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Social recognition, gamification transforming performance reviews

Real-time feedback, social recognition and collaboration are modernizing employee performance reviews to meet Generation Y workers' expectations.

The days of the traditional -- and often dreaded -- performance review may soon be over, industry experts say. Forward-thinking human resources professionals are turning to social recognition and even to gamification to evaluate employee performance in increasingly young, collaborative and far-flung workplaces.

In many respects, the old way of doing performance appraisals is broken, said Claire Schooley, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "The performance area has changed little over the years," she said. "The once-a-year model doesn't fit anymore. It doesn't help the employer or employee."

Instead, Schooley said, employers can get a more holistic view of employee performance by crowdsourcing the evaluation process. By getting feedback from project team members -- who may work in distant corporate affiliates, managers are able to access wide-ranging feedback through social recognition that might not have been available before.

With such enterprise social tools as SuccessFactors, Rypple, Workday and WorkSimple, employees and managers can see a social interaction, a public shout-out or a recognition badge in close to real time.

"The workplace is becoming more collaborative," said Jessica Miller-Merrell, president and CEO at Xceptional HR, located in the Oklahoma City area, and author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business. "I've almost always had the situation where my self-review is different than what the manager sees," she said. "Managers don't always see normal day-to-day interactions."

If performance reviews are relegated to once a year, many times some of the good things employees do can get lost, Schooley explained. When using social recognition, "you're contributing so many things that don't naturally get tracked," she said. So, when you do have a formal review, no one is surprised and "everything is there for them."

Gamification adds new measures of employee performance

"For a 'Gen Y' [Generation Y or Millennial] employee who's used to getting instant feedback, the traditional review process seems crazy and not enough," said Toby Beresford, editor at and CEO at Leaderboarded Ltd., a performance management startup in London. Younger employees want more feedback more often, so they know that they're doing the right thing, he said. "And gamification offers a good way to do that."

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Beresford defines "gamification" as using game mechanics -- like leader boards, badges or a point system -- to modify behaviors outside the game atmosphere. "At its best," he said, "gamification provides an element of fun to how work gets done." But each mechanic works differently, he added. Leaderboarded, for example, gives transparent feedback using a point system that employees are able to track against their peers. "After all, we are social animals and want to see where we stand in relation to others," he said.

To be sure, real-time performance feedback alone doesn't always achieve the desired outcome, Beresford said. "We need quicker feedback loops," he said, "but we won't ever get rid of the need for human face-to-face review sessions."

Social performance evaluation, including elements of game mechanics, is a growing trend, but it's not widespread yet because the technology is not quite there yet, Schooley said. What's more, "it's a real change from the past, and that's a hurdle for veteran employees," she said. "Many of these employees may be baby boomers who might not want constant feedback or have experience with social media."

"Change takes time," Xceptional HR's Miller-Merrell said. "You don't necessarily want to change things, especially if the old way has been particularly successful." And managers worry about the loss of control. Using less transparent, traditional evaluation methods, "managers could control their destiny, control their management ecosystem," she said.

What is clear, Leaderboarded's Beresford said, is that we're in the midst of a key cultural shift. We're moving away from needing affirmation from an authority figure. We're looking for systems that allow for a more objective measure, he said. And social performance evaluation provides that transparent set of rules for measuring performance.

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