Performance Review Abuse: How HR Policies Might be Hurting Your Employees

Recently, our company changed the way we handle performance reviews. We moved from a documented performance review process to a series of peer-to-peer conversations about core competencies. 
 
The result: Nothing signed, nothing filed. 
 
While helping to develop the program, I was filled with conflicting feelings. Performance reviews are one of those universally hated corporate processes that only seem to produce awkwardness and tons of paperwork. So as an employee, I was thrilled to see it go. But the HR side of me was nervous as hell. Not having documented conversations about performance? How can I safely fire you if I don’t have that documentation?
 
Right when I asked myself that question, I knew I needed to take a step back and reevaluate.
 
I don’t want to safely fire you. I want you to thrive. I want you to become even more amazing. I want you to kick so much ass that everyone around you says, “Damn, that Katie sure knows how to find amazing employees.” 
 
Although that is what most HR people are thinking, our processes are not often designed for creating success. Much of HR is governed by preventing catastrophes. 
 
HR professionals are taught from the infancy of their careers that you have to shore up your processes for the impending storm of litigation. You must make everyone sign the employee handbook. You must document all employee missteps. You must clearly document the time and date of their policy training. All of this documentation provides confirmation that indeed you were coached, trained, and/or notified prior to your termination.
 
So many HR teams try to make the performance review document both airtight evidence and also an amazing coaching tool. But just like a kitchen appliance, the more functions the performance review has, the worse it is at all of them. If the goal of the performance review is to help people grow, then design a process that does that well. Don’t add in legalese and the time and date of every wrong doing because in the end, does that really help the employee grow?
 
This awakening has me looking at every HR standard. Do I need you to sign the handbook? Do I need a handbook? What purpose does it serve? Do we need all these policies? Why? How do they help? What do they erode? What consequences do these preventative measures have on the rest of the company? 
 
Sometimes the answer is going to be “The risk to the company is so great we need documentation” or “Employees need this information clearly, so a policy is the right move.” Of course, when something is going south with an employee, there needs to be documentation for both the employee and the company’s benefit. But before launching anything to employees, we should ask ourselves “Why?” and “Does this help employees, or does it hurt them by eroding trust?”
 
By asking ourselves these questions, we find more opportunities to foster trust and create empowerment with the added bonus of a hell of a lot less paperwork. 

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