Five Reasons Performance Reviews Suck
Every performance review I ever had was a colossal waste of time.
The dust laying on yours indicates it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
Performance reviews are like Santa Clause, they don’t really deliver. Yet, organizations are filled with true believers who persist in wasting time, demotivating employees, and creating more paperwork.
You’re in the minority if your evaluation produced lasting benefit.
5 Reasons Performance Reviews Suck:
- You’re never really sure how they’ll turn out.
- The time between reviews is too long. If you have an annual review, throw it in the garbage. Performance issues that can wait months to be addressed don’t need to be addressed.
- The “telling myth” is a myth. Telling people what they need to do without providing examples, resources, training, and regular feedback won’t change behaviors.
- They don’t tie behaviors to organizational values and mission.
- Reviewers usually focus on behaviors that occurred during recent weeks rather than providing balanced assessments.
- Make performance reviews public. At a minimum, transparency should extend to everyone on your team. Everyone knows the stats of athletes, why are we different?
- Everyone in the organization should see the CEO’s evaluation. Leaders model behaviors.
- Tie every desired behavior to values and mission. If you can’t recite your values from memory, they aren’t meaningful.
- Ask employees to provide specific examples of behaviors that support, execute, and enhance the mission.
- Everyone should see their evaluation before review meetings. No surprises, ever.
A stunning tool:
What comes next is not a paid endorsement.
Yesterday, I spent an hour reviewing “Evaluate to Win.” It solves performance review woes. Jack Welch says, “It’s the best business management tool I’ve ever seen.”
Visit the contact page and drop Ed a note. Tell him Dan sent you.
What could organizations do to enhance the performance review process?
Tell us about your best performance review and why it was good.
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Do you think that part of the problem is a lack of training? Some organizations treat the review process like job interviews. Congratulations, you just got promoted to manager (or supervisor). You are now an expert on job interviews and annual reviews. Here’s a stack of both…..
Interesting you bring up training. I just got off the phone with a VP of a large organization and we talked about how their performance reviews are tied to the strategic plan and everyone is trained on what to look for and how to describe behaviors that meet expectations.
Thanks for starting today’s conversation. I value your view point.
Christian, training may be part of it, perhaps lack of investment for both parties, plus all of the unpredictables Dan noted. There is no investment because there may be no apparent connection to VMV of the organization or the VMV of the individual…both probably.
I think that performance reviews suck if the leader or manager who is supposed to be giving regular feedback to their people don’t understand how people’s needs are different. It’s like anything. A one size fits all approach rarely works.
If you’re working with a bunch of high flyers, then I agree performance reviews are usually a waste of time. But most organisations aren’t full of high flyers.
Some people need and want feedback, regularly and it can be a great motivator. Its easy to find out what works. Managers just need to ask.
I like your suggestions. I’m all for transparency. Just need to be careful here about personal privacy, depending on exactly what the elements of review are Definitely they should be tied to values and mission. Otherwise, its a meaningless exercise.
Thanks for your comment. I agree, most people want more feedback. When you ask them if they get enough they almost always say “no.” People want to know how they are doing and how they can do better.
An effective review is not an event but a process… one that enhances performance.
Oh, btw, I think high fliers want feedback as much as anyone else. They don’t like interference.
Thank you so much for joining todays conversation.
Regarding high flyers—those are the ones you want to recognize, endorse their own approaches, keep eager and anticipatory and at minimum celebrate with brief reflection annually-if you process is still locked into annual reviews. Their celebrations of successful performance could/should be much more frequent.
Yay Dan, on the button again! You must have a lot of buttons by now. No never had a worthwhile performance review. I want to know while i am doing something – in fact i want to understand why i am doing something – and then I know what i am doing is right (your point 3 on the revised approach). You realise of course you’ve just scared the hell out of anyone considering becoming a CEO!
Of course it’s horses for courses and I still stand by the One Minute Management theory – executed well everything else is redundant.
Thanks for keeping me ticking, you do it so well, and as CEO of this Blog your performance review is public 24/7.
