Lucy Kellaway: A blast of common sense frees staff from appraisals

Lucy Kellaway: A blast of common sense frees staff from appraisals

Accenture’s decision to remove the annual performance review is welcome news

Lucy Kellaway


The head of Accenture said  he is going to free all 330,000 of his staff from the charade of the annual job appraisal. Photograph: Getty Images

The head of Accenture said he is going to free all 330,000 of his staff from the charade of the annual job appraisal. Photograph: Getty Images


Last week I did the most unexpectedly uplifting thing I’d done in ages. I needed cheering as I’d just sat through a documentary in which the brilliant, bulimic Amy Winehouse drinks herself to death – but never did I think I’d find such solace in a video clip showing the head of Accenture talking about his latest management initiative.

In the space of a minute Pierre Nanterme said something wonderful: he is going to free all 330,000 of his staff from the charade of the annual job appraisal. “We are not sure that spending all that time in performance management has been yielding such a great outcome,” he told theWashington Post.

“Once a year [I]share with you what I think of you. That doesn’t make any sense. People want to know . . . am I doing all right? Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback.”

The most extraordinary thing about this blast of common sense is that it comes from Accenture, which over the years has delivered some world-class drivel.

It was Accenture that brought us the embarrassing “Be greater than” hieroglyphic in its name. Not only does the company itself spout waffle, so too do its higher officers. It was Accenture that came up with the slogan: “High performance. Delivered” – that is so long on guff and so short on grammar.

Performance reviews The fact that this company has now noticed what has been apparent to every office worker and every manager in the western world for decades, gives me great joy. This is very exciting. Performance reviews will soon be over for all of us.

Accenture is not the first. Earlier this year Deloitte started to dismantle its extraordinarily cumbersome appraisal machinery, which takes 2 million hours a year to churn out one appraisal for 65,000 people. If you think of that in terms of opportunity cost and assume that even the most junior Deloitte people hire themselves out for £100 (€140) an hour, the firm has been wasting at least £200 million a year on a system that rewards the wrong people, demotivates almost everyone and spreads boredom and cynicism all around.

Do you notice something strange in this? Both of these companies have large consultancy divisions that sell “human capital solutions”. Over the past few decades both have been charging fat fees in return for stuffing their clients with dreadful appraisal systems. Just like their own. High performance. Delivered, Accenture claims. But what happens if it hasn’t been delivering high performance at all? What if it has been delivering clunky performance management “solutions” that turn reasonable people into alienated cynics? What then?

Should the current management of Deloitte and Accenture say sorry for those useless annual appraisal systems they prescribed in the past? Should they go further and repay fees, and compensate for the damage?

It would be nice but it isn’t going to happen. The way both firms admitted that their own internal systems were rubbish was very clever. Instead of saying that they were a terrible idea in the first place because they are based on an elementary misunderstanding of what it is to be human, they argued that the problem with them is that they no longer fit the new I-want-it-now world. “It’s all about instant performance management,” said the Accenture boss.

New revenue stream This is doubly clever. Not only does it mean apologies are not called for, it means a new stream of revenue as they advise clients to replace the old systems with new speedier ones.

It is not yet clear how the new appraisals will work, though I fear they will involve vast amounts of data. Accenture has said appraisals in future will be “all about you”, which sounds superficially promising, but I’m not holding my breath.

Deloitte has come up with four things which its own managers are asked every quarter about each member of their teams. The questions (which I improved by paraphrasing) go like this: does this person deserve lots more money? Do I like having them on my team? Do I think they are likely to screw up big time? Would I promote them today?

The beauty of these questions is that they are simple and they don’t cost £100 million. Better still, Deloitte will insist that all its managers check in with the people they manage once a week. This is so sensible, that one wonders why they have only just thought of it.

My suggestion is even simpler: replace annual appraisals with nothing. Hire only managers who are able to manage and are good at telling people how they are doing, not once a week but all the time. If they aren’t up for this, they should not be made managers. If they are up to it, they don’t need an appraisal system as a crutch. They are better without one. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015)


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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