Get Rid of Performance Reviews?
April 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm aepcentral
Guest Blogger: Larry Courtney
Owner, Larry Courtney Consulting
Management Consulting and Business Brokerage for Professional Services Firms and other Businesses
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about performance reviews by Samuel A. Culbert. The article was adapted from “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.”* Essentially the article makes the point that formal performance reviews, based on a recurring periodic calendar date, do not work, they are disliked by employees, and could even be detrimental from a legal perspective, especially when managers tend to provide inflated ratings. Instead the article maintains, managers should be providing nearly daily feedback to employees on their performance.
I share the views of Mr. Culbert on formal “performance” reviews. They just do not work. For the vast majority of managers they are a quarterly, semi-annual or annual check off of a required task that is performed with the enthusiasm and grace mustered for the attendance of a public hanging. The “performance” review is anything but. Senior management touts that promotions, raises and bonuses (if they are still paid) are tied to performance reviews … not so and everyone knows it from the most senior to the most junior person in the firm. Performance reviews are the “Kings new clothes.” We all know they do not work, but we pretend they do. Anyway, how can you neatly condense the performance of an employee down to a 2 or 3 page check sheet and a 15 minute discussion? Well, maybe the question would better be stated, how can you realistically do it and expect to have the molding impact a performance review should have? I have had numerous encounters where a manager wanted to fire a person; however, when the personnel file was reviewed, it was found that the same manager had rated the employee as average or above average during previous performance reviews. When confronted with the dichotomy, the manager would say something to the effect: “I wanted to encourage them, so I gave them a good review.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that. Loosely translated what the manager is really saying is: “I don’t have the guts or I don’t have the basic interpersonal skills to be honest and forthright with the employee.” Harsh? Not really.
The fact of the matter is, every employee deserves constant feedback, positive and negative (and both apply to every person), throughout the year and almost daily. That feedback must be direct (not necessarily harsh … screaming and shouting is not what we are going for here), the feedback must be specific to the current task and relevant to the overall performance of the task or team. For example, an employee who is consistently late may perform better than his/her peers; however, the tardiness is likely a distraction and point of irritation to fellow team members or employees. Just for the record, “House” is a television show, not reality. How can a person improve and attain his/her life and career objectives if they do not hear from others, especially their supervisors and managers, what is perceived to be the positive and negative elements about their performance. I use the word perceived because it does not matter whether other people’s views are real or not, it is what they see and it is the responsibility of the one being perceived to change how others see them. Life’s not always fair. Wow, sounds like politics doesn’t it? But I go too far. Have you ever noticed how good leaders provide frequent feedback? Since this tome is an expression of opinions, it is my opinion that being able to provide feedback to staff at the time it is needed and in the proper format to be accepted by the intended recipient, is an important element of leadership. Performance feedback should help mold and shape staff into what they should be and what they want to be.
*Copyright 2010. By Samuel A. Culbert with Lawrence Rout. Published by Business Plus, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc. The article
was published in the Wall Street Journal on April 19, 2010
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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, Civil Engineering Companies, Employee Retention, Human Resources, The Workplace. Tags: civil engineering blog, management training, performance reviews.