Croadie, I like your bottom-line focus on execution, especially with a team focus. My goals and my team’s goals are identical, word for word, and they are stated as performance metrics. And feedback is provided weekly in graphical form, with red being below target and green at or above. We all succeed or fail together, and if there’s one person not contributing as he/she could, the team polices that up pretty quickly. And we don’t even have gain-sharing (yet, working on it.)
Agreed, love the idea of team goals. Without team goals people tend to act independently and that’s not effective.
Not sure what happened then – if anyone receives a compliment from me they don’t understand it was meant for someone else!
Thanks Dan and Greg – Greg I can’t imagine you being with a team that will fail together – I can imagine you being with one that constantly adapts to better hit the target.
Dan with regards to the compliments – no problem – i always find them easier than insults!
I respect you and your experience. Thanks for chiming in.
You’ve added a couple essential points, not the least of which is regularly tell me what I’m doing right. Sadly, many performance reviews focus on negatives… they are downers rather than motivators.
Best to you,
For me, the biggest problem with performance reviews is that they are too one-way. I think defensiveness can be defused if the manager does more asking, getting employees to review BOTH what they did well and not so well. Then the manager can ask about things the employee overlooked, i.e. “How did you think X went?” Being too one-sided makes the process fearful for both sides, why both often handle it poorly. See my article for more on this theme: http://www.lead2xl.com/managing-employee-performance.html
One of the exciting things about yesterday’s review of Evaluate to Win is hearing them explain that making reviews transparent transforms evaluations into positive conversations about doing better. The review is already done…now lets talk about where we’re going in the future. Doesn’t that sound refreshing?
Thanks for the reply, Dan. I’m not familiar with the process you refer to. But, for me, managers need to think more like coaches than judges, not that they can stop judging, of course. I encourage managers to ask engaging questions in performance review meetings, like: “What do you think?” I also like to see all regular progress meetings start with each participant reviewing what’s gone well since the last meeting. Need to counteract one-sided focus on problems to reduce fear and defensiveness.
I do performance reviews, and I hope they don’t suck. I do realize, however, that they aren’t the tool they could be.
My basic rule for reviews is that nothing is discussed there for the first time. Performance issues are dealt with on the spot, as coaching opportunities and in-course corrections. Hopeful positive feedback happens as routinely. The review is to talk about growth over the period since the last review, and to discuss what a person’s future career path could look like, and what he/she can do to prepare.
What I don’t like about our reviews is that we do them at the same time as raises. That tends to tie everything to the money, which can be good and bad. But in years when money is tight, it can be hard to sync the raise up with the good things you have to say in a review.
My best performance review: My boss pulled out the company’s objectives, demonstrated how my performance had impacted those, pointed out ways me and my team could have a greater impact. Not a single negative – those had been dealt with and forgotten. Just an hour spent linking my job firmly to the corporate definition of success. I left feeling sucessful and appreciated, yet with some goals that were enough of a stretch to energize.
Once again I’m thankful and respectful for your experience and insights. I hope everyone reads your comment.
You’ve overcome the tragic strategy of making performance reviews the exclusive, or nearly exclusive tool for dealing with performance issues.
Brilliant: “Performance issues are dealt with on the spot, as coaching opportunities and in-course corrections. Hopeful positive feedback happens as routinely.”
“In-course corrections” clear, concise, and powerful.
I like the example of your best review and the teasing out of ‘not a single negative – perhaps the back pocket thought to carry from this is – “I’m here to review with this employee what they have contributed and why I want, and appreciate, more of it. if we keep people busy doing the right (positive stuff) there’s no time to do the wrong stuff.
Spot on approach Greg, nothing new discussed and thanks for sharing your best performance review–how powerful was that. Bet you will remember it for all your life–and what does that tell us!
That he’s not as old as you Doc…? 🙂
My best performance review happened when my supervisor was able to state my strengths in the context of the business’s success. I left feeling that I had the right stuff to change and move the organization forward with the executive team. Very energizing.
Hopefully others will see your comment and be encouraged!
I’m thankful you shared your experience. It helps us.
