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The Future of Work

The One Change That Might Save The Dying Performance Review

Just measuring performance only gets you so far. Here's how to track whether everyone behaves in ways that match your values.

The One Change That Might Save The Dying Performance Review
[Photo: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock]

Organizations and managers expend enormous amounts of time and effort tracking employees' processes and results. Plenty are no longer seeing the payoff, with many high-profile companies scrapping the dreaded annual performance review.

But there's one area where organizations invest very little, and it may hold a key to saving performance management from an untimely death: measuring how employees treat one another in the workplace.

Why You Should Measure Values-Based Behavior Just Like Performance

That the exclusive pursuit of results can lead to shoddy or broken-down work cultures is so well-known that it hardly needs rehashing. Many companies draw up mission statements in order to state their values, but following through on them is often another story. When values either aren't properly outlined or simply aren't abided by, all manner of malfeasance can creep in.

You wouldn't just assume that everyone knows their performance standards and delivers them without any discussion, would you? Clarity and accountability around performance has become such a formalized process—replete with goals, targets, dashboards, metrics, and consequences for falling short of them—that we're now seeing something of a backlash. Companies are moving away from this rigorous type of performance management and toward offering more routine, less formal feedback.

Still, the blind spot around values-based behaviors remains. Companies can't just assume that employees know how they're supposed to treat other people at work, either. Promoting and sustaining the behaviors that shore up your work culture takes the same degree of deliberate, careful, and unbiased monitoring. But first, you need to define what those values are—and on more than an abstract level.

Back To Behavioral Basics

Most organizations have their strategies and goals pretty well defined. They've also mapped out the broad-based values and principles they claim to live by. But few are all that good at tying those two things together by defining those values in observable, tangible, measurable terms, the same way they do for performance goals.

Let’s say one of your values is integrity. Great—that's a popular one. The trouble is that it's hard to know how much integrity your company as a whole or a given employee display from one moment to the next. Values by themselves are difficult to measure. So the first step is outlining which concrete behaviors reflect a certain value, then putting in place a system for measuring those.

One of my clients defined integrity this way: "We are accountable for our actions. We do what we say we will do. We do not compromise our organization’s values, no matter what." Then they spelled out the behaviors that every employee needs to display in order to stay aligned with that value:

  • I hold myself accountable for my commitments and actions. I keep my promises.
  • I attack problems and processes, not people.
  • I accept responsibility and apologize if I jeopardize respect or trust.
  • I align all my plans, decisions, and actions with the organization’s purpose and values.

However you do it, the goal is to convert values from vague ideals into actionable parameters—behaviors you can measure from day to day, situation to situation. The next step is for leaders to take on the work of modeling those behaviors consistently; it isn't enough just to write them down, distribute the memo, and hope for the best.

Once you've defined them, team members will closely scrutinize every plan, decision, and action their managers make and raise questions when anything seems inconsistent—that's partly the point. But then it's up to employees, too, to fall in line with the new values-based behaviors of the organization.

Meet Your New Metrics

Just as performance dashboards aim to remove subjectivity from the evaluation process (you either deliver a goal or you don't), there's a way to cut some of the bias out of measuring behavioral performance. I've developed a "values survey," implemented twice annually, that my clients are able to customize. The questions on it reflect the valued behaviors they define themselves. So for instance, if you have four values with four behavioral descriptions apiece, you’ll have 16 total questions in the survey—nothing too onerous.

The first run of the values survey should focus on formal leaders—senior executives, managers, supervisors, etc. All employees rate those leaders on the valued behaviors along a six-point scale: 1 = strongly disagree (that this leader models this behavior), 2 = disagree, 3 = slightly disagree, 4 = slightly agree, 5 = agree, or 6 = strongly agree.

After that first data gathering, each leader gets a profile made up of anonymized ratings by employees. Scores of 5 or 6 point to behaviors that need to be celebrated; 4 and below need some improvement.

The next run of the survey asks employees to rate their peers as well as themselves on how well they demonstrate those same values-based behaviors at work. But it starts with leaders first. Why? Because only when leaders willingly start demonstrating the company's values—and holding themselves accountable to them—can they start holding everyone else up to the same standard.

It isn't just about managing performance—or restoring the annual review's usefulness—it's about actually living your company's values and protecting the culture that rests on them.

S. Chris Edmonds is the author of the award-winning best-seller, The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace. Follow him on Twitter at @scedmonds.

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