Collaboration and performance appraisal

Why collaboration requires new performance appraisal conversations

Over the past few weeks I’ve had several conversations with clients as they prepare for the annual round of performance appraisal conversations.

Regardless of what side of the process they’re on – doing an appraisal or being appraised – they all face one big challenge: How to ensure that the assessment of each person is fair, comprehensive, objective – truly reflective of the individual’s contribution.

With compensation and promotions often tied to the assessment, there is a lot at stake for individuals. No wonder that these conversation are often a great source of stress and tension.

The shift towards a more collaborative way of working adds a complication to what is already a challenging process. In particular, making sure that the assessment fairly represents an individual’s contribution may require a new approach.

In a recent blog post Tammy Erickson raises the interesting question of whether the traditional performance appraisal process fits the new world of work.

Her argument is simple: In a collaborative environment work requires a great deal of active engagement, dialogue, robust challenging of ideas, and openness to feedback and others’ insights.

In a collaborative enterprise, individual capabilities become valuable only if they contribute to the success of the whole. The standard of performance shifts to the extent to which each person has contributed to the shared task or mission. The behavior of individuals operating successfully in an environment of extended collaboration requires active engagement, a willingness to challenge and to make “adult” choices.

This aspect of a collaborative work environment raises the interesting question of who really knows what each person’s contribution was to the whole. Her research shows significant discrepancies between the views of team members about an individual’s contribution, and the views of those outside the team – and that includes the team’s direct manager.

The implication is obvious: In a work environment where collaboration is essential, there is a need for new ways to assess individuals performance, ways that take into account the views of those who work most closely with the individual – their team members.

Erickson offers examples of two companies that have adopted different approaches to handling this complication. In both cases it requires extensive peer feedback.

Of all the organizational modifications required for successful extended collaboration, adopting a performance management approach based on peer feedback is probably the most important and the most likely to create significant cultural change.

The shift towards a more collaborative way of working will require a shift also in the conversations about individual’s performance and contribution. It seems that the conversation will have to be widened to include more voices – requiring more voices to be heard.

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