Fresh Insights

It’s that time of the year again and you’re spending many early mornings and late nights preparing for your team members’ performance reviews. You’re filling in the endless rating systems, backing each number with an example, pulling together a list of strengths and weaknesses, discussing their performance with other colleagues and stakeholders as well as thinking about the feedback they may give you about your leadership – insert tentative face here.

Add to that, the time you’re considering all the ‘what ifs’; What if they disagree or get aggressive or defensive with you? What if they get upset?  What if you give them your feedback and they leave?  Worse still, what if they still want to stay?

Performance reviews require a great deal of preparation and time. More than you realise. Deloitte’s research tells us that an annual appraisal for 65,000 staff took two million hours (yes you heard that right), that’s 30 hours per employee (taking into account everyone’s involvement). Adobe, a global software business, estimates that their annual performance reviews were costing 80,000 hours of managers’ time each year, the equivalent of 40 full time employees.

However, after all the time, sweat and 7am espressos you’ve invested, your feedback does little to improve your team members’ performance and behaviours. So frustrating, hey?

We are stuck in the past.

The concept of ‘performance management’ was introduced over 80 years ago to determine the wages of an employee, based on their performance. It was used to drive behaviours to generate specific outcomes. When employees were solely driven by financial rewards this tended to work well. 

As organisations put more regular conversations into the mix there was a notable improvement in productivity and employee engagement – however that’s when the conversations were handled well. 

Many organisations know that giving and receiving feedback creates greater performance and engagement.  Their intent is good.  Some even offer training to help their people improve their communication skills.  But it often stops there.  Managers and employees still ‘save up’ their feedback for the reviews every 6 or 12 months.  No wonder it creates so much angst.

Many of us are still stuck thinking that a ‘robust’ six monthly or annual performance review will be enough.  It won’t. In fact, the CEB Corporate Leadership Council tells us that when informal feedback, that is outside the formal review process, is delivered well, it can improve productivity by nearly 40%.  Now that’s pretty compelling that conversations outside the performance reviews make such an impact.

Performance reviews are not the focus.  They are a process.

Performance reviews are not the panacea for driving employees’ productivity and engagement.  They are one formal process that ensures we do a review.  There needs to be more.

The issue is that they are not conducted, nor used well.  Not that they need to go. 

Ditching them is not black and white. 

I walked into a very large, publicly listed clients’ office a couple of years ago to have the discussion about becoming a ‘feedback culture’. I was asking lots of questions and gathering insights into where they were at, what’s working and what’s not. The HR Director told me that the organisation was fully committed to the process of changing their culture. She explained the CEO was repelled by the ‘outdated performance review process’.  I thought, ‘Fantastic! We are on the same page’. 

I learnt that the organisation had completely scrapped performance reviews. ‘Our people need to be having conversations in the everyday and not just waiting for the reviews’, she explained. Ok, I thought. I like where this is going.  I started digging a little deeper to find out how it was all going. The client sits back in her chair, her shoulders drop and she suddenly looks down. ‘Not that well,’ she says. ‘Well, not really well at all. In fact, it’s worse since the only mechanism we had to have the conversations is now gone’. 

I discovered that whilst the organisation was committed to the concept of a feedback culture, they lacked the capability in their people (i.e. they didn’t train them). They also didn’t set up the systems to drive regular catch ups and didn’t develop a strategy to embed it into their everyday, so that it could become a habit. 

The point?

We are kidding ourselves if we think pulling the pin on performance reviews will transform the business into a conversation culture.

The CEB Corporate Leadership Council’s research with 9500 employees, including 300 heads of HR, found that 28% of people become disengaged without them. While we should make decisions for the majority, over a quarter of your workforce is worthwhile taking into account.

If we don’t do them properly it’s like throwing a child into the water to teach them how to swim. 

Performance reviews often fail at engaging, motivating and improving our team members’ performance, but getting rid of the reviews is not the solution. Performance reviews can be improved, relied on less and have a change of focus. You’ve got to get commitment from the business to become more focused on the day-to-day conversations before you make any major decisions.

If you want to learn more about embedding a feedback culture download my white paper “Feedback Cultures are Game Changers” or subscribe to my blogs by filling out the ‘Stay Connected’ form on my home page.

iCommunication: The way forward for organisations

Georgia Murch explains how by ditching annual performance reviews, organisations can finally press their foot firmly on the accelerator - and achieve progress.

Deloitte's research and costing tells us that and annual appraisal for 65,000 staff took two million hours.

