Performance reviews come under review


Many business leaders use crowdsourcing for idea generation and problem solving. Now, some HR directors and employee engagement specialists are promoting crowdsourcing — the concept that a group of individuals can be significantly smarter than its individual components — as a means of providing performance reviews and employee recognition.

Why is it more effective? “Because it’s organic and in real time,” states Eric Mosley, CEO and cofounder of the recognition provider Globoforce, in a recent essay for Harvard Business Review online. “Recognition is something that comes naturally to employees — they want to recognize their peers for great work. When the crowdsourcing concept is applied this way, coworkers and peers can identify and reward desired behaviors and cultural attributes through unsolicited recognition, as they happen.”

By capturing input from many rather than a few or just one, Mosley says companies are able to extend performance evaluations beyond a single point of failure to reveal how employees are truly performing and influencing others in the organization.

Globoforce is one of several companies that offers a crowdsourcing employee assessment tool. The Talent Maps tool from Globoforce allows HR leaders to amass social recognition data and plot it against performance appraisal ratings.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some companies are using new online technology to regularly collect crowdsourced feedback, while others are asking their employees to participate
in more formal peer reviews throughout the year. “The thinking is that more people can provide deeper insight into an individual’s performance than a single manager,” the Journal report states.

These new feedback formats are supported by a growing number of employee recognition software programs and social networks that enable workers to post real-time comments, sometimes anonymously; solicit “how am I doing?” feedback;
or post praise or recognition for a colleague.

Crowdsourced evaluations go beyond traditional 360-degree reviews, which typically only involve a small group of designated peers, supervisors and direct reports. What’s more, most 360-degree reviews are reserved for senior managers as part
of leadership development.

LivingSocial, a Washington-based daily deal company, uses Rypple, a unit of Inc., to allow workers to comment any time on peers’ work. LivingSocial takes peer recognition into account as part of its quarterly performance reviews, and it uses peer feedback to help set bonuses.

Not So Fast

Crowdsourced reviews are not embraced by everyone. Many respondents to Mosley’s article on expressed concern that peer reviews would devolve into a popularity contest or a quid pro quo exercise.

“What’s needed is an impartial system that watches over your daily work and points out the highlights as they happen,” said one respondent “It would be a mix of objective criteria and subjective peer-to-peer evaluation.” (This poster just happened to work with a company that supplied a Web-based program he said accomplishes this.)

Another commentator said the change that needs to be made regarding employee reviews is not who conducts them, but rather why they are conducted in the first place. “When employees know feedback only matters for pay/promotion (outcome goals), the actual getting better (mastery goals) falls by the wayside,” the commentator stated. “Performance management happens every day. If your company doesn’t value contiguous developmental feedback, you can try every gimmick you want: they won’t work.”

That concept supports the trend of more frequent employee reviews that was highlighted in a separate Wall Street Journal article. Writer Rachel Emma Silverman reported that annual or even quarterly reviews are not enough for the new generation of workers who are accustomed to instant feedback a la Twitter feeds and Facebook updates.

In fact, Facebook itself exemplifies this trend. The Palo Alto-based company’s 2,000 employees are encouraged to solicit and give small nuggets of feedback regularly, after meetings, presentations and projects.

Frequency and who provides the review won’t matter if appraisals can’t get some respect. One academic review of more than 600 employee feedback studies found that two-thirds of appraisals had zero or even negative effects on employee performance after the feedback was given.

“Why is doing something stupid more often better than doing something stupid once a year?” asked Samual A. Culbert, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. Culbert makes no bones on where he lands on the topic. The title of his 2010 book: “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.”