What You Should Know Before Your Next Performance Review
A few months ago in a management workshop, I mentioned that most performance reviews are a waste of time. Managers are burdened by them. People rush through filling them out, often with a stack to do at once. And the feedback gets watered down in some sort of HR-conforming corporate speak. Clearly I’d struck a nerve as the audience started applauding. That’s how much performance reviews are loathed in corporate life.
Managers and employees both grimace at the thought of review time approaching. A January Washington Post article title illuminates the current feelings towards performance reviews in stark terms: “Study finds that basically every single person hates performance reviews.”
In recent years, there’s been a rising tide of eliminating the current performance review system. They are cumbersome to administer and fill out, and are generally biased and backward looking. Author Daniel Pink compares the inauthentic, forced performance review session to kabuki theatre, “highly stylized rituals in which people recite predictable lines in a formulaic way and hope the experience ends very quickly.”
According to Dr. Samuel Culbert, professor of Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, “To my way of thinking, a one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense. It’s a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work. Even the mere knowledge that such an event will take place damages daily communications and teamwork.”
The current performance review system is outdated and counterproductive. In a recent piece in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson states plainly, “It’s worth asking whether a process so flawed is worth saving.”
I could go on. There’s a lot of hate to go around.
Performance reviews exist, the logic goes, because otherwise employees wouldn’t get any feedback. The review system is a way of forcing a conversation that should already be happening. However, some brave companies are dismantling their performance review system and betting that immediate, regular feedback will actually increase.
People may just need to get comfortable first.
In the study highlighted by the Washington Post article mentioned above, psychologists asked staffers at a large American university about a performance review they recently received, as well as questions aimed at finding out whether they liked learning new things (and thereby don’t mind risking failure) or whether they’re more inclined to avoid situations in which they could fail. The results: both those devoted to self-improvement and the failure-fearing folks hate critical feedback.
So what alternatives are there to the weary performance review? In 2012, Adobe abolished its performance review system in exchange for regular check-ins. Senior vice president of global people resources, Donna Morris, found that voluntary attrition spiked shortly after the performance review period. Managers, who were supposed to be focusing on managing their teams, were distracted by time-intensive paperwork. She also found the system pushed managers to make decisions that unnecessarily segmented workers. In major companies, only 15% of employees are permitted to receive the highest rating, and when these ratings determine salary increases (or decreases), that can be problematic. What if 20% of employees deserve this highest rating? What are mangers supposed to do then? It was a moral dilemma Morris found needed to be eliminated.
The check-in system has worked wonders. Voluntary attrition has plummeted. Managers have had more time to focus on their people’s success, and can give salary increases based on personal circumstances rather than on fixed numbers.
Think you want to start a movement to change the performance review system at your company? Here are a few principles you’ll need to take the plunge.
Support a feedback culture.
People earn the right to get rid of performance reviews. The culture has to support precise, consistent, in the moment feedback. When managers take this approach, the annual performance review is redundant and clearly not a good use of time.
Similarly, the organization has to train people on how to give feedback. Most people don’t do it well, and either go too hard or too soft. I like the MIT model which advises providing context, behavior, impact and next steps. The best feedback is based on observation, and is simple and straight the point.
Consider all feedback is a compliment. It takes time and effort to provide feedback. For those receiving it, all feedback should be considered a compliment, as it aids in your growth and development. It’s help given. We know from research – and lots of personal experience – that we dislike critical feedback. While we may never love it, we do have to learn to welcome it.
Your feedback will only be as good as your ability to receive it.
Assume positive intent.
People spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the motivations of others. Managers often wonder what their employees are up to. And employees are asking the same questions of their leaders. We can save a lot of time and energy when we assume positive intent.
It sounds simple, but it has powerful repercussions. As a manager, if you assume your employee does want to do their best work, then your feedback will come from a place of support. Employees who believe their manager wants the best for them, are more likely to be honest about where they’re struggling or what they need for success.
It’s a win for everyone as positive intent encourages more feedback and open communications. Which, if we had more of, can keep those pesky performance reviews away for good.
What’s your opinion on performance reviews? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This article also appears on Forbes.com.
Image credit: Ambro.
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