Performance Reviews: Keeping the baby, ditching the bathwater

March 12, 2014 by Wally Bock

Performance reviews are the process everyone hates. Jena McGregor reviews most of the reasons in her excellent piece: “The corporate kabuki of performance reviews.” The short version is that they’re not fair, increase stress, don’t make things better, and suck up a ton of time. W. Edwards Deming put this more strongly, speaking of “performance appraisal or merit rating:”

“It nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics.”

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people who want to ditch the system. UCLA professor Sam Culbert wrote a whole book about it, titled, naturally, Get Rid of the Performance Review! That makes sense to me, but only if it’s a first step.

Getting rid of the annual or semi-annual performance review makes sense. Getting rid of forced ranking makes sense in most cases. Both fly in the face of good practice and human nature. But then you have to replace the annual review with something else.

That’s why Adobe did. They instituted a “check-in” system than calls for managers to have frequent conversations with team members about performance and behavior. I think there are two ways these conversations can happen.

Some will happen in the general course of getting the work done. But if you depend on that, managers will be more likely to avoid tough conversations. So there should also be regular one-on-one check-in meetings. I suggest once a week.

Make sure your managers can do the job you want them to do. Give them training and support. Evaluate them on how well they do the “check-in” part of the job.

Traditional performance reviews don’t work. Getting rid of them makes good sense, but only if you replace them with something different and better.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Talent Management

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