People Processes – Righting the Balance


Three questions to help you bring focus back to the power of the conversation

Over the last few years, it seems that every man, woman and their dog are talking about the pros and cons of quitting the annual performance review. In fact, it has somewhat become the latest trend for “cool and enlightened” employers around the globe. But what exactly are these employers trying to achieve? Or more pertinently, what should you be trying to achieve from any people-related process?

 A few years ago, I asked myself this question when working for an international employer. After the usual and predictable gripes following our performance review about the hassle and time-wasting of “form-filling”, I completed a bit of a soul-searching deep dive of our process. What did we actually want and need to achieve from the process, and what was the actual result?  The answers were unsettling. When stripped back, we ultimately wanted to facilitate a great conversation between employee and leader, where powerful feedback could be shared (both ways) in a manner that allowed insights and learning.  However, the t-crossing, i-dotting and various deadlines were simply getting in the way. A small measure of comfort could be taken from the fact that we were not alone – people related processes everywhere have become too heavily weighted toward documentation and timeframes, at the expense of the very value these processes were originally designed to deliver.

 So how can we achieve a better, more effective balance in our organisations, that brings the focus back to where the value lies – in a powerful, honest conversation? Here are three questions to consider:

 How healthy is your process?

Process is not the enemy – bad process is! When deciding what an organisation’s people processes should look like, or whether current processes are hitting the mark, the first question should be - what exactly are we trying to achieve with this process? The likelihood is that an honest, great conversation sits at the heart of it, and to derive true value this conversation is probably going to happen more than once a year. The next question to ask is, how should our process be developed or re-designed to bring the focus to these conversations, not to the documentation? Don’t be afraid to move away from the status quo or “best practice”, whatever that is. After all, best practice is whatever works in the unique environment of your organisation. 

How mature are your leaders?

Just to be clear, age is irrelevant in this equation, as are years of experience. What we’re asking here is, how strong is your organisation’s collective leadership capability? Have leaders been developed to a point where great, honest conversations are a natural part of their leadership practice? Where giving and receiving feedback is a natural part of a busy working week? If this is the case (consistently, across all leaders) then there is a definite argument for removing such processes as performance reviews and performance development rounds, because these conversations are continual and happen when and where needed – which, must be argued, is far more effective than a yearly or six-monthly sit down.  However, in my experience leadership maturity in organisations is often not this strong – consistently across all leaders. The problem is, if you remove your processes completely and you have leaders that are not having regular conversations of their own volition, then you risk leaving your people in a feedback and development vacuum. Not good! So, if you genuinely cannot say that ALL your leaders are at this level of maturity yet, then work with them to get there, while re-modelling your people processes – but not removing them, at least not yet!

 Do you develop for great conversations?

Process is only half the picture, but often gets a big dollop of the blame for a lack of great conversations during people processes. Just like anything, if we want great conversations to occur, we need to develop our leaders to be able to engage in these conversations. Ask yourself this question – does your training around people processes focus more heavily on training the process or developing the skills to have powerful honest discussions and to give and receive feedback? Time and time again I’ve seen great leaders engage in strong, effective, impactful conversations during people processes not because of the process, but despite it. Great leaders that understand the need to have powerful honest conversations, and have the skill to hold such conversations will find a way to make it happen. This understanding, knowledge and skill can absolutely be developed, but is too often overlooked.


 Strong, honest, great conversations sit at the heart of a healthy employment relationship and achieving the best by and for our people. Through better process and growing the maturity of our leaders through targeted development, we can re-create these often-painful traditions into modern, positive and effective activities that our people (employees and leaders alike) will actually value, rather can complain about.


If you’re doing something new and interesting in your organisation to right this balance, we’d love to hear about it!


Marie Johnston