional appraisal process makes the assumption that the manager is a good coach. With a social performance management process, coaching becomes collaborative, not just top down. Employees are actively encouraged to ask for help throughout the organisation's network. Colleagues, not just managers, give support. The result …… knowledge is shared across the organisation and coaching becomes an on-going, collaborative process.

So, who's already embracing the concept of social performance management? There's now a new generation of companies learning to manage a new generation of workers. Companies like Facebook, Spotify, Linkedin and Atlassian have abandoned a traditional performance appraisal process in favour of a social approach. However, don't be fooled into thinking that it's just innovative techy companies who are changing their approach to people management.

Sunrun, a solar energy company with 200 employees was previously using a traditional competency based appraisal process. Eight months ago they introduced Rypple, a leading social performance management platform. Lee Goldin from Sunrun says "It's great for putting ideas out there, you can unveil objectives to the whole team, ask for opinions and suggestions and then work on them together. We do 360 feedback each week, it's like the Facebook honesty box of work."

There's no doubt that social HR technologies have the potential to revolutionise the management of people. However, you may be thinking that a social approach to performance management is too radical for your work culture. Indeed, it may not be the right answer just now but think carefully when re-designing your performance appraisal process. Consider the work culture you want to create; a collaborative, supportive work culture doesn't fit snuggly with a traditional appraisal process. Collaboration, instant feedback and on-going coaching are quickly becoming the norm in the workplace. If you don't re-think your performance management process soon, in two or three years, your organisation could well be lagging behind.

Jenny Hill, director, Training Hand


4 comments on this article

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A hybrid approach works best...

Jane Sunley 22 May 2012

An interesting read, Jenny, with several good points raised. I’d have to disagree with your initial comment though. In our eyes, the ‘performance appraisal’ process has changed, and significantly, so definitely not constant. Who would have thought, back in 1950, that the appraisal process would shift from a laborious paper-based system in which a manager tells their employee how they’ve performed over the year, to the forward thinking online systems which are now available across the world. Technology has ensured that this process is now given the recognition it deserves. Employees and managers alike are able to conduct robust one-to-one meetings, with rich conversations about career progress, development and goal alignment. Online systems, such as our own talent toolbox™ family of solutions, enable individuals to drive their own progress – a key for Generation Y – where they can request feedback, track and measure themselves against objectives, targets and others plans; now it’s the employee who is the one in control. I do agree that this process should not be restrained to an annual or bi-annual event. Yes we would recommend an in-depth review at least once a year so people can really focus on the big picture, where it’s future focused rather than just about looking back. However these should be backed up by, what we call a ‘coffee chat’ system; an accessible and user-friendly on-going review mechanism which, amongst other features, allows the individual to review their own progress against the goals and other actions they have set. The employee is firmly in the driving seat when it comes to requesting input and / or support from their manager and / or others. You mention coaching, and yes it is a major part of the review process, and we’d recommend coaching skills for all. However in the real world we know all companies simply aren’t going to invest time and money in providing their managers and others with coaching skills. It’s therefore important to structure the review process so it leads them to take the right approach and unfortunately this is where using the purely social approach can fall down. So we’d come out in favour of a hybrid approach because we know it can work in even the most challenging of businesses circumstances.

Here comes the revolution!

Jon Ingham, Social Advantage 22 May 2012

Great article, and absolutely a revolutionary change for performance management. And: 1. It's not just recruiting and performance management - any HR process can be improved / transformed by social media. I've delivered several holistic social HR projects for clients now. 2. We shouldn't just think about the technology. Performance management can also be transformed through more social face-to-face approaches. 3. I also agree with Jane - it's just not true that there's been no change in performance management - it's just that many organisations don't know about and certainly don't use many of them. But social is just one of the several innovated approaches which are available. The key is to think about how you can innovate this and other processes, using these examples to spur your thinking, rather than move onto the technology just because it's there.

Social media is just a tool...

Jo ayoubi 23 May 2012

The fundamentals of effective performance appraisal are the same as they have always been: - Setting the right goals - Regular review on progress and - Regular feedback The difference between now and the 1950s,or even the 1980's, is that employees and their managers have to do more, in lesstime, and more quickly, than ever. That's why companies need a consistent way of keeping track of goals, results and feedback. A good online performance management system will therefore be an everyday tool that tracks and updates progress on goals, allows notes to be made quickly and easily, and provides a pathway for fast feedback from colleagues. This should all integrate into the annual performance appraisal at the end of the year, makingit less of an ordeal for employees, their managers and HR! A good example is the empower performance system that adds these elements in a modular way. None of this replaces the face-to-face conversations that have to happen for effective performance appraisal to take place. Social media channels and tools are just another way of using the internet to allow people to connect, and share and exchange information without an intermediary. If your performance management system incorporates social media elements,that's great, but there's a lot more to effective performance management.


Rob Wheatley 24 May 2012

Good to see more people picking up on this. There are quite a few companies now offering to revolutionise the performance management process. I should know because I'm one of them. Our product PerformanceHub even says it on the tin here http://cogendo.com We built PerformanceHub to address the very concerns you mention in your article. In fact, we go beyond that, we want the whole company to perform better and we ensure this through better performing employees, higher focus and more alignment. Our approach and many of the other companies trying to crack this nut you mention is to be more inclusive, keep performance and objectives "alive" during the entire review period and break down the geographical barriers that are common place in most organisations today. Rob Wheatley Cogendo

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