Dump Performance Appraisals... and Help Employees Be Their Best

When I talk to business leaders, employee performance and engagement are top priorities. And, it's not surprising that most employees at any company in the world want to perform well and be highly engaged. Since we have the same goals, why is it so hard to reach the outcome we all desire?
08/04/2015 10:53 am ET Updated Aug 04, 2016

When I talk to business leaders, employee performance and engagement are top priorities. And, it's not surprising that most employees at any company in the world want to perform well and be highly engaged. Since we have the same goals, why is it so hard to reach the outcome we all desire?

At the heart of this complex issue is the notion of performance management. If we deconstruct these two words, it's understandable why the process of "managing" performance is ineffective at helping people achieve their best. When we hire great people, we should trust them and give them the freedom to innovate -- rather than managing, measuring and administering a process. Investing significant time in annual, backward-looking performance appraisals and figuring out the holy grail of forced rankings simply don't yield the best outcomes for our people and our business. We need to innovate and find a better answer.

At Accenture, we're on a journey to revolutionize how we help our people be their best. And, it involves moving performance "management" back stage and bringing performance "achievement" center stage. We're building on what we do best - which is to grow and develop our people. Our new approach to Performance Achievement includes real-time, frequent, forward-looking coaching discussions that help people:

  • Understand expectations
  • Build on their strengths
  • Understand areas for growth
  • Achieve their career aspirations​

Performance Achievement is highly personal and future-focused. It builds on these important components:

Aligned priorities: To maximize performance, a clear understanding of how an individual's role aligns to the business priorities is essential. Throughout the year, our people will frequently discuss priorities and expectations with their supervisors to make sure they are progressing in the right direction.

Ongoing feedback: We'll eliminate the traditional closed-door ratings meeting where we talk ABOUT people. Instead, we'll talk WITH people in frequent coaching conversations. The rhythm of these discussions will be set by our people. It's highly individualized, and we know some people may desire more frequent touchpoints than others.

Forward-looking discussions: Rather than taking a retrospective view, our people will engage in future-focused conversations about their aspirations, leading to actions to help them grow and progress their careers.

No rankings: A natural question is, "If you don't do an annual performance appraisal, how will you pay people?" We'll base reward and advancement decisions on each individual's skills, role and contributions. It will be about each person's progress instead of forced rankings and comparison with peers around the globe. Leaders who are closest to our people and know their work best will be involved in the decisions. And, if an individual doesn't have the right skills, there is time to course-correct and realign to strengths, offering suggestions to learn and grow through training or a new role. Sometimes, it will involve a courageous conversation if the right skills are not in place and a transition is required. The aim is straight talk and no surprises.

I think our CEO, Pierre Nanterme, said it best in a recent interview with The Washington Post.

"Performance is an ongoing activity. It's every day... It's much more fluid. People want to know on an ongoing basis ... Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I'm progressing? Nobody's going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback."

With two-thirds of our workforce being Millennials and Gen Z just around the corner, we need to be extremely relevant to our people. When we look at our return on investment, we not only focus on our return to shareholders or return to reinvest back into our business -- but also on the return to our people. Putting our people at the center and helping them to achieve their best is part of our talent-led DNA.

We've begun our journey with a group of early adopters with plans to expand across the company in our next fiscal year which starts in September, subject to consultation with works councils in certain countries. Will this be easy? Absolutely not. With 336,000+ employees, this is a massive revolution. But we're in the transformation business, and I am so proud of Accenture for having the courage to radically redefine the game, to help our people be their best.