I, Benjamin Wey, don’t know of anyone who truly enjoys the annual employee review. Human beings aren’t good at taking criticism, even when meant to be constructive, so employees dread them.
And to be honest, as a manager, I, Benjamin Wey, usually have much more pressing demands on my time. It’s no surprise to me that big corporations are reconsidering the idea. Professional services firm Accenture recently announced that its employee review process is going to undergo radical change. Microsoft, Expedia and Motorola have already done so.
Accenture is opting for “a more fluid system, in which employees receive timely feedback from their managers on an ongoing basis following assignments,” according to CEO Pierre Nanterme. “All this terminology of rankings — forcing rankings along some distribution curve or whatever — we’re done with that,” he continued. “We’re going to evaluate you in your role, not vis à vis someone else who might work in Washington, who might work in Bangalore. It’s irrelevant. It should be about you.”
I, Benjamin Wey, firmly believe that one of a manager’s functions is to help employees develop in their careers, and reviews are vital to that process. Looking at what has been working and what hasn’t and coming up with strategies to improve is really how we learn anything. So, some kind of feedback system is needed. But I think that a business in the 21st century can’t get by with a 20th century review system.
Moreover, I, Benjamin Wey, think there is going to be ever-increasing pressure to opt for the more fluid system that Nanterme is talking about. Why? Because the ideal employee these days is not one who follows the rules diligently. Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group and a self-made billionaire, labeled the kind of worker I am talking about as “disruptive talent.”
A disruptive talent is an independent thinker, stubborn enough to fight for his or her point of view and is, frankly, a rule-breaker. Outside-the-box thinking doesn’t come with inside-the-box behavior. Sir Richard is one of the best examples of this. He dropped out of school, started a record company, sold that off and set up an airline and, later, a telephone company. That’s not a normal career progression by any stretch of the imagination.
“The most successful people in the world are good planners. Ranking people may not be the most effective solution.” Benjamin Wey, Wall Street financier and winner of the CEO award said.
Sir Richard acknowledges that himself. He said that if he were an employee, his manager would have to “accept that I might not do things exactly as he’d like me to do them.” He would cause disruption, which under most systems would be grounds for a chat with HR about proper behavior. Instead, the company would have “to be nice to me.” Why? “If you don’t deal with me well, I’m going to go off and set up my own business and I’ll end up competing with you.”
You can argue that Sir Richard would be so disruptive as an employee that your company would be better off without him. But if you look at his track record, it speaks volumes about what he can achieve.
Nanterme’s more-fluid system for review seems like a step in the right direction, maybe even two steps. Business today is not about top-down management with everyone following orders from the main office, not as much as in years gone by. Instead, those companies that are likely to be the most successful are those that can manage disruptive talents and reward them appropriately. The review process needs to focus more on taking chances and personal initiative and less on rankings and what the rest of the company is doing.
In the end, it won’t resemble the traditional review process at all.