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Long Live the Performance Review! Death to the Performance Review!

Warning – this blog post may contain moments of complete and utter ranting….you have been warned! These days I am of two minds. Being knee deep, perhaps even waist deep, in the performance review process at our organization at present time has caused me to reflect quite heavily on the value of performance reviews. It seems like every year, no matter where I have worked, the annual review has become a painful process for everyone involved. Employees don’t have the time to do self-appraisals, managers scramble to remember what occurred with each staff member over the past year and HR..well it seems like we try to be the good custodians of the entire system. It gets me to thinking, is it all worth it? I mean, is it worth for the employees? Do the managers get any value added outcome out of this entire process? Organizationally do we benefit by doing these performance reviews?

Solution QuestionMy one mind set thinks that the performance reviews are a good thing…so I say, “long live the performance review!” It “forces” the manager to sit down with their employee and have an honest, face to face discussion about what has happened over the year and what the plan is for the next year for them. They get an opportunity to dialogue, plan and discuss wonderful things like career development, growth opportunities, training, etc. Then my other mind set kicks in and asks, “is it really benefiting anyone if we are ‘forcing’ the discussion?” What is the quality like of these conversations that take place? Does either the manager or employee really want to be doing this? Why do we need to “legislate” employee discussions anyway? Isn’t this defeating the whole purpose of the performance review? What is the aversion to conducting these reviews? And most importantly for our HR team, is this the role we want to play – that of the guardian or legislator of performance reviews? I mean really, how much respect is that garnering us?

So now I am thinking, “death to the performance review!” Maybe we don’t need to be doing these? There has to be a better way to evaluate our employees, determine top performers and reward them accordingly. What if managers met more frequently with their staff and spoke more candidly about things like performance, recognition and *gasp* compensation? What if we rewarded people for their performance outcomes for things like quality/ahead of schedule project completion, enhancement to skillsets via training and development, etc? Why do we need an annual form to do all these things? Perhaps our focus and goal setting with many of our employees should be a bit shorter term so we are in a constant state of evaluating and then re-setting. Wouldn’t employees and managers be much more receptive to sitting down monthly/quarterly and focusing simply on goals, objectives and outcomes? Employee development needs should be an ongoing discussion. Managers should be identifying successors and key talent on a regular basis and ensuring they have the proper training and development opportunities; thus, performance discussions are essentially ongoing dialogue between manager and employee. I mean, why do we wait to have these discussions with our staff until the annual review? Perhaps we could prevent turnover by talking to our people more often?

So there it is, as of today I say death to the performance review! However, until such time as I can lead this HR revolution, I need to get back to focusing myself and my team on supporting our managers through the current performance review process and coaching them on having these discussion with their staff. Best of luck to you if you are currently doing the same and I would love to know your thoughts – long live the performance review……….or death to the annual review?

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. Scott,

    Excellent post. I’ve been railing about performance reviews for many years also. Thoughtfully done, they can be a help. But they are time-consuming, and often not motivating.

    And in the days of 2% (or less) merit increase budgets, what difference does it make how anyone is ranked? Performance differentiation is almost impossible.

    I once showed a group of managers that in order to truly reward top performers they would have to fire the bottom 10% (or more). Their response “We fired the poor performers last year.”

    Performance management cannot succeed without managers dedicated to improving the organization and willing to have long conversations with both top performers and lower performers about realistic career paths . . . even when the economic conditions preclude many employers from providing those career paths.

    Thanks for the post.


    • Sara – I couldn’t agree with you more. Your point about the limited merit budgets really does reduce the impact of the annual performance review and trying to differentiate with pay for performance is bang on. I am a fan of regular coaching discussions, setting and re-setting of goals/objectives on a regular basis and focusing on non-monetary rewards (if merit budgets are low).

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