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Archive for April, 2010

Is the Annual Performance Review a Waste?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Today I read a provocative editorial on the Yahoo! Finance page.  The title was:  Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews.  Here’s the link:  So, the premise of Samuel A. Culbert’s editorial is that performance reviews are damaging and bogus.  He argues that while every corporation and HR Department touts performance reviews as a “plus” they are actually a drain on any organization.  Don’t hear him say thinks performance evaluations are bad . . . he’s not saying that.  He’s just saying that employees need performance evaluations they can trust and act upon.  He thinks performance evaluations should happen every day through conversation.  Yep, conversation.   Dialog between a manager and employee that includes asking and listening, on both sides of the desk.  A fabulous idea.

I really appreciate his perspective.  Now, I’m not saying that annual performance reviews need to be ditched, as Colbert suggests.  I think there is great value in having documentation of performance management activities.  But, the annual performance review is often treated like a necessary task dictated by HR instead of an opportunity to take a solid look at an employees strengths, accomplishments, and understanding of what he or she should do more of to be even more successful in the coming year.  I have been one of those leaders at the end of the year scrambling to complete all the boxes on all the forms for all my employees and having all those one-on-one discussions before the HR-imposed deadline.  UGH!  That process feels forced and fake, and it often translates to employee feedback that is not authentic, and worse, not actionable.  Colbert argues that performance reviews focus too much on what’s “wrong” about an employee’s performance.  Whether they are completed annually or not, I agree with him . . . they would be much more valuable if they focused more on what the leader/manager can do to help the employee succeed. 

So, what’s a leader to do?  In most organizations performance reviews are non-negotiable.  A leader doesn’t get to say, “In protest I’m not going to do them.”  Nonetheless, a leader can make the process infinitely more valuable.  To do so means having discipline and commitment to an employee’s development.  It takes time, thought, and a little planning.  Many leaders might argue they don’t have the time.  I respectfully reply, “You must make the time because employee development is one of your top responsibilities.”  Leaders are required to lead.  And, performance management is an important part of leading.  When coaching and training  leaders, I offer these tips for making performance management an on-going and routine versus a once-a-year-phenomenon:

Schedule 30 – 60 minute one-on-one sessions with your team members every week during which time you ask them a variation of the questions below.  Your objective is to get a sense of what makes them feel strong and effective.  You also want to discover what they need from you to perform at their peak.  Finally, you must listen to what they have to say and make sure they see you listening.

  • How can I help you bring your best to the job at hand?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding your work when you feel the most competent and the most effective?
  • What tools do you need to be even more successful?
  • How are you solving problems you encounter?
  • What barriers or obstacles do you need help in overcoming?
  • Who do you rely on and partner with to get your job done?
  • What questions do you have of me?

Before you end the conversation, after listening intently and discussing different approaches to problems, it’s really important that you provide them some feedback on what you are noticing about their performance.  This kind of feedback can either be positive or constructive.  The key is that it is timely and genuine.  Your team members need to know where they stand with you.  What’s working and what’s not?  What do you want them to do more of?  What makes you proud?  What would you like to see them do differently (and how do you intend to help them do so?)  Finally, say” “Thank-you.”  This expression of gratitude is a great way to let them know you appreciate what they bring, that they care enough to talk with you weekly about their performance, and that you honor their commitment to continuous improvement.

So, as I already mentioned, this takes discipline and commitment.  When you do it, it will pay off every day.  And, it will pay off at the end of the year when you’re required to document the performance evaluations for HR.  You will breeze through them because you will have had weekly conversations with your team members that have kept them engaged and informed throughout the year.  The annual process will become more of a formality than a forced event.

So, is the annual performance review a waste?  Not if you do your leader work throughout the year and make employee development a daily priority.  When that happens, the annual performance review can be a time when you get to celebrate that your daily work has created solid results.

With respect,


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