I agree. My recent review was a bunch of uninformative numbers that really did not show my exceptional talents on a daily basis. I was disappointed and the amount of time poured into each employees review was a waste.
Better luck next time. 😉
The fact that you shared your experience indicates you care… don’t let “them” take the wind out of your sails.
Excellent overview of many truths. When an employee is evaluated, there are two things they want to know and get out; “Am I cutting it?”, and “What is my compensation increase?” Scoring is usually flawed with a choice of 1-5 or 1-10. 1-4 is most ideal because it forces the evaluator to project better if the employee is cutting it or not. Middle scores are fuzzy beyond belief and communicate very little. Career planning should also be a part of the evaluation experience to enhance employee retention. And pretty much everything boils down to the areas of performance, conduct and attendance. Three simple buckets. The article was so validated my management career experience with employees. Great job!
Alan, thank you for boiling it down to the three buckets – you’re absolutely right. And the one often overlooked is attendance, but a good employee who’s always there will outperform a spectacular employee with mediocre attendance.
It’s not what you can do, it’s what you do.
For those using point systems your advice to stick with 1-4 makes a lot of sense. If middle ground is available, people will frequently shoot for it.
I want to echo and emphasize the comments here that are about the performance review being a two-way conversation. So much of what can make these things suck is wrapped up in the set of beliefs (and structure) that says the reviewing manager has the exclusive grip on the best way to do things.
Sure, if you work in the apprentice-journeyman-master environment you can make the case for that dynamic. But how many of us are there?
Do away with formal, annual, paper-based events in favor of the informal, continuous conversations we all know actually work.
Love the conversation approach. The conversations I had during reviews were stiff, guarded, and fake. I think employees would welcome a genuine honest conversation about achieving success.
I suppose one problem is many leaders don’t want to hear what others have to say… Or, the review process is so disconnected that a conversation is irrelevant.
Honored to see you continuing to add value.
Performance reviews suck because they are fundementally flawed, placing the emphasis on individual behaviour rather than on the behaviour of the system, assuming that if everyone performs at their best the organsation will perform at its best. Everyone doing their best will suboptimise the whole. Performance reviews tend to lead to competition (especially as they are often tied to so called performance related pay), which also suboptimises the performance of the whole. W.Edwards Deming got it right all those years ago when he said that 94% of our oportunities for improvement come from the system and only 6% from individuals. So however well trained so called leaders may be, when they concentrate on individual performance rather than on understanding the system (which itself generates behaviour) they are focusing on irrelevancies. Leadership is about fousing on what matters – the system, i.e. everything that is NOT the individual.
Your comment made my head explode, figuratively. I suppose one of the first “system” things to do would be create an effective evaluation system.
Great comment with powerful food for thought.
I’m thankful you shared your insights,
I don’t agree that all performance reviews suck but I do agree that many, unfortunately, do. Any performance review that comes with a numbering system, sucks. Any annual review that looks backward instead of forward is going to be unhelpful. If you are surprised by anything in your review than your manager has not done his/her job during the year.
Our performance reviews start with a self-evaluation that gives the employee a chance to remind us of what they done well during the year. They also have the opportunity to tell us what they enjoyed doing and where they felt their talents were best utilized. In addition we not only ask for goals, we ask how we can help them achieve those goals. The evaluation itself is for making sure the employee understands how their goals align with those of the organization.
Like so many other things many companies think that performance evaluation are about the protecting the company. They should be about growing your future leaders.
I like that you start with self-evaluation. I am attracted to self-evaluation and peer-evaluation, but have yet to figure out how to use them effectively, that is, how to keep peer evaluation from being a popularity contest, and how to factor different personalities (shy/modest vs. boastful) into self-evaluations. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them, here or offline.
Well, the self-evaluation is not used in a vaccum and you have to learn how to use it. Sometimes the best question is not “what have you accomplished” but “what did you enjoy doing most”. All evaluations are discussed with management members that worked with the employee on those projects which pumps up the modest and tones down the boastful. As far as peer evaluations, we have also found those to be popularity contests. We find the only peer evaluations that we trust are informal converstations with staff members where the names of other staff members happen to come up. I would be happy to disucss this offline with you if are interested in what we are doing.
