Saying that few people like performance reviews is a massive understatement. 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 review process. They complain about the time required to complete the paperwork. 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 a few game the system to ensure that everyone gets basically the same increase.
These frustrations reinforce the belief that performance reviews are basically useless. After all, how important can they be if the individual functioned in their job for an entire year before this supposedly critical piece of feedback was shared?
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way
I recently asked participants in a series of workshops to complete this sentence: Performance reviews would be great if ….
Their answers were surprising and inspiring. A few responses were thrown in for comedic effect, but most reinforce that performance reviews could be valuable tools for providing feedback, encouraging improvement, and enabling results if they:
- Focused on factors, goals, and competencies that are actually related to the individual’s job
- Are used to develop superior performance rather than criticize poor performance
- Occurred on time and were combined with regular feedback and follow-up throughout the year
- Are delivered by a supervisor who is prepared and genuinely concerned with helping them grow and succeed in their career
- Gave the employee an opportunity to proactively participate in a discussion and share ideas about the help they need from their manager and ways to strengthen the working relationship
- Provided realistic and specific feedback rather than talking in vague HR speak
Why Performance Reviews Suck
The performance review process rarely resembles 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 built for administrative ease, rather than improving individual and organizational performance, is doomed to immediate irrelevance. Review forms should be as long and as numerous as necessary to ensure that you are providing meaningful feedback and facilitating important discussions. If your form doesn’t do that, it is too long or unnecessary. If something is missing to accomplish those things, you need to lengthen or make your form more relevant.
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 promote excellence.
3. Managers don’t really care about employee development, and neither does the organization. The words in your company value statement may say “employees are your most important resource,” but your employees don’t believe that applies during performance reviews. They see managers who do not adequately prepare for review discussions, treat reviews as an imposition, and view on-going feedback as a chore that gets in the way of their “real job.” Companies committed to employee development set the expectation; provide the time and training for managers to be effective; and hold managers accountable for developing people not just delivering immediate results.
Performance reviews don’t have to suck. They could be a valuable tool to help you build and sustain a vibrant, results-focused culture where people become the champions your employees want to be and your organization needs to thrive. Are you willing to put in the work to make them great? iBi
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. For more information, visit www.penningtongroup.com.