Are We Too Focused On Technology?

This week I read GE is doing away with the annual performance review and replacing it with … app!  This app is amazing because it will finally do what the performance review couldn’t do and provide immediate feedback so emphasis can be about improving performance instead of giving a pat on the back for doing a great job.  In other words, catch people doing something wrong which has always been the  problem with performance reviews.  This, supposedly, will also help to respond quicker to customer demands.

There are so many problems with this approach.  First of all, an app really isn’t necessary to do what they want to accomplish.  Communication can be done in real time to and quickly by simply talking to people and without the need of an app.  Documentation of the conversation and storage of any documents to help with a person’s review can be done without an app.

Another problem is about the ownership of a smartphone.  According to Pew Research in October, 68% of people in the U. S. owned a smartphone (Smartphone Ownership).  What happens to the 32% of people that don’t have a smartphone?  Do they not get reviewed or does the company provide everyone with a smartphone?

In this new system, anybody is to catch someone doing something wrong – peer to peer, employee to supervisor and done by providing feedback through an app which is much like texting, emailing, and Facebook conversations.  All of these can be  misinterpreted  and create a really unpleasant atmosphere.  More time can be wasted on determining what someone meant or arguments over what was said than  on work.

While the app is to give feedback on improvement, it also can give employees instruction to proceed as they should.  This, according to GE staff, will provide a “coaching” experience so improvements will be made (The Atlantic, Aug 2015).  Not everybody is a coach, and, in particular, they don’t automatically become one.

Coaching isn’t about giving feedback on how to make improvements or proceed on course.  Coaching is about helping people to understand what they do well at and how to use those skills and, if they make a mistake, helping them to realize what they did and helping them to figure out how to do it better the next time – not telling people what’s wrong or right.

Another problem from a management perspective, it could be extremely frustrating having to respond to an app instead of being able to get my work accomplished.  This could be especially difficult if I had several people reporting to me.  Responding to the app may be the only thing that I could get done and then my performance falters!

The entire annual process didn’t disappear at GE either.  A conversation is to be held annually to review goals for the coming year and there’s nothing wrong that except I wouldn’t do it once a year I probably would do it more regularly, maybe quarterly to allow people to work on a project and simply sit down and have a conversation about the status of a project and provide any needed support.

It also sounds like the entire performance review system didn’t really go away.  It’s just replaced with technology and used in conjunction with a new program, FastWorks, that replaces Six Sigma at GE.  FastWorks is about creating teams of people from different departments to develop products quickly so they can meet customer demands.  The app will help with communication and to make sure a project is being done right.  The team approach is something we at CALMC have been advocating for years.

The app approach may be good for data warehousing and for data mining so we can have quick access to  information but when it comes to providing performance feedback and coaching are we getting too involved with technology?  Is this just a knee-jerk reaction to try to make improvements to a system without actually doing so?  Are we missing something by not having a face-to-face conversation in real time?  And what about the tech conversations that can be misconstrued and damaging to good working relationships?  While everything in the end is to improve business and customer relations, is it really doing that?

In a report from the Society of Human Resource Management(SHRM), they discuss some of the problems with technology during recruiting that can easily be applied to other interpersonal functions such as working on product delivery and performance reviews.  SHRM says technology can sometimes cause impediments. Technology can be difficult to build relationships and the tech communication may deliver the wrong message about the workplace.   They don’t suggest not to use technology but plan on how to use it (SHRM Report).

Technology can be a great time saver as mentioned above for warehousing and mining but it has limitations when we interact with each other.  Many times we hear there is a lack of soft skills ability from employees or potential employees.  This could be attributed to the reliance we have on technology today.  The need for people to understand  how to give positive and constructive feedback may be great.  One article suggested companies need to set limitations on how constructive feedback will be given or assistance may be needed on giving positive feedback (Entrepreneur).   This relates to the issue of providing quick and direct feedback through an app.

Over utilization of technology can hinder our ability to build relationships or work with each other  in a team process such as the one GE is trying to do.  As one person wrote on the SHRM website, “… if we have no relationships or credibility with our leaders, we’ll never be able to show the value of those systems.”( John Hudson, April 2, 2013).  Technology can provide statistical information but someone is going to have to communicate it to another person or persons.

An article about leadership in Forbes reported one of the things millennials prefer in the workplace is collaboration((Forbes, Jan.13, 2014).  How can we collaborate if we are so focused on technology instead of interacting with each other?

This also goes along with a SHRM report we blogged about before that identified employees’  most important workplace traits.  The top five traits were:  employees being respected; trust; pay; benefits and job security.  They also said the overall emphasis needs to be about the culture of the workplace (Employee Survey).  If people feel respect and trust are important in workplace culture than that probably means more than just the usage of an app.  And if we rely on apps for performance reviews and job security, we may all be in trouble.


About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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