Bonnie, thanks for your willingness to take a little time. If you’re willing, you can contact me at email@example.com. Specifically, I’m wondering how you control things so self-evaluation doesn’t become self-selling like you see in job interviews. We all have a natural propensity to overstate our qualifications and contributions (see Linked-In); I’m leery of introducting the same dynamic into evaluations, with the resultant need to somehow bring varying perceptions into line.
Greg, I think the 360 degree done properly – which includes proper and professional review and debriefing of it – is the best ‘regulator for modest/boastful. Even a modest person can overrate their abilities and a boastful one can easily miss what they are best at (apart from boasting). The first 360 degree review i had was one of my best ever experiences,( i realised i was a boastfully modest, under-performing, over-delivering) – seriously though – because it was well executed and delivered it was invaluable. And the best take-away for me (in response to my defending myself against a negative reviewer) – “perception is this persons reality” – the penny dropped and since then I have accepted it is always for me to change and not the other person..
Wonderful comment, thank you.
One addition. Doing self-evaluations is an exercise in futility if people don’t trust each other.
If we don’t trust our supervisors we’re going to tell them what they want to here.
Thank you for adding value.
That is an excellent point, Dan.
We created this process at a time when we had a retention problem, so in our case we have worked very hard to create that trust with the staff we have know.
Great post Dan! Too often performance reviews contain cookie cutter questions & scoring to determine whether the employee deserves a raise. I like the idea from Bonnie where their performance review starts with self-evaluation to remind supervisors what they have done well during the year. Most people will downplay their achievements, but it gives management a good tool for highlighting where they thought the employee did well & reinforcing the type of success they want to see.
As an employee, I would prefer a short review every month to I know what I should be concentrating on. Something like “I thought you did a bang up job on the Baxter account this month. I would have liked to see a little more creativity in your approach to the Johnson account.”
So, a question for the LF community-who says your performance reviews need to be…annual? Is it a policy or dysfunctional legacy?
The onus is on us if it is a legacy.
If it is a policy, perhaps, behind the scenes work to get it changed.
If it is legacy, hard tack a new course immediately. Loads of excellent suggestions for course correction here.
If you are providing feedback on performance,how often? Monthly…weekly…daily(!?) how do you do it? Again, presentation, presentation, presentation followed rapidly by timing is everything.
Do you tell or do you ask? (How you like feedback on your performance?) Having someone ask me (with unconditional positive regard of course) what areas are working for me is a good start. And, after that and a discussion, then what areas do I think, know, or even feel, I need to develop or focus more energy in will certainly bring in my own worst inner critic. And then another dialogue with perhaps a gentle reframe regarding my own critique. That second dialogue needs to delve into ‘RWA-ready, willing & able-for me, for my supervisor, and for the organization. Any one of those short changed and you have a rickety three legged stool.
My best ‘annual’ performance review was when I was steering. The 360 process, the expectations and the outcomes were clear. I scheduled the meeting and prior to that sought out feedback from peers who knew my work and from all levels organization. I personally requested that they send feedback to my boss because I deeply valued their feedback and it would still be anonymous–I question that from accountability angles now. It was a reflection, celebration, and a planning time. Again, it was annual which is fine to tie things up, but that approach is not aligned with and denigrates a continuous improvement value. So the best is yet to come!
Great addition Doc, it also reminds me of the old chestnut of only being insulted “if you give permission”. could i also paraphrase what you have said to – “If you want to improve your performance, lead the process, don’t wait to be told, and don’t hide in those dark and shady corners”.
Certainly is consistent with Dan’s (and others) posts this week around waiting to leader or reluctant leaders..
I agree, Doc, anything done annually is good for planning and strategizing, but does little to drive behavior at the tactical level. That’s why any good leader gives a ton of performance feedback, some every day. The review has to be exactly that: a review, which implies a summary look at material already covered. I would submit that any problematic behavior that has been addressed and changed also needs to be forgotten, and has no place in the review.
