By Garold L. Markle
The verdict is finally in. “People hate performance evaluations! Employees find them demeaning and managers consider them a colossal waste of time.” I’ve been saying that for twenty years, but it now appears to have become obvious to even the staunchest of traditionalists. That’s right, the companies who sold you these torturous and taxing devices and trained you how to use them (I’m talking about you, Deloitte and Accenture) are beginning to admit they’ve been very wrong for a long, long time. In other words, they’ve finally got a clue. Here’s the thing, however, they still don’t have a key.
Awareness of the problem is just the start of a long journey. Companies like Deloitte and Accenture, two of the world’s largest and most prominent consulting companies, have been both practicing and selling steroid-infused performance management/employee evaluation systems for decades. In April of this year, with the help of HR guru Marcus Buckingham, Deloitte declared that they’re swearing off the sauce and searching for something truly different for their own people. And they’re using the Harvard Business Review to come clean as they openly discuss their attempt to wander toward the light of improvement. Just a few short weeks later, with what sounds a lot like a “Me, too!” echoing cry, Accenture, another purveyor of the world’s poorest performing personnel practice, proudly proclaimed that they’re also on an almost identical journey of self-improvement.
The problem is that both organizations are experimenting. Deloitte is taking ten percent of their population and trying something different. What they don’t realize, however, is that most of the changes they’re making are simply making things different, not actually better. Until they can understand the difference between different and better, they’re simply chasing their own tails.
These are some very smart people, so I have reason to think that maybe someday they’ll figure it out. Maybe. What they’ve done to date is a bit frightening, however. Their stated quest for simplicity and purposefulness is noble(ish) but their preliminary remedy is way off the mark. They’ve really just made things longer and more convoluted.
Changing from one label or grade to four is not an improvement. Nor was Deloitte’s rejected attempt to hide the new grades from those being graded. Neither action corrects the fundamental issues they are attempting to address. More importantly, these changes do nothing to improve the likelihood of behavior change. A performance management system that doesn’t affect performance is an oxymoron. If you don’t change behavior, how can you possibly change performance?
Forcing managers to talk to their people about performance on a weekly basis is another recipe for disaster. Both Deloitte and Accenture proclaim amped up ongoing performance feedback to be a key ingredient in their revised systems. What exactly constitutes feedback? And please show me the employees that are really wanting to be critiqued more frequently by their manager and/or others. I don’t know any personally. That is really not what they’re complaining about.
If you do expect managers to talk to their people weekly, how is this different than just doing their jobs? How will you know when it is done? How do you monitor the quality of those interactions? If you do monitor them, how will you synthesize and prioritize all this data? Software? Really? How will you prevent the weight of the system from causing an inevitable implosion? I know that it is a difficult concept for highly educated global-thinking systems-oriented HR leaders to comprehend, but sometimes for those actually doing the work, less is truly more.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, Deloitte and Accenture are on to something. They’re not, but let’s allow that hypothesis to gel for a second. That means they’re in Beta mode on a new program. If they get it right on the first try and then practice it and refine it for nearly twenty years, they’ll be where we are today with Catalytic Coaching. We’re not in Beta and haven’t been for a very long time. We’re continuously working to improve our training and delivery mechanisms, but the process itself has held water since the Soviet Union collapsed and Nelson Mandela was freed.
It’s an interesting thing that you can’t speak of solutions in the popular press. It’s more than acceptable to wail away about the problems with evaluations and to articulate the many ways they disappoint and damage. Those articles are everywhere. It’s also acceptable to brainstorm possible scenarios for a cure as long as you don’t advocate a specific remedy. When you actually have one, however, you can’t talk about it. It’s promoting, selling or advertising, all of which are the ultimate taboo on the internet and in mainstream media.
The fact is, we have a solution. It works. The Harvard Business Review is not asking me to write an article about our methodology for them, but perhaps they should. It’s worked for a long time across hundreds of companies of every shape and size. It looks at people as individuals. It treats them with respect and dignity. And it takes five hours per person per year to coach an individual using this system on the part of a manager. Consider it “HR Lite,” if you will. It weighs a little and produces a lot. A far cry from the bloated systems these large consulting companies are trying to complicate even further.