 Read the full article here.

Remarkable conversations are those that people can’t stop talking about. We remember the clarity, the ease and the great outcomes that come about. Often those people we have the most inspiring conversations with are also (unsurprisingly) the remarkable leaders of people, projects or ideas.

We all know someone that is brilliant at communicating. At a dinner party their profound input may silence all diners. At the work table somehow their contribution seems to be worth more. So what are some of the faux pas that prevent the less impressive communicators from doing it well? After 20 years of working with people and leaders this is where Georgia too often sees people limit themselves, their relationships and the outcomes they are looking to achieve.

So what do subpar communicators typically do?

1. Have ‘yoursations’ not conversations

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is not your advice but your undivided attention. To listen…. really listen. The goal is to expand the conversation not to narrow it.

A good conversation is like a tennis rally – back and forth. For communicators taking up more of the air time in a conversation, it is time to learn that these are known as ‘yoursations’. Yoursationalists could practically have these discussions without the other person present.

2. There is little search for the ‘real truth’

Coming to a conversation or business decision thinking you have all the facts is as pointless as going to relationship counselling on your own. When you’re the only one contributing, or are solely prepared to listen to your side of the facts, you are more likely to reach flawed outcomes as a result. After all, you’re only focussing on number one rather than considering all the factors and opinions surrounding you. It is a combination of what you know plus what they know that leads to great decision making, remarkable outcomes and deepened relationship building.

3. Need to be right

When your desire to win the conversation, or your need to be right dominates the agenda then you are likely to steer the conversation in the way you need, with no real regard for the damage along the way. If you are not prepared to be honest with yourself then how can you expect others to be honest with you? Being right becomes a lonely existence in which very few people trust you and even fewer want to work with you.

4. We don’t place enough value on making others feel ‘safe’

Maintaining safety in a conversation is the difference between an outcome and an outbreak. When both parties feel ‘safe enough’ to be honest with each other is when you reach the best outcomes and preserve, or in some cases restore, great working relationships.

When we feel stressed or unsafe in a conversation our safety, physically or emotionally, we have a stress reaction and show fight or flight behaviours. This leads to an unhealthy exchange that gets worse, rather than better.

5. Don’t highlight the real issue

Most people don’t feel confident enough to go straight to the heart of the problem. As a compromise, they sugar coat it or walk around it in the hope that the other person will do the heavy lifting and see the truth hidden underneath. This could all be because we have not developed the courage or the right interpersonal skills to discuss the real issue. Or sometimes we interpret the issue incorrectly.

6. Let the ‘Board of Directors’ in our head do the thinking

We all have a view of the world based on our upbringing, culture, faith, community, age, etc. This then forms how we perceive information, people and circumstances. These lenses or Board of Directors (BODs) skew how we see things. The BOD’s tells us that our interpretation of life, people and situations is the right one. But what if they are wrong? They often are. These BODs in our head dramatically influence how we approach conversations before, in the moment and after the fact. They take away our objective thinking and often steer us away from ideal outcomes.

7. Take others at face value

Because of our Board of Directors (see 6. above) we often decide whether someone is right or wrong based on our own perceptions. We look at someone’s words and behaviours and judge them. We only see what they say, what they do and how they look. But this is not who they are. This is often only a small percentage of what’s going on for them. We don’t make the time to consider this.

8. Lead with opinions and feelings, not just the facts

Often we find it difficult to decipher the difference between the facts and our own opinions and feelings. So we lead with our feelings and opinions in a conversation and wonder why things go wrong. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that when we open conversations with our ‘facts’ it’s logical that the other person is not going to effectively take the new information on board.

9. Use ‘honesty’ as an excuse to verbally assassinate

Those four words; “I’m just being honest”. They seem to give some people permission to say precisely what they think. Whether it is the truth or not. Practise this type of honesty and not only will you see trust and respect bank being depleted, but also the ‘discretionary effort’ bank too – regardless of whether we are friends or work colleagues. It will seem as if we don’t want to go the extra distance for these people anymore. They have hurt us. It’s our own moral compass that we need to take ownership of.

10. Don’t know how to self-manage in the moment

Are you a lover or a fighter? Do you run and hide or always have to have the last word? Either way, knowing how you react puts you a step ahead when it comes to self-management in a loaded conversation. For most people don’t recognise their reactions until it’s too late and the damage is done. Alternatively, if they do many have not yet developed a ‘toolkit’ to be able to self-manage in the moment. If the conversation is the relationship then how we manage ourselves during that interaction is everything. How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.


