I Come to Praise the Annual Performance Conversation, Not Further Bury It

So, you’re planning to join the legion of organizations that have dropped the annual performance review. Instead, you will institute a company-wide commitment to providing feedback throughout the year, decoupling important conversations about performance from the ugly and awkward scoring used to guide the annual pay-raise and promotion cycle. You will move from a culture of assessment to one of ongoing coaching.

I applaud you. And I wish you better luck than I’ve had in keeping to all of the commitments required in such a culture.

It’s not easy to talk about performance and, as Nik Kinely and Shlomo Ben-Hur explain in the Summer 2017 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, it is even harder to do anything about it. Effective performance coaching takes discipline, planning, and a great deal of thoughtfulness on both sides of the table. It’s sometimes not pleasant. What do we too often do when faced with difficult tasks that will not directly or immediately affect something we can measure? Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly what we do. We procrastinate. We are only human, of course.

I am not here to raise the industrial-age annual performance assessment process from its shallow grave. As many experts have noted, it is rife with faults. It focuses on what has already happened rather than on planning for what has yet to come. It can feel punitive — or at least judgmental. It is reductive and, in some cases, forces ridiculous formulaic comparisons between employees with wildly different roles and skill sets. It fails to emphasize the kind of timely feedback that actually can make a real difference in the quality of performance.

And nevertheless I have just scheduled formal, year-end meetings with each of my direct reports.

I do not believe this is an either/or decision. You can have meaningful weekly or biweekly meetings with your direct reports as well as a deeper, more structured conversation annually or semiannually.

We are going to assess employees in some shape or fashion, overtly or not. We are going to tie our judgment of the quality of their performance to their pay. Outside of the most old-fashioned models for sales-force compensation and the most bleeding-edge algorithms, how we manage our employees’ opportunities for financial and career advancement remains highly qualitative.

But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. We should see the annual performance conversation as an opportunity to take stock of the previous year and to talk broadly and strategically about the 12 months to come. It is an opportunity to have at least one structured, and hopefully meaningful, conversation about how things have gone and where we want them to go.

So, I stand in favor of an annual conversation about performance and priorities. It is not an assessment, and it does not involve any form of grading or ranking. But it is structured, and it does require preparation. This year, I have asked the people who report to me to consider a short set of questions. They are straightforward and meant to provide context for reflection about both the recent past and near-term future. Here they are:

  1. What is the one thing you accomplished during the past year that best exemplifies your performance?
  2. What one aspect of your past year’s performance are you most unsatisfied with?
  3. What is one thing you would like to accomplish during the next year that differs from the past year?
  4. What are the things that you do — at least two, no more than three — as part of your role that would be the most difficult for others to replicate? I am looking for you to discuss the capabilities that you believe are the most distinctive to you versus others in the organization.
  5. What can I do to better help you accomplish your goals?

How each person goes about addressing the questions should reveal as much as the specifics of their answers. Have they really engaged? Have they given each question deep reflection? How have they incorporated the needs of the organization into their thinking? How much do they take me up on my request that they lead the conversation themselves?

Providing effective feedback and engaging in a meaningful, non-transactional dialogue with employees is incredibly important. I’d like to hear how you go about it.

MIT Sloan Management Review

Highlights of the 15th Annual IBM China Forum

The 15th Annual IBM China Forum will take place in Beijing on Tuesday, bringing together more than 5,000 clients, partners, IBM experts and key influencers to explore the way IBM’s work is transforming and reimagining industries.

Keynote: Transformation in the age of the IoT

Flying the flag for the IoT will be Sanjay Brahmawar, IBM Watson Internet of Things General Manager, who will deliver a keynote speech on cognitive manufacturing. Sanjay will discuss the transformative potential of the IoT within the manufacturing industry, and explore how clients and partners globally, as well as those co-located with us at the Watson global headquarters in Munich, are driving innovations in cognitive computing.

The session, named (appropriately enough): ‘Made in China 2025: Transformation, Outcomes and Leadership in the age of Internet of Things’, will delve deep into the ways cognitive manufacturing can lead to increased productivity and competitiveness across value chains. Sanjay will explore the opportunities that sensors, predictive analysis, cognitive computing and robots offer up, through enabling greater levels of automation in the manufacturing process.

