They’re human beings, not human resources.


In their forthcoming book, It’s the Manager, Gallup recommends that organizations should change six beliefs. In earlier pieces I have addressed the first three. The fourth is:

Belief #4: Millennials and Generation Z don’t want annual reviews—they want ongoing conversations.

The nature of digital life is fluid, seamless, and instant. Millennials seamlessly flow between multiple channels of communication such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn. They instantly express their feedback with likes, emoticons, comments, or responses. They like to work from home and to feel at home when they work. They work with friends and have friends at work. Recognizing the pace and fluidity of change, they often lack long-term plans, preferring to follow opportunity while being guided by an enduring sense of purpose and values. In their world, a year is an eon; so to them, waiting a year for feedback about their work is comical.

The idea of an annual review would be laughable to anyone in any relationship other than work. When we are in relationship with another, whether a friend, partner, or child, we give immediate feedback, not annual reviews. The feedback we give may be by way of an expression on our faces, a change in body language, a gesture, or a word. In the workplace, we have overstructured feedback and sterilized it of the natural flow of human connection. As such, we transact with people at work, we don’t relate. However, young people want relationships, not transactions. The very word “company” means human connection and companionship. For our workplaces to be nerve centers of genuine human connectivity, we cannot bureaucratize ourselves to the point of inhumanity the way we have in the past.

Annual reviews may have a place, but they should never substitute ongoing conversations between leaders and the teams they manage. These conversations should happen regularly. Daily conversations can be face-to-face, by phone, or by a messaging platform. Weekly conversations should, whenever possible, be face-to-face or via video-conferencing. Neither the weekly nor the daily conversations should be overstructured. Rather, managers should learn to have them naturally in ways that inspire their team members to reach for ever-higher levels of performance and accomplishment.

Here are some things to focus on:

  1. Develop managers to relate to their teams as human-beings, not just to manage them as human resources.
  2. Help managers understand the different roles of annual performance reviews as well as daily and weekly performance feedback.
  3. Train managers to have difficult conversations in ways that are both clear and inspiring.

Gallup claims that annual reviews on their own have never delivered any value. It is time to bury them, replace them, or expand them.