Has The Time Come to Eliminate Annual Employee Reviews?

Organizations require order and standard procedures to thrive. Max Werking’s seminal essays ring true both about the positive and negative effects of bureaucratic order. One of the longstanding tools managers use in the bureaucratic order is the employee evaluation. For the new employee it typically is the probationary report. For the permanent employee, it is the annual review sometimes paired with a training and competencies development plan.

Over my lifetime in state and local government I have experienced and witnessed the best and worst of the employee review. Hopefully your experience has been good. If not, then maybe here is where you can comment, share and advocate for change.

After 40 years of reviewing organizational practices and before I retired, I experienced many evaluations both as an evaluator and as someone being evaluated. One of the worst experiences was just before promotional exams where you were either exalted or diminished and your chances at competing in the promotional process were clear. This process was both objective and at times highly perceptual (nonobjective). Currently, it is still not an appealable process to any external source such as mediation or a personnel board. Even the unions have hibernated on this subjective process long viewed in management’s domain.

There are solid reasons and a foundation of HR principles to support annual evaluations. These include building organizational expertise, morale, recognition and more as memorialized by regulation, law and union agreements. As much as we aspire to promote equality, not all employees are equally skilled and experienced. A poorly performing probationary employee likely has to be let go or relocated. Finally, every organization needs to promote and enforce goals and objectives, and the annual review typically includes such known organizational measures.

Contrary to longstanding HR processes, there are abuses. Predetermination and favoritism were topics often shared privately at upper levels of government programs. I often suspected as much and it was confirmed after the fact. Even the internal appeal process could take months. This would smooth the way for the organization but not the aggrieved employee. When an employee did have the temerity to challenge an evaluation that employee could be tagged as a disloyal “troublemaker” and also subject to retaliatory actions in the workplace. Of course, denial by the employee plays a part and some evaluations ring true.

A large organization, outside of government, but with bureaucratic characteristics just publicly announced that the employee evaluation process will be substantially changed and even discontinued. General Electric’s HR Manager Susan Peter and CEO Jeffrey Imelt have conducted media interviews on how General Electric will change the employee evaluation process as follows:

“…After running pilots with 30,000 employees and getting tons of helpful, detailed input from employees around the world, we are adopting GE’s performance development approach – without an annual static individual rating – as our company standard.”

As explained by these executives, the basis of the change is the technology driven workforce. More frequently, we see private and public organizations offer employees external work opportunities related to wellness, child care, birthing and external work assignments. Work no longer happens only in the office building. Telework, virtual work and technology-supported work platforms simply allow employees to work more efficiently.

So, does the traditional employee “static” evaluation work for virtual workers? For decades now, public employees assigned to investigative, legal, emergency services, legislative and many others disciplines travel to and produce quantifiable and qualifiable results. I like the concept of a “nonstatic” evaluation because we all experience on the job mishaps in our career and it is promising to offer an employee a redemption.

So where is your public service organization on this matter? Have the timing (annual), content (personally observed) and regulatory (mandatory) variables changed to permit modernization of the employee evaluation in government? Do managers and employees have alternatives to the static or longstanding evaluation? Is General Electric shining a better light that we can all follow?

Where is your organization on this fundamental pinion of growth and organizational culture?  Let’s hear from you.

Submitted by Geoff McLennan

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