IBM Sets a New Checkpoint

By Bravetta Hassell

Feb. 5, 2016

For IBM Corp. employees, performance review time may come with a little less hand-wringing as the global technology and consulting company tapped into its workforce for ideas on how to make a better review system.

With the Feb. 1 introduction of its app-based performance review program called Checkpoint, IBM says there’s more flexibility — employees can change their goals during the year — and a more constant pulse on personal performance with discussions on shorter-term goals and feedback at least every quarter. The system also offers an evaluation against a list of general work priorities that a majority of staff agree on.

To gain insight into employee preferences for the new system, IBM’s human resources department started a conversation about performance management through the company’s internal social media site Connections last summer. Staffers participated in a “continuous, transparent feedback loop of discussions, debates, updates, design iterations and user experience testing,” according to a written statement from IBM.

Workers covered such topics as the nature and frequency of feedback, how individual contributions affect a team’s success and the appropriate basis for evaluation.

“IBM has a long tradition of inviting our employees to co-create on major initiatives. We’ve been doing this for more than decade,” said Michelle Rzepnicki, director of IBM performance management. “So when it came time to reinventing performance management, we knew we’d get lots of dialogue and engagement among 380,000 employees.”

What resounded was a “loud and clear” call for change aligned with IBM’s transformation, she said. Themes that emerged included employees’ desire for ongoing two-way feedback with managers as well as a more nimble, real-time approach to setting goals. Other employees reflected on how IBM works with clients or how to highlight a team-based culture.

Checkpoint replaces IBM’s traditional performance evaluation system Personal Business Commitments, which was in place for more than a decade, according to the company. Previously, IBM employees set goals at the beginning of the year, had a midyear review and were assessed at the end of the year with a numeric rating.

The new system looks at five dimensions of employee performance including business results, impact on client success, innovation, personal responsibility to others and skills. At the end of the performance year, employees are evaluated on whether they’ve exceeded or achieved expectations for their role based on the five dimensions. What IBM calls a hallmark of Checkpoint is that the evaluation of each dimension isn’t combined into one rating.

Aubrey Daniels, president of Aubrey Daniels International, said IBM’s overhaul of its evaluation is a step in the right direction but not enough. In his view, performance evaluations have outlived their usefulness and place blame on employees rather than examine the strength of what promotes their success.

“I tell people all the time, eliminate performance appraisals period,” Daniels said. Data shows they don’t help the performer and they’re certainly not favorable. “Where we’re going is toward a coaching culture.”

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