Scrapping the Annual Performance Review

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“Our people are our greatest asset.” This seems to be every company’s mantra nowadays. But what are we doing to prove it? Our HR Lead Emily Micallef talks about how the WGN scrapped archaic once-a-year performance reviews and created a space for constant, honest feedback.

When we started the People team at BRND WGN, elsewhere known as the HR department, we knew we wanted to do things differently. We didn't want to regurgitate the to-do list from the HR handbook but rather create a department which would have a positive impact on our people, and ultimately make work life better.

During my initial conversations with the team, performance reviews became a popular topic. Wagoneers were craving feedback, but we didn’t want to roll out the once-a-year chat just for the sake of it. 

By definition, an annual performance review takes place as part of an organisation’s performance management process. It’s the tool companies use to manage and retain talent. Superficially, it might seem that it can't go wrong. But a poorly executed performance management strategy can prove to be detrimental. 

Only 8% of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value, while 58% say it’s not an effective use of time. So why are we still trying to apply these archaic methods when they're clearly not working?

We wanted to give Wagoneers a place where their voice could be heard and they could receive feedback when they needed it. NOT once a year.

I mean, picture this. You’re setting your goals for the next 6 months in your annual performance review. Fast forward two weeks, you and your manager have forgotten about them due to your intense workflow which, understandably, has to be your number one priority. One year later, your performance review rolls around and you've totally forgotten about your goals, up until the last second. Sounds familiar? You’re not alone.

It’s time for a change. The traditional system simply won't cut it. So, what did we do?

We focused on feedback. Making feedback more frequent and part of everyone’s day-to-day was our priority.  We wanted to give Wagoneers a place where their voice could be heard and where they could receive feedback when they needed it. NOT once a year. We wanted to avoid those difficult conversations where employees don't feel that their hard work is being recognised, or where they are blindsided by critical feedback.

We started using a tool called 15Five where employees spend a maximum of 15 minutes a week answering 3 to 5 questions that we craft and review. Questions include: “What challenges did you face this week?”, to help address pressing issues and “Mention someone who did amazing work this week?”, to publicly recognise efforts that might have otherwise been overlooked.  There is an element of transparency, yet also a level of confidentiality. This creates the perfect balance for our people to express what’s on their mind. 

On Monday morning, my team and the respective team managers review the feedback but, most importantly, put addressing concerns on their agenda for the coming week. So, if a Wagoneer has a problem or simply reaches out for help, feedback is given immediately and the WGN moves forward.  Real-time feedback; tracked, documented and effortless.

Within a week of its launch, Wagoneers started engaging in more frequent conversations about their challenges. They received continual feedback on performance, and problems were being solved as they happened. We still hold our annual check-ins, but these are fluid conversations based on a deep insight into people’s performance throughout the year - not finger-in-the-air, how-did-we-do conversations. 

When introducing a performance management structure to Wagooneers, we wanted to put a new lens on HR which complemented the culture of our organisation, not changed it. We’ve never been the type of agency to stick to the status quo. Performance management was not going to be the exception.