How to Eliminate Performance Reviews

performance reviews quote

Traditional performance reviews are like the Easter Bunny. They don’t really deliver. I wish a Fairy would sprinkle fairy dust over every organization and eliminate this fraudulent waste of time, energy, and resources.


Traditional performance reviews distract HR and management from more useful tasks like real human development and culture building.

“Quality expert W. Edwards Deming blasted away: It (A traditional performance review) nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, and nourishes rivalry and politics.” (In, “Scaling Up Excellence,” by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao.)

Effective performance management
makes people enthusiastic to perform.


Adobe – 11,000 employees – eliminated annual performance reviews in 2012. Donna Morris, S.V.P., said,

“I actually wish we had abolished the annual review, and all that came along with it, much sooner.”

In the process of eliminating performance reviews they saved 80,000 hours of manager’s time.


Morris said, “Adobe now uses Check-in conversations that center on ongoing feedback. We don’t have labels, a formal tool, or prescriptive time of year …  – we just ask people to have conversations.”

Three components:

Bob Sutton explained three components to a Check-in conversation at Adobe:

  1. What are you doing well?
  2. Where can you improve?
  3. What are your career goals and how can we align them with organizational goals.

To be fair, Bob doesn’t advocate for eliminating all performance reviews. He brings them up in the broader context of “Scaling Up Excellence.”

Excellence includes eliminating unproductive practices.

Bob on performance reviews, in his own words (1:15) on 2/14/14:

Replace annual appraisals with conversations that are:

  1. Common not rare. The infrequency of performance reviews injects fear and discomfort into an essential management practice.
  2. Forward-facing not backward.
  3. Energizing not demoralizing.
  4. Connecting rather than disconnecting.

Managing performance shouldn’t be like breaking the silence in an elevator.

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How could performance be managed and enhanced if traditional performance reviews were eliminated?