Performance reviews 2.0: improving feedback for web workers

The performance review may be an office standby, but the annual ritual of orchestrated feedback isn’t without its detractors. Stanford management professor Bob Sutton, for instance, has wondered whether “the performance evaluation process is fundamentally flawed”; HR expert John Sullivan has rounded up a whopping 50 problems with performance reviews; and the anti-review camp of a BusinessWeek debate on the subject not only labeled them a hated time waster but also “an excuse for not evaluating performance the rest of the year.”

Clunky, arbitrary and impersonal, the performance review as traditionally structured seems a particularly poor fit for web work that is based on agility, constant connection and the ability to tailor work to the individual. Feedback and performance evaluations are essential in business, but when it comes to web workers, is there a better way to accomplish this than the traditional review?

Technology may provide the answer, according to a recent Wired article covering companies that offer new sorts of solutions for providing feedback, including a startup called Rypple:

Rypple, whose investors include PayPal founder Peter Thiel, is part of a new crop of startups that put intensive feedback loops to work using simple technologies — in this case, the web — to gather data and play it back to users, with the goal of improving behavior — in this case, employee productivity and satisfaction.

With Rypple, feedback comes through four feeds: input from coworkers, either anonymous or identified; “thanks” messages from coworkers; tracking progress towards work goals; and coaching from supervisors. The Loops product, which the company will sell for $9 per employee per month, gathers these four feeds into one channel for a rich, robust, continuous performance review. The company also offers a freemium product that offers some basic feedback tools.

Rypple is currently being used at Facebook, and the article concludes that the constant stream of information it provides can make “feedback less intimidating, more appreciated — and more effective.”

Nick Stein, the director of content and media at Rypple, explained to WebWorkerDaily that the feedback stream provided by his company’s products may be particularly useful to teams working remotely. “It gives a manager visibility into what her team is working on all the time, and provides a shared online space that facilitates ongoing feedback and communication between colleagues — regardless of their physical location,” he said.

Do you think performance reviews need to be updated for the reality of web work, and are the type of products offered by Rypple the answer? 

Image courtesy of Flickr user HeatherHeatherHeather