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Appraisals – to Tech or not to Tech?

I love appraisals.

Possibly this is because an appraisal review tends to combine conversation, coffee and a to-do list, which are some of my favourite things. However, I do have a reasonably earnest point to make about the current debate on whether or not appraisals are a good idea.

Perhaps obviously, the anti-appraisal trend seemed to start with some big-name disruptive and technology-focused organisations (think Google) and more recently we’ve read in @PeopleMgt about the leading management consultancy firms achieving feedback mechanisms in different ways.
However it’s another slant on this story which I’d like to focus on, which is the emerging suggestion that it is HR technology that is the right replacement for the annual appraisal conversation. As a professional I set out to bridge a gap between people and their technologies at work and I’m bothered by this. I am far from convinced that this is how best to use technology nor what technology is for.

In October’s CIPD news we read about Amazon’s feedback tools for peer performance and it seems to me that the combination here of near-real-time peer comment and rankings is perilous. Whilst Microsoft looked to use technology in performance management to move away from rankings, here we see the tools used to drive those rankings. It sounds brutal to me. In the Amazon jungle giant this might be just the job, but for the overwhelming majority of organisational contexts I cannot regard this as a good thing.

Increasingly the HR technology market offers application solutions in performance management that purport to extend the move away from traditional, top-down, annual ratings review. The tools variously allow for instantaneous feedback, peer contribution and upwards assessment, cascading of goals, scoring techniques, analytics, real-time review.

I don’t see all of this as a natural move, nor the right one to be making in any work context where we wish to focus on talent, engagement and commitment. I’d like to see HR leaders looking at where and why tech is best and playing to its strengths. So:

  • Yes, to fact-gathering tools with information for review (particularly when it comes to the client experience)
  • Yes, to a slick and secure system for capturing and moving along process, achieving full participation
  • Yes, to more with reports to provide analytics and insightful prediction.

This is because technology deals better than we do with volume, with reliability and completeness, with crunching data. But here is what I suggest we do not want our people technology to do:

  • Hold our conversations in a forum where we hide behind anonymity
  • Contradict us when we mean to indicate that our relationship matters
  • Reflect a moment rather than a whole, personal performance
  • Speak for us in saying that if we invest our real, human time elsewhere then that elsewhere matters more

There used to be just the intelligence quotient (IQ). Now we have business intelligence, intelligent tools, emotional intelligence, artificial intelligence – and we can really stretch each of these points if we try.

That there remain different types of intelligence is exactly my point. Whether review discussion is annual, quarterly or in the moment I think signifies less, but we should let technology free us up to do what people do better.

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