Death to Performance Reviews – Again

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The death of performance reviews may be highly exaggerated. When big organizations like Accenture proclaimed the elimination of performance reviews in that organization, a collective sigh of relief could be heard around the world. Yay! We thought there would be no more of the charade of managers trying to guess what we really contributed to the organization. No more stress, we thought, about the entire review process and whether or not we would be placed on double secret probation. The elimination of the review process was, we thought, the beginning of a sea change in employee engagement.

Alas, it was not to be. Like the game of Whac-a-Mole, performance reviews continue to pop up in some organizations. In other organizations, they never went away.

HR professionals roll their eyes at the thought of eliminating reviews. Reviews can protect the organization from litigation. Yet, most HR people I know dread the entire process. Butthead managers still hold onto reviews as a way to fire people and keep them worried about job security.  Analysts who understand bell curves continue to work on spreadsheets to determine who is contributing and who is not.  But cutting annual performance reviews out of the organizational psyche continues to make a ton of sense. It makes business sense and, why do something year after year that everyone hates?

The business case for killing performance reviews requires only back of the envelope analysis. It is called simple arithmetic. Take people’s salaries and come up with an hourly rate. Then, multiply the number of hours that the organization spends on the review process. The answer will be a reason to kill the process.  In many organizations, the time devoted to performance reviews shuts down the plant. Nothing happens while people wait to be evaluated at the expense of customers and others.

What is maybe more important than the business case is the logic and emotion associated with the review. Why continue a practice that no one likes, is seen as an annual ritual of pain, and may or may not be effective? A culture that continues to do things that no one wants to do is a culture that needs to ask hard questions like, “Why are we doing this?” If the answer is truthful the culture can change.   The annual review is a prime target.

This is not to say that feedback is not a good thing. We should all look for some sort of feedback every day. The best source of feedback is our own inner self. People generally know how they perform and what should be improved. Feedback is still critically important.

We should ask others for feedback too, but that doesn’t have to be in a formal review situation. The best feedback is usually in the hallway after a presentation or in the car on the way home from a sales call or after a meeting. Listen to that feedback and add your own inner analysis and you will be a better performer.

No matter the case, I know performance reviews are not dead. In most organizations they are very much alive and well so I have a suggestion. Instead of a painful process, every one should complete a 3×5 card with one question on it: How did you make this place better?

The answers might be a pleasant surprise to everyone.

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