No one likes performance reviews. Employees find them painful, at best, and often describe them with words such as demeaning, irrelevant, and disrespectful.
Supervisors are equally turned off by the process of performance reviews. They complain about the time commitment. They avoid the prospect of sharing bad news by passing out all good – or at least all neutral – reviews. They occasionally admit to manipulating the ratings to ensure that every employee gets at least some raise, And if they can ensure that everyone gets basically the same raise, all the better.
And then there is the issue of timeliness. Supervisors detest the time-commitment and psychological pain to the extent that many avoid the process all together. It is not uncommon to hear of reviews that are months and even years late. This only serves as further proof to employees and supervisors that reviews are basically useless. After all, how important can they be if the individual continued to function in their job without this supposedly critical piece of feedback?
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way
Complete this sentence: Performance Reviews would be great if ….
I asked participants in a series of workshops that question last week, and their answers were surprising and inspiring. There were the usual responses thrown in for comedic effect such as performance reviews would be if I always received top reviews and the maximum pay raise. But, most of the responses suggest that performance reviews could be valuable tools to provide feedback, encourage improvement, and enable results if they:
• Focused on factors, goals, and competencies that were actually related to the individual’s job
• Were used as a tool to develop superior performance rather than criticize poor performance
• Occurred on time and were coupled with regular feedback throughout the year
• Are delivered by a manager who is prepared and genuinely concerned with helping the individual grow and succeed in their career
• Gave the employee an opportunity to proactively participate in a discussion rather than listen to the manager share his/her opinion
• Allowed the employee to share ideas about the help they need from their manager and ways to strengthen the working relationship
• The manager took the time to identify specific things the employee did well and on which she/he needs to improve rather than talking in vague HR speak
• Could be more objective
Why Performance Reviews Suck
In reality, performance reviews rarely resemble the utopian ideal described above. Here are three reasons why:
1. Too much emphasis on the form and too little emphasis on how performance contributes to results. One of the first questions I am asked by human resource professionals wanting to redesign their review process is, “how many forms will we have?” The second question is often “how short can we make the forms because our managers don’t like long review forms?”
A performance review process that is built for administrative ease rather than improving individual and organizational performance is doomed to immediate irrelevance. The number of forms should be determined by the realities of the job rather than the administrative burden of managing the process.
Likewise, review forms should be as long as necessary to ensure that you are providing meaningful feedback and encouraging important discussions. If there is something on your form that doesn’t do that, it is too long. If there is something needed on your form to accomplish those things, it is too short.
2. Managers and employees are not trained to successfully hold or participate in meaningful, positive feedback conversations. Teaching people to complete the form using your automated process isn’t the same as preparing them to conduct and participate in a meaningful review discussion. An accurately completed form never served as the catalyst for a change in performance. An honest, positive conversation on the other hand, has the ability to transform working relationships and spur excellence.
3. Managers don’t really care about employee development, and neither does the organization. Forget the words in your value statement that says employees are your most important resource. How else do you explain managers who refuse to invest the time to adequately prepare for review discussions, treat them as an imposition, and view on-going feedback as a chore that gets in the way of their “real job?”
Managers point to the time constraints imposed by an organization that overloads them with too many responsibilities. If there are more responsibilities than time, the organization is saying that it doesn’t really care about developing people. If the problem is isolated to specific managers and supervisors, the organization is still sending the same message – it doesn’t care about employee development. If it did, it would develop or remove its managers.
Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson wrote these words over thirty years ago in The One Minute Manager: Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Performance reviews could be great if they were designed and delivered to help people become the champions your organization needs and your employees want to become. We simply need to be willing to put in the work to make them great.