One huge problem with reviews, be they annual, quarterly or whatever, is that having a formal feedback system leads many to neglect the informal give-and-take that needs to happen all the time.
I personally would like to do away with performance reviews and replace them with broader participation in operational (short-term, near-term, say 12 mos-3 years) planning. In my experience, the folks involved in planning better understand the performance needed from themselves and their teams, and tend to be self-directing in goal-setting and execution.
What could organizations do to enhance the performance review process?
There are so many great comments here it is hard to think of something to add! One thing that is implicit in your post, Dan, and in the comments, is that an organization has to PREPARE in order to have a functional performance review process that helps people grow professionally (and, often, personally) while also improving organizational performance. Prepare by investing in time and (often) money to build a system that is a valued part of the organization’s plan.
Tell us about your best performance review and why it was good. It would be easier (probably for many of us!) to chronicle the worst. But that wasn’t your question. I suppose two things come to mind, neither of them “formal.” One was a long time ago, when the ED at the time required us to draft our own reviews. She handed the one I had drafted for myself to the human resources person and said, “add more – it needs to be more stellar” – meaning that I had “underrated” my own performance. Secondly the same ED (who was NOT big on praise in general) sent a one-word comment back about something I had written – spectacular – I loved for months on that one word!
There is No question that reviews can suck.. big time. But I would have to differ with you on their need. Obviously the type of job.. work being performed.. dictates the basic need for any review system, but by and large most of us likely would fit having jobs that would foster a tyical review system. The problem with performance reviews is that generally speaking few (managers/supervisors) know what their value is nor how to give them properly. Also, many companies utilize the two-yearly review system where one is for general performance and the other is the “money review” to determine level of annual salary increase.
Reviews are an official legal document that serves to record in writing elements regarding an employee’s performance, including contributions made by management toward the employee’s success on the job, and rebuttal statements from the employee. Reviews should do the following (and this isn’t limited to “a perfect world” scenario either):
a) Establish goals and performance markers by which an employee can understand job expectations and requirements… and how performance will be measured for future salary increases or continued employment.
b) Encourage a dialog between employee and supervisor to determine specific needs, skills training, tools, to do the job properly (the idea is that the employee’s success is a team effort between the supervisor and the employee).
c) Encourage a dialog regarding performance problems, whether they be pertaining to the employee or to the company (a supervisor looks good when his employees perform well… everyone gets “rewarded”).
d) Encourage dialog between employee and supervisor regarding new ideas, suggestions for change, etc.
e) Provides a written record documentation of whatever is discussed in the event the employee or the company finds itself in litigation. Also provides the company legal documentation in accordance with progressive disciplinary action as outlined in an employee manual to minimize legal exposure.
I am sure there is likely more/better reasons but this captures the feel of what I am pointing out here. Reviews should be “private quality time” between management and the employee, not some public competition to win the boss’s favor (that’s why I don’t favor your suggestions #1 & #2). Sadly and unfortunately many in management fail to measure up to giving good reviews and many simply look at the review process as a twice a year pain-in-the-ass that is many times postponed or delayed.
All this supports my theory that in most cases “manager” should be a profession and not a position. Managers don’t necessarily have to fully be able to perform the job of their subordinates but rather to direct them to achive goals. Being a manager is a “people” job and generally promoting someone from within the corporation who has a good production history or because of senority is not all that effective. But that’s a debate for another day.
I agree, I think performance reviews are an effect of management wanting to quantify something that either shouldn’t be quantified, or ought to be quantified at a much different scale.
If a person is scaring off customers or has attendance issues and you wait until a year-end review to catch it, there is something seriously wrong.
I believe Dan makes some great points about the common performance review. I would also add that performance management should be an on-going two-way process where both the leader and the employee take responsibility for the process and getting the most out of it. You can find more on my performance management thoughts at http://www.transfohrm.biz/performance-management-ugh/.
THANK YOU!!! I really hate the 6+ hours that I have to put into my “performance” review every year. It does not benefit me in any way and only serves to satisfy some corporate god.