Whilst the above 10 are the most common blocks from creating outstanding communication they are not mountains to climb. The good news is that people can learn the skills and self-awareness to create outstanding relationships and become the people that others want to follow. I’ve seen it happen and it creates a shift in cultures that is tangible.

To learn more read ‘Fixing Feedback’ or talk to me.

Wow! I’m so excited about my performance review. Said no one… ever!  Well not many anyway.

For most, performance reviews are becoming as exciting as a trip to the dentist – costly and painful and as effective as a pair of sunglasses for a blind man, if improving performance is the aim.

But don’t take my word for it.  Just look at the research from Bloomsberg, The Wall Street Journal or Kevin Kruse Author of Employee Engagement; All experts in performance management.

So why aren’t they the tool for performance and development we need them to be?  There are several reasons but these are the main ones I have observed, and researched, over the past 20 years.

1. The feedback is stale or hidden. Most people want to avoid the tough conversations so they tend to store it up until the dreaded performance review. Many employers I’ve spoken to dislike performance reviews as much as their employees do. They become our excuse to not discuss things in the moment. Or we could deliver it but hide it in s*&t the sandwich. Or worse still, mumble it haplessly in the hope that the full impact is uncovered from under the rock.

2. They are full of ‘surprises’ and not the good kind.  People tend to avoid tough conversations. Most people are naturally conflict averse. However, what this means is that the initial issue presenting as a small problem can become an elephant in the room (spot fire can grow into a bushfire) by the time the review comes around and it may come as a complete surprise to the recipient. This causes all sorts of flow on issues with trust and respect and has quite a negative impact overall.

3. There is little room for the ‘real truth’.  The real truth is a combination of what one person knows coupled with the other.  It is two perspectives that create the actual truth of a situation.  The review process does not typically allow this as it is time poor and ‘tell’ orientated.  We tend to see more ‘yoursations’ by the Managers rather than conversations by both parties.  The numbers and results are typically decided prior to the review so where is the ‘real truth’ in the process?

4. They highlight our crap.  Whilst some organisations and Managers have cottoned on to the power of building on strengths, unfortunately most still focus on an individual’s gap as the main conversation.  We only need to look at the work of Martin Seligman, a world leader in positive psychology to understand that to focus on our weaknesses creates little chance of development and change.  They need to be discussed but not in the spotlight.  These should be ‘nipped’ in the bud during the year.

5. They are too focused on scoring and box ticking.  Managers need to grade you 1 to 5 and we know that rarely will get a 5 as this will mean they have to increase salary or give us a big bonus.  So whilst we might be doing really well we don’t want a budget crisis so the scores don’t really represent performance.  Don’t they say ‘comparison is the killer of joy’?  Well here is a great example.  How do you compare you to the next person.  You can’t and you shouldn’t.  Individuals are unique and have their own talents.

6. They are way too time demanding.  Most Managers have many to prepare for and as a result it becomes about getting the job done and for many it can build in a little resentment to the process.  The reward for all the effort often doesn’t have a significant correlation.

7. They are stiff and boring.  Remember the feeling of going to your first school dance.  How awkward it was in your first formal outfit, seeing your date look as uncomfortable as you but trying to pretend you are all just fine.  Our reviews can be similar where they become way to formal for any real discussions to take place.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am passionate about the habit of having valuable conversations so people can be championed and supported to improve. I’m just not convinced the formal performance review process achieves this.

That’s why I believe in creating a ‘Feedback Flow’ in an organization where these conversations become habitual.  Adobe, who produce software including Photoshop, Acrobat, Creative Cloud, and the Digital Marketing Suite were bold enough to make this change in 2012 where they got rid of formal appraisals and creating regular ‘pulse checks’.  This affected 11,000 employees and they report the shift in engagement, culture and productivity as considerable.

Creating a ‘Feedback Flow’ is how high performing organisations get things done and create happy employees and customers.  It is where we reverse the push of giving feedback to the pull of receiving it and alter internal systems to be more in real time.

I’m passionate about people growing and developing in their workplace, on a daily basis.  And as a result organisations become more productive and great places to work.  Does yours have the courage to become better?

Contact me for my ‘Fixing Feedback’ whitepaper to learn more at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About Georgia

Georgia is obsessed with the power of great communication. She knows how great communication leads to great collaboration and helps create outstanding cultures.

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