Get Rid of Performance Reviews?

April 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm 5 comments

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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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jamie Ross (Mining Man)  |  June 7, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Great article Larry. I totally agree that annual reviews area a terrible replacement for proper, effective, ongoing feedback.

    We may not be able to get rid of them all together, it still benefits the organisation to have a formal process for recording performance. The process is also a good chance to look ahead and make development plans. The annual review should be just a summary of feedback already given though.

    At a mine I worked at we brought in performance reviews at the operator level, and the rule was the supervisors couldn’t bring up any “negative” feedback which they hadn’t already raised with the person being reviewed. Gathering feedback before brining in the program had identified that the biggest issue people had had with previous review programs they’d been involved with was supervisors storing up negative feedback until the performance review. Logically this then led to every employee dreading the annual review.

    Unfortunately I too have had the experience you mentioned of clearly underperforming individuals being giving average or above ratings in performance reviews, and then being quite surprised to be given negative feedback from a new leader.

    Thanks again, really enjoyed the article. Here’s to the end of annual reviews!!
    – Jamie

  • 2. Mary Ellen  |  April 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I agree with Mr. Courtney’s contention that performance management (not review) should be an ongoing process, not a one time yearly event. Realistically, name a manager that practices constant feedback and coaching (and that is not someone from the NFL). We don’t have an issue with a process; we really have an issue with management! Appropriate management means checking in with your direct reports, telling them when they do a good job and coaching them through the developmental areas and, yes, even disciplining them when necessary. The performance evaluation process is a necessary evil – forcing reluctant managers to MANAGE. It’s an evolutionary process, and I fear we are not yet ready to eliminate the annual review.

  • 3. aepcentral  |  April 29, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Matt Barcus here – speaking for myself, and not necessarily Carol – Larry, I would agree that a minimum of weekly feedback is a must, with regular progress reports and feedback on large projects that progress through the project life-cycle. I see the need for a formal performance review, but that review should just be a quick compilation of the feedback that is given on an ongoing basis and should be no surprise to anyone. If a manager fails to to recognize the day-to-day or week-to-week successes and failures of his people only to provide feedback one time per year, then he is not a good manager of people.

  • 4. Anthony Fasano  |  April 28, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Larry I totally agree that daily feedback is a must, however there is an art to delivering negative feedback in a positive way so as to not totally demotivate an employee and those that are good at this will be extremely successful!

  • 5. HR Pal  |  April 28, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Daily feedback should be in the toolbox of every manager. If used on a regular basis, comments shared during an eval would not come as a surprise to employees. One of the downfalls I see over and over with evals is the lack of preparedness on both parties part, as well as the lack of training ERs give to managers to assist in preparing and giving effective feedback. Senior leadership, including HR should continue to have periodic training with management on giving effective feedback. Seeing vague comments such as “Sally is very nice.” on evals reminds me of the kid cramming lots of conjunctions into his college paper just to hit the 500 word requirement. Specific accomplishments on a project, specific improvements that need made on a skill set, or quotes from particular clients on customer service, help an EE (and manager) focus on the details at hand. These types of tangibles can lead to real growth and real affirmation for an EE.


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