Essentially it’s rewriting my resume and listing all the stuff I supposedly did that were important in order to justify my job and keeping my salary at a competitive level.
Performance reviews make all the effort and excellence I put into my job throughout the year of no consequence when it comes to proving my value to the company.
And I should add…while I get reviewed by up to 3 levels above me, I am never given the opportunity to speak into their performance. Apparently they believe that my performance is all on me and has nothing to do with how well me and my team are managed. Employees should at least be able to say, “yes, my manager does a good job,” or “no, my manager ignores me most of the time” type of stuff.
Your comments reflect the result of poor corporate culture in having a constructive review process coupled with untrained management assigned to give the reviews. In other words, your HR departments are not doing their jobs. Unfortunately you’re not alone.
great to see the post on EvaluateToWin. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic tool, as it forces a __mechanizm__ onto the organization.
The most common problem I’ve seen consistently over the years is, the feedback given to an individual is not __actionable__. I.e. the conversations usually end up with something like “try harder”. In my experience, the more precise, direct and relevant the feedback, the higher the chance it will actually help somebody improve.
I would suggest that the employee can make the process more productive by 1) preparing ahead of time; 2) strategically communicating to the manager about accomplishments, goals, challenges, growth opportunities and more; 3) viewing the performance review as just one event in what should be a year-round communications strategy with your manager. If you expect that the manager carries the load and is going to make the performance review the best meeting ever for you, than you could be greatly disappointed. Some managers may simply be doing it because it has to be done. But if you take control of the situation and help drive it…and make the process as easy on your manager as possible by providing the needed input, you can turn it around. And thus the reason my company’s “Shifting Your Performance Review from Blah to Aha” workshop has been so successful and welcome by employees. We all think of the performance review as a BLAH event….but we can turn it into an AHA event! I’ll do my shameless plug for a book that is all about performance reviews…from the employee perspective – Exceeds Expectations: Take Control of Your Performance Review (http://www.825basics.com/shop-825-basics/exceeds-expectations).
I am a great believer in transparency, honesty and fairness. Performance management should be ongoing with continuous feedback. Peer reviews or 360s can help to limit subjective performance judgements and proper objective setting with its tracking will keep the focus on the future. If this is ensured, a quick ‘performance check chat’ every few months should suffice.
The word performance review has such an antiquated and dreaded feel to it… Maybe it is time to find a new word for this!?! Performance check ins? Mile stone meetings? Summarising chats? Any suggestions anyone?
I couldn’t agree with you more. You should check out http://www.FairSetup.com – another provider that came up with a way to fix performance management.
This harkens back some 30 years of my preaching that managers should be a career of and by itself.. and not a method by which a guy in the trenches gets rewarded for his years making widgets… or given to some junior MBA with no real world experience. An effective manager is a trained manager in human skills, communication, and team building. I’m all for frequent reviews IF someone is trained to give them. Sadly, so few are and manager training is not a priority in business today. While reviews are supposed to inspire and cultivate an employee, too often they are looked upon as tools for having your HR documentation ass covered in the event you want to chastize or terminate someone. A total waste of time in the hands of incompetence, I agree.
KaPow!! Keep ranting.
Just to add to my reply above… the other culprit to poor review processes is the review format itself. The vast majority are poorly designed mechanisms of intimidation that only serve to say, “You suck and here’s why”. Ohhh.. and let’s not even bring up those that use a point scale! Nothing like being told “you suck” on a graduating scale.
Seems you feel strongly! 🙂
Well, Dan.. let’s face it. When we were teenagers we thought we knew it all and now that we are old men we found out we do know it all. But.. like the movie says, this is no country for old men. But it was sure fun not trusting anyone over thirty. 🙂
🙂 Can two people know it all? If that’s true, we both know the same stuff and one of us isn’t necessary.
Maybe that’s why I had so many questionable reviews. 🙂 Rather reminds me of something I picked up in my military days (no, not that). “We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary, for the ungrateful.” (Now.. if you mentally inserted “Burma Shave” after reading that…..)
I’m not sure but when does a comment stream become unnecessary?? 🙂 Love the saying you picked up…