Recap: Cognitive manufacturing as part of Industry 4.0

For those who need a quick refresher, cognitive manufacturing involves generating and acting upon insights from data collected by connected ‘things’ or components. These components might be used as part of the manufacturing process itself – robots on the production line, for instance – that are able to collect data on their own physical state and that of the environment that surrounds them.

A feedback loop is created between physical things and the digital world – where objects are able to give us critical information on the way they are being used or whether they need repair. This information can help manufacturers optimise every stage of the production process to save time and money. Take a look at this post on Industry 4.0 to find out more about cognitive manufacturing.

About Sanjay Brahmawar

Sanjay is based in the IBM Watson IoT Center headquarters in Munich, Germany. He works closely with co-locating partners at the center, including BMWAvnetBNP ParibasCapgemini and Tech Mahinda, to drive innovations in cognitive computing and the IoT to transform business.

View the online broadcast

You can join the live IBM China Forum broadcast on Tuesday, 11 April, from 9am-12.20pm (China Standard Time) via the following links:

Sanjay’s keynote will take place between 10.25am and 10.55am (CST).

Learn more

If you’d like to find out more about Industry 4.0 and join the next industrial revolution, visit IBM Industry 4.0.

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You, with IBM: IBM annual report 2016

IBM has published its annual report for 2016: You, with IBM. The report contains detailed financial information around core investments and acquisitions, this year’s key announcements and plans for the future. Below are some key performance indicators and highlights to give a flavour of what 2016 has brought us. Read the full report for the complete picture.

It’s all about people

Perhaps it’s fitting that this year’s report places a great emphasis on the importance of people and collaboration. From the 380,000 IBMers that are at the heart of everything we do, to the businesses, clients and partners that have contributed to our vision, and us to theirs. After all, 2016 was the year that saw the bulk of the preparation for our Munich IoT Collaboratory, a celebrated hub of innovation and a place to share ideas and knowledge.

The report goes on to detail a multitude of case-studies from different industries: from healthcare, energy and utilities and construction to education and the arts.

Watson Health

Healthcare data is growing 48 percent per year, pouring in from electronic medical records, imaging, research, wearables and monitoring. No doctor can keep up with this vast onrush of information, but IBM Watson IoT can. Watson has ingested nearly 15 million pages from relevant journals and textbooks, and is now using that expertise to inform evidence-based treatment options for clinicians serving patients globally.

Engineers are rebuilding the world

The IoT has contributed a lot to the practice of engineering, too. With Watson’s cognitive abilities, specialists for oil and gas companies can predict and prevent pipeline failures almost a week in advance. Stadium Architects can create experiences that help fans get up close and personal. The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United are building the most technologically advanced stadium in the world.

Artists are finding their muse in the machine

Special effects artists at Prana Studios are creating amazing immersive experiences for theme park crowds, with a new IBM Cloud-based infrastructure that includes more than 1,000 high-performance servers. And in fall 2016, 20th Century Fox released the first-ever AI-generated movie trailer in just days, with the help of Watson.


Virgin Holidays created a custom rum blend designed to taste ‘like a vacation feels’, thanks to IBM Chef Watson Twist, which brings together flavours that complement each other at the molecular level.


Farmers are using hyper-local forecasts from The Weather Company to see highly precise predictive models to help manage their crops.


Insurers can prevent damage rather than pay for it – as meteorologists team up with insurance companies to predict imminent weather events and help car owners avoid damage.

The bottom line

There have been some big financial wins too:

  •       We achieved operating earnings per share of $ 13.59 and free cash flow of $ 11.6 billion.
  •       We invested heavily for our long-term competitiveness—nearly $ 6 billion in research and development, nearly $ 4 billion in capital expenditures and nearly $ 6 billion to make 15 acquisitions, adding to our capabilities in the high-growth areas of cognitive, cloud and security.
  •       We returned $ 8.8 billion to our shareholders, including dividends of $ 5.3 billion and $ 3.5 billion in gross share repurchases. We raised our dividend for the 21st consecutive year—and it was IBM’s 101st straight year of providing one.
  •       IBM is now the global leader in cloud for the enterprise. In 2016, our cloud business grew 35 percent, to $ 13.7 billion (adjusted for the effects of currency.)

The full picture

Read the full report to learn more about our year in 2016. You can explore our cognitive solutions by visiting the IoT website, or speak to a representative to find out how we can help you take the next step in bringing the IoT to your business.

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