Catalytic Coaching involves no labels, grades or rating of individuals against an ideal set of standards. Nor does it attempt to justify this year’s pittance of a base pay adjustment with last year’s contribution at work. Instead, it puts a manager or supervisor in the position of giving meaningful advice and counsel to her direct reports in a way that bonds the two together. It requires difficult messages to be conveyed directly and honestly and provides for a way to end an employment relationship, if necessary, while still maintaining dignity and minimizing the likelihood of a court battle. Performance problems are worked quickly. Hence the name. “Catalytic,” which means “speeding the pace of significant change.”
It’s even more important what the system does for good performers and those with high potential and aspirations to move up. Catalytic Coaching was designed to help a manager spend less time with problem performers, so he can spend more time with those who can contribute more in a way all will benefit – company, employee and manager.
One of the most valuable aspects of Catalytic Coaching, its secret sauce one might say, is the scalability. Because it is an intact and established system, we’ve written down the rules of engagement. In great detail. We’ve carefully documented how to stage an effective system conversion with an established curriculum for training managers and supervisors how to coach and employees how to be “coachable”. There’s even a proven methodology for experiential instruction of a top executives that comes in the form of highly personalized “In-Flight” sessions where each gets professional oversight in their first coaching encounter with an actual direct report.
We have comprehensive but light and efficient software to structure and retain the coaching dialogues that has been refined and tweaked for more than four years. And we have a fabulous course to teach HR leaders how to play an essential second level role in the coaching process and steward their employee development and engagement program into the future. We’re now at the stage of automating much of the training process within our software to make it easier to introduce for a distributed workforce and easier to quickly onboard new hires.
Meanwhile, while we polish and tweak, Deloitte and Accenture stand at the drawing board chalk and eraser in hand, experimenting with new methods. That’s great. And it’s exciting. But we were there twenty years ago. Their challenge is to find something that actually works in the eyes of their customers. A system that produces a lot, yet weighs a little. Believe me when I say, they haven’t found it yet and the way they’re talking, they’re a long way from figuring it out.
Okay, let’s put a bow on it. I’m happy that Deloitte, Accenture and a growing number of their previous clients have finally got a clue. It’s about time. If you want to be involved in the search for the elusive key and you want to start from scratch and carve a path through the dense forest, there are lots of opportunities to do so. You can also wait for those that sold and spread this global disease to package up a cure. If, however, you have better things to do with your time and don’t trust the behemoth consulting firms to lead the way to a leaner and more inspirational solution, you might consider using a system that already works. You see, we have both a clue and a key. Just ask some of the hundreds of companies who have been successfully using it for years.
“Catalytic Coaching actually makes the old, despicable performance review process into something that is actually beneficial and a gift to everybody that participates in it.”
CEO, Boyd’s Coffee
“Catalytic Coaching sets us up to have the conversation that we’ve been trying to have and wanting to have, but we were just not able to make happen no matter what we’d done with our evaluation system.”
“I highly endorse Catalytic Coaching and I would recommend it to any company, big or small, that is struggling with antiquated performance reviews. Implementing Catalytic Coaching at my manufacturing company has been life changing for a number of my employees and I am confident that it would change the dialogue at companies that are using performance reviews.”
President and CEO, Kalkaska Screw Products
“Catalytic Coaching has honestly changed my perspective on my life. It’s just a different mentality to think about, especially from an HR point of view. You’re not in there pointing your finger at people; you’re helping them.”
HR Generalist, Monroe Clinic
“Our use of Catalytic Coaching makes the manager and employee partners in both their success and, ultimately ours, as a best place to work and a nationally recognized center of excellence.
While large companies can grab headlines and generate interest about how they are rethinking a legacy hangover, this revolution has been going on for a long time in the arenas of forward focused smaller corporations and organizations which should not be missed.”
VP of Business Processes, Mental Health Center of Denver