A Generation Y Perspective on Performance ReviewsJune 20, 2011
Performance reviews are arguably the most painful part of the talent management process. And yet, for all of the time and energy that goes into them, many complain that they're simply not worth the effort. In his article, Get Rid of the Performance Review, Dr. Samuel Culbert argues that reviews are “little more than a dysfunctional pretense.” In his assertion, Culbert fails to distinguish that some reviews are better executed than others. But for all of the attention that Culbert's article has received, I would argue that performance reviews are not innately bad. And whether you love them or hate them, they aren’t going anywhere.
The workforce is changing, though, and the archaic processes organizations have relied on for the last two generations simply aren’t cutting it anymore. Just as a company would adjust its business model to meet the demands of a changing market, so too must an organization rise to meet the demands of the newest and youngest crop of faces in the workforce: Generation Y.
The question many HR professionals are asking is: can Gen Y handle the performance review process without a sugar coating and cream filling? (The answer is, “Yes!”) In his article, Trophy Kids: What Goes Around Comes Around, Ira S. Wolfe dubs Gen Y “trophy kids” and argues that managers must “tread lightly when making even the most benign critique.” The implication is that, whether we hit foul balls or home runs over the course of a year, we expect to be applauded and rewarded regardless of how we perform.
I don’t entirely agree with Wolfe’s candid, and sometimes harsh, views of Generation Y, but his article certainly holds some truth worth exploring. Specifically, for organizations interested in helping their Gen Y employees elevate their game, I think it would be worthwhile to understand performance reviews from our perspective.
- Make the most of the review. We, like, totally don’t get it… There are too many organizations out there treating performance reviews as little more than a matter of course. Performance reviews are our best chance to get quality face time with leadership and to gain insight into their expectations of us. Share your vision with us, and sell us on it. Generation Y is patently idealistic, and we love to know we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves. You don’t have to make every review life changing. However, we need to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Help us see the end result of our compartmentalized functions and you’ll be surprised at how engaged we can become. An engaged Gen Y’er is a happy Gen Y’er.
- Lose the cream filling, and challenge us to succeed. We understand the reality behind the glitter and gilt we were promised as kids. The recession affected us, too! In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study released last year, about 37% of Gen Y is unemployed or out of the workforce (the highest percentage in three decades). In the workplace, we appreciate honesty, even if it means getting some tough love. Although we might be surprised when a manager tells us we didn’t perform up to par, don’t write us off as complete dolts. Let’s talk about it, figure out where we went wrong, and come up with a game plan with clear, measurable goals. Take it one step further, and follow up with us throughout the year. Create some accountability. Foster some collaborative effort and we’ll rock your socks off.
- Don’t just talk to us – connect with us. We know you have a lot on your plate, and we don’t need you to hold our hands, but regular feedback is invaluable to us. You may have noticed, though, that we communicate through new channels; we’re not big fans of printed memos in triplicate. Do you have an office instant messaging client? If not, get one. Chat is an awesome way to stay connected with your Gen Y employees. Social media tools like Yammer and Chatter offer a great way to collaborate and perform informal check-ins. They also give your team a chance to connect with each other for quick questions and knowledge sharing. Open communication establishes a solid connection to the organization for Gen Y’ers, which is a key ingredient in loyalty and retention. Get some conversation flowing, breathe life into your open door policy, and watch it grow.
- Positive reinforcement isn’t a bad thing. Who decided to demonize trophies in the workplace, anyway? Just because we’re not on a football field doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect to be recognized for stellar performance. I may not be as satisfied with a plastic “gold” medal as I was in middle school, but we all like being rewarded for “crushing it” (as my boss is wont to say). Check out this neat iPhone app, iAppreciate. It’s cool, it’s easy, and it’s free, and those little “Atta boy!” or “You go girl” emails go a long way in keeping us motivated.
We may be asking a lot, but that’s because we’re ready to give you all we’ve got. The line between work and personal life has blurred in recent years, and this is especially true for Gen Y. When we talk about reviewing performance and recognizing a job well done, we’re not talking about ranking systems and shiny pieces of plastic. We’re talking about cultivating ongoing relationships between employers and employees. From a Generation Y perspective, that’s definitely something worth investing in.
Thumbnail from Leo Reynolds.