Fixer: Our managers won’t give up on appraisals

We want to move to more informal, regular check-ins – will we have to force our senior staff to change or is there another way?

We are a financial services firm that has tried to move away from an appraisal-led model of performance management and towards more regular check-ins between managers and their staff. We have not altered our system of remuneration and annual bonuses, which is long-standing and extremely complex, but we have scrapped formal appraisals and asked managers to have more regular, informal conversations feeding into annual ratings and assessments. Unfortunately, our managers – despite being offered training, having the rationale explained and being nudged by the CEO – are just not interested in changing the way they deal with their staff. Is forcing them the only way or is there something else we can try?

In financial services, probably more than any other sector, the old adage ‘what gets measured gets done’ rings true. At the moment, you aren’t measuring and mandating your performance management so you can’t expect to change behaviour – not without changing all aspects of the system, including behaviours, processes, measurement and reward. Otherwise, it seems all you have done is create a culture of holding cosy chats without any great consequences for anyone. 

Any good process offers a combination of challenge balanced by support. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with revising laborious processes in favour of developmental, mentoring-style, regular conversations. But at the moment you’ve completely lost sight of the ‘why’ – which means the focus on results, the obligational aspects and line management performance. 

My advice would be to restore the key measures, clarify mandatory management responsibilities (like undertaking proper, timely appraisals and learning and development reviews) and make bonuses conditional on managers performing this role – all while retaining the best of the learnings from the new, more relaxed process (such as the regularity, informality and relationship focus). That way, hopefully, you’ll restore some balance and still feel the benefits of making the change.