The existing annual performance review model is defunct, fosters discrimination and needs replacing, says Ab Banerjee, CEO and Founder of ViewsHub.

For many office workers the build-up to this year’s Christmas season will be marked by the dreaded annual performance appraisal.

The prospect provokes feelings of trepidation and anxiety among office staff the length and breadth of the country but is simply accepted as a type of macabre ritual as traditional as the festive season itself. A sort of workplace equivalent of Brussel sprouts or the inevitable family Christmas argument.

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 95 percent of employees are unsatisfied with their employers’ appraisal system.

All too frequently following their annual review workers are left stranded with a feeling of dejection while pondering more questions than they have answers.

The issue is compounded by vague and inconsistent approaches to annual appraisals even within the same organisation. This, in turn, leaves employers more vulnerable to actual or perceived instances of workplace discrimination and the inappropriate deployment of skills and talent.

As The Guardian noted only last month, these problems aren’t just the preserve of small or medium-sized companies; they plague even perceived bastions of the progressive workplace, such as Facebook where managers have faced allegations of racial discrimination.

Studies also indicate that the annual appraisal model is perpetuating gender inequality in the workplace. A recent Harvard University study suggests that 60 percent of men have their performance review feedback linked to tangible commercial outcomes compared to only 40 percent of women. The study also found women more prone to receiving vaguer comments making it harder to determine a pathway to improvement.  

A new approach

Is this the best we can do? Absolutely not. The annual appraisal model is past its time and needs a radical overhaul. Technology offers the way forward.

Real-time 360-degree feedback solutions

The optimum appraisal solution would see feedback delivered in real-time from multiple stakeholders. Studies, including a recent report from global consultancy PWC, have shown that real-time feedback solutions are preferable, particularly for younger workers.

A shortcoming with the traditional appraisal model is that it comes once a year meaning frequent lags between the identification of areas for improvement and action being taken to address them. It’s also flawed in its reliance on the assessor to gather feedback from multiple sources.

Online platforms have the capacity to overcome these shortcomings and see feedback delivered in real-time from multiple stakeholders, including superiors, co-workers, other teams and even clients. This offers the chance to remove any delay, drive efficiency, and ensure comprehensive feedback.

Quality feedback control

But, rapid feedback from an array of different sources is in itself no panacea. To prevent real-time solutions from descending into a maelstrom of intangible negativity, care has to be taken to ensure feedback is actionable. It needs to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of an employee’s actions, while also suggesting coherent positive steps for improvement. Built-in feedback guides and prompts to those delivering feedback are an important quality control component by offering suggestions in terms of constructive wording and phraseology. 

Feedback should also have the capacity to be delivered in multiple formats. A quantitative score-based solution must also be complemented with the option to supplement ratings with text feedback too. 

Beware the cult of the individual

A key shortcoming of both the current annual appraisal model and some existing 360-degree feedback solutions is they foster an individualist culture. Individuals become so fixated by the instant feedback to their own work that they don’t stop to consider the implications of their actions for their wider team.

While individual performance is important, a more effective system would frame this feedback within the context of a team as a whole. Doing so will remove silos, encouraging transparency and collaboration.

The prospect of a workplace free from the dreaded annual performance review, replaced instead by a real-time team-oriented appraisal solution that delivers rich, constructive, multi-format feedback from multiple parties is not a utopian vision. The future is already here. We have the technology; we just need to embrace it.