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Thoughts on Managing Employees in a Conscious Business


The company I work for is in the business of producing software that automates employee performance appraisals and other talent management processes.

As such, I work every day with companies who are trying to improve the way they do performance appraisals. What often strikes me though is the fact that companies seem to have lost touch with “why” we even do performance appraisals. Many managers and companies do them primarily out of habit, to justify pay rises, or to document employee performance so they can legally support terminations. Some managers use them as a tool to wield power over their employees.

And I think these are the reasons why many employees, managers and companies are questioning their value.

To my mind, the reason any manager should conduct performance appraisals with their employees is because it’s their job. Now hear me out before you object too strongly.

A manager’s job is fundamentally to accomplish work through others. That is, a manager is supposed to:

  • give their employees direction and support for their tasks/accomplishments,
  • communicate and reinforce organisational priorities, values and goals,
  • give employees feedback and direction on their performance,
  • support employee development and career progression, and
  • recognise and reward employees’ accomplishments.

Put more simply, managers are supposed to help their employees and the company be their best, and succeed.

And that’s what good performance appraisals are supposed to do:

  • review the accomplishment of previously set and agreed to objectives,
  • review the demonstration of core and job-specific competencies,
  • identify and address areas needing development,
  • set objectives for the coming year,
  • align those objectives with the organisation’s goals/mission/vision/values, and
  • support career advancement and upskilling.

In so doing, we address most of our employees’ basic needs for engagement.

And it helps us provide a safe place for human development and growth. It supports increased transparency, communication and awareness. It helps frame individual performance, behaviours, values and needs in the context of a larger collective – the larger group of employees and stakeholders who form “the company”. It lets employees know what we as an organisation value, and helps them see how they can influence the organisation’s success, driving accountability. All of these are hallmarks of a conscious business.

Now for this to truly happen, a manager should really function more as a mirror, guide and coach for their employees; not an authority who judges and corrects. I think we all need others to help give us perspective on ourselves and our circumstances, to help challenge us and broaden our views, to help us take stock and set goals.

Performance appraisals really need to just be the culmination of an ongoing, two-way dialogue about expectations, performance and development. The whole process should ideally be collaborative and collegial.

It’s when we lose sight – or “consciousness” – of the basic role of the manager and the performance review that we often go off the rails. Managers and companies become concerned with forms and processes, ratings and rankings, etc. They forget that performance management isn’t really something you do once a year during the employee’s performance appraisal. It’s something
managers and employees do every day; and it’s really just good basic management.

Sean Conrad is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, where he helps customers automate and improve their talent management processes. He is passionate about improving the way companies manage and develop their employees, and writes and speaks frequently on the topic.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Managing Employees in a Conscious Business

  1. Sean, Good thoughts – I go along with everything you say. In my experience, most appraisors and appraisees dread appraisals – Why? Because the the methodology and execution has lost its way.

    I am putting together a document at this very moment which includes:

    • Does you organisation have a traditional hierarchical appraisal process?
    • Or does it have a less formal, regular two-way colleague progress checks where all all topics are ‘in bounds’?

    I think we all know which one is most effective!


  2. “a manager should really function more as a mirror, guide and coach for their employees; not an authority who judges and corrects” – I really like this. We should also consider whether a ‘manager’ is even needed to provide this support. The ideal solution is for an employee to take responsibility for their own performance and development and build relationships with others to help them with this. Not all employees are proactive enough to do it, but that points to a need for better hiring and gentle encouragement rather than more paternalistic management.

    I’m concerned about the idea of annual performance reviews. It’s way too long a period and lets people off the hook to not think about continual feedback and development. Plus, who can remember what they were doing 9 months ago when the annual review comes around and is it even relevant then?

  3. I just looked up the word “appraise”. It means to evaluate or judge. That, I think, triggers another question: should one person judge or evaluate another? Personally, I don’t think so.

    I don’t think I have the right to judge another person. I can give them feedback on their behaviour. But to judge – to form an opinion or conclusion about something based on their behaviour – is more risky.

    It’s risky because my opinion or conclusion may be wrong. I may have drawn the wrong conclusion – if you doubt this look up Chris Argyris and the Ladder of Inference for some good examples.

    And that, from a business perspective, is risky because in a world that continues to change rapidly businesses need above all a correct view of reality – not an outmoded, inaccurate or biased one.

    There’s more here on this from Messrs Kegan and Lahey

    By the way calling judgement ‘feedback’ doesn’t change anything. Feedback and judgement are very different things. We confuse them at our peril.

  4. Thanks Sean. I totally agree that the most important role of a manager (leader) is to guide and develop their team. Regular 1-1s, both formal and informal, are crucial to this.

    I also think that a key part of the appraisal process should be feedback for the manager – especially around the question of ”how best can I support you to do a great job’?

  5. Excellent post, thank-you. The words that stood out for me were:

    “Performance appraisals really need to just be the culmination of an ongoing, two-way dialogue about expectations, performance and development. The whole process should ideally be collaborative and collegial.”

    The essence of management, and of leadership, is a conversation . And in turn the relationship that emerges from that conversation and evolves over time. This talks to Tom’s point above, namely that one meeting every year is not a conversation, it is not a container that can hope to do justice to what goes on in that relationship over a year, and it is absurd to think that performance issues can be addressed in that context.

  6. Pingback: Rethinking the role of the manager

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