Sometimes it's hard to tell who hates performance reviews more-managers or employees.
But what if the timeworn paper-based annual assessment were replaced with a Web-based process that allows managers to consistently evaluate employees' skills against company goals?
Indianapolis-based Bowland Solutions has come up with just such an alternative, and it has helped the firm build a client roster that includes heavyweights like international banking giant HSBC, music purveyor Virgin Megastores, global pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline and Earthbound Farm, North America's largest grower of organic produce.
Bowland, which also has an office in England, develops online performance assessment tools, including a 360-degree evaluation where feedback comes from subordinates, peers, managers and even external stakeholders like customers and suppliers.
Eli Lilly and Co. veteran Eric Stauffer serves as director of technical development, working from the Indianapolis office. Partner Brendan Walsh is managing director and was recently joined in the UK office by John Rice, who brought sales and marketing experience.
Stauffer, 40, said his years of IT experience at Eli Lilly and Co. combined with Walsh's customer-service and humanresources knowledge has proven invaluable when selling their services to a worldwide audience. The two met in 1988 at Lancaster University in England when Stauffer was on a Wabash College studyabroad program.
"Since we're an Internet-based business, we don't have geographic boundaries," he said.
The long-distance business relationship does require flexibility, however. Stauffer works two days a week on UK hours-4:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and makes trips overseas as needed. With call routing, calls to the company can be answered in both locations.
Bowland helps companies make the change from paper performance-appraisal systems to online ones, something Stauffer said can be scary for HR professionals. The company takes care to design software that has a similar look and feel to the paper processes they are replacing.
Online job reviews aren't uncommon, but traditional evaluations are still far more common, said Andrea Davis Cranfill, vice president of Indianapolis-based human resources consulting firm FlashPoint.
"Most [companies] are probably still using a paper-based process," she said. "Whether you use an online tool or a paper process, the value is only as good as the performance appraisal itself. The appraisal needs to be evaluating the right kind of behaviors for that organization that are important for its success."
Stauffer said the company grew with its client base, reaching $400,000 in revenue last year. Still, convincing high-visibility clients to hire Bowland wasn't easy.
"The biggest concern they had was, how could they know that we would be around?" he said.
Then Walsh used his UK contacts to land Virgin Megastores.
"Once you have one large client, you have a reference," Stauffer said. "They were comfortable with our level of commitment, and there was a lot of eye-to-eye contact selling on a personal level."
Within 10 weeks of landing Virgin, Stauffer had developed an online assessment tool for the company's senior managers.
"They provided a professional, personal service from conception right through to completion," said Amanda Heath, training and development manager for Virgin Retail. "Nothing is too much trouble, and the knowledge and experience of the team is invaluable."
Stauffer said while there's lots of competition, he believes the partners' expertise in HR and IT sets Bowland apart.
"We aren't salespeople who go back to someone in IT to see if something is possible," he said. "When clients ask for something, we can answer with 100-percent assurance whether or not it's possible."