GE is known as an innovative company and according to Forbes is one of the worlds most valuable brands. Late summer they made headlines with the announcement that they were retiring performance management reviews.
No big deal? Think again. GE has built a reputation on Jack Welch’s ridgid performance management programs, cutting the bottom 10 percent of under performers each year.
First, I applaud GE for the bold move. Any company wide change in an organization the size of GE’s would be challenging. Second, what took you so long? In 2011, Pythian acted against the crowd and ditched the prevailing zeitgeist by implementing a performance feedback program.
At the time, with approximately one hundred employees and a brand new HR team we were just beginning to establish our HR programs. Like many small companies, we did not have a structured performance management program. We were growing rapidly and identified a need to provide employees with useful feedback and career discussions.
Ratings, rankings and bell curves, “Oh My!” We didn’t even consider them. We designed a program that removed standard performance management elements like numerical rankings. Our program focus was created to facilitate formal, organized feedback discussions, in a comfortable environment, between an employee and their manager. The idea was to base the discussion on each team member’s career aspirations and journey. During a new hire orientation, the first steps of the career journey begin. Following every six months we schedule time to sit down and have focused career feedback discussions. During these discussions, goals are established, recent successes reviewed, progress on goals updated, and challenges chronicled with suggestions to overcome. Furthermore, career aspirations and plans for professional development are discussed and established.
The feedback program is constantly evolving and improving to meet the changing needs and scale of the company. Of course we listen to employee feedback about the program and implement changes after a review of the suggestions. Change can be difficult for people. Initially, employees more accustomed to traditional performance management were hesitant, but they quickly responded to the easy and relaxed format of our program.
Regular feedback is key. We encourage two way feedback: up and/or down, across the organization, in real time, all the time. We are always working to improve our programs, processes and ideas, e.g. “upping our game” as a company. We believe it’s important to build a culture of constant feedback. A culture of two way feedback built on trust and transparency is a team effort by all members of the Pythian Team.
During orientation I enjoy encouraging and empowering all new employees with permission to ask their leaders for feedback anytime. I encourage them to not wait to share what’s going well and to disclose where they need extra support/further direction, etc. In my own team meetings I inquire what I could be doing more of and less of. How can I be a better communicator and leader. I create a safe environment for the team to provide feedback so we can collectively improve.
It will be interesting to see if GE’s announcement encourages more companies to re-evaluate their approach to Performance Management systems and encourage more effective dialogue and feedback discussions with their employees.