Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why Performance Reviews Make Some People Crazy

Performance. Review. Two fairly harmless words. But put them together, as in "performance review" and you've just touched on a hot-button issue. If I've learned one thing from covering the workplace for so many years it's this: Just saying "performance review" is likely to generate some heated discussion. It's been that way for a long time, and I predict it will continue to be a source of great controversy. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com on the issue....

Ask employees if they like performance reviews and chances are at least some of the answers may be unfit for young ears. Ask Samuel A. Culbert the same question, and while his response may be more civil, it’s going to be equally condemning of the practice.

In his book, “Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on What Really Matters,” (Business Plus, $24.99), Culbert opens with this salvo about the review process: “This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate practices. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.”

When asked to boil his feelings on performance reviews down to one word, Culbert says they’re nothing more than “intimidation.”

Culbert contends performance reviews are designed “to protect bad managers on stupid things they do and say and would never get by with at a social event.” He further charges that human resource departments support the performance reviews because of the political position it gives them within a company – they become what Culbert calls the “keepers of the dirty little secrets.”

“They have all this information on people in their file cabinets and that gives them power. They know the havoc they cause,” he says.

In his stinging indictment of bad managers and manipulative human resource departments, Culbert says there are plenty of executives providing good management – and they do not use performance reviews.

Culbert says that instead of a performance review, managers should ask employees how a job should be done – and then provide needed feedback, guidance and support to get that task completed. He says that while performance evaluations “are always about grading people down,” discussions focused on how to obtain results for the company translates into success for everyone – the employee, the boss and the business.

“The most important tool a manager has is a trusting relationship. You work to build that with employees. As a manager, you get off your high horse and make yourself accountable to the employee. Quit scoring people on metrics that don’t have anything to do with the way someone does a job,” Culbert says.

In his book with Lawrence Rout, Culbert argues that performance reviews should be scrapped and replaced with performance previews. These previews, he says, are aimed at fostering an appreciation of the strengths the boss and employee bring to the table.

For example, in these previews employees would outline what kind of supervision helps them operate most effectively and what kinds of past management practices caused a problem in getting work done.

At the same time, the manager would share with the worker what he or she needs from the employee in order to provide effective management – and would even share his or her past management goofs and how those were handled.

Culbert says continuing discussions would focus on how the manager and employee could best mesh their talents to achieve positive results for the company. The process helps managers and employee communicate better about what is needed to get the job done.

“It’s important for a boss to ‘get’ an employee – to understand the unique way that person goes about doing the job, sort of like a mother or father ‘gets’ a son or daughter,” Culbert says.

While Culbert has heard plenty of horror stories about performance reviews – and many people in management agree they’re detrimental – he knows that is can be hard to get rid of a process ingrained in many corporate cultures. The chances for ditching the practice detested by so many and talking honestly about what is needed by employees to perform better may be even tougher with the difficult job market.

“A bad economy makes everyone scared about their jobs, and it makes it even harder to find out what’s on their minds,” he says.

What do you think of performance reviews?



Scot Herrick said...

The problem with dissing the performance review (and I agree with almost all of what was said) is that companies use them as a method of matching what they think of as individual performance with the budgeting process for raises and promotions. As long as the review is matched up with budget considerations, they won't go away.

For defense, I actually LIKE having metrics associated with performance. If, and it is a big if, you can tie just your work to a metric, it is much harder for a manager to have opinion override proof.

And even if the opinion overrides the proof, it is much harder for the manager to justify it to escalated reviews. It is a counter balance to bad management.

The challenge for employees is how to prevent the bad stuff from happening in reviews as much as possible. You do that through getting your goals right, documenting your performance, ensuring your measurements are right and writing your self-review to give your manager ammunition to use to fight for your performance review rating.

This is black belt career stuff and most people won't do it. As long as people won't do this work, you abdicate your income to someone else, like it or not.

Anita said...

I can't tell you how many employers I've interviewed that say "no way" do they attach the performance review to pay. But workers will disagree, saying that no matter how the terms are couched, that's exactly what happens. Until the day that changes, employees would indeed be wise to get their "black belt" and follow your advice.
Thanks for your comments, as always.

Joe Lavelle said...

Brilliant post Anita! I can't wait to buy and read the book!

I believe that HONESTY is missing from the performance review process at most companies! I wrote about it here a short time ago: http://healthcareittoday.com/2010/04/06/lets-be-honest-about-your-performance/

Anita said...

Thanks for the link, Joe!

Megan Zuniga said...

This is interesting. I like performance previews better. But on the side of the supervisors sometimes they just want to check your performance if you're doing well. I know some companies have a way of measuring the work you've done. Managers can't always be there to check on how well you work, it's good to have system to do that. And if employees are doing their job right, there is nothing to fear right?
But I think I remember reading about something you've been describing about here. So, don't worry there is a small glimmer of hope. I heard some companies are adapting this policy now.

Krishna said...

A Good Performance review system wherein it will assess the +ve and -ve of an employee is always helpful for him/her to understand themselves. However if the Manager/HOD of the company doesn't put in some good metrics in their Review system certainly that's going to hurt his employees.