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Performance Reviews – Do they really work?

April 20, 2010

There have been several assaults on the corporate methodology encased
in performance reviews over the past few years.  The latest emerged this
morning in a Wall Street Journal article.  Here’s a quick summary and
observations for you to consider.

In short, Samuel Culbert, claims that everyone hates performance
reviews and that it is time to put this “sham“… “out of its misery“.  He
suggests that it would be more accurate to define performance reviews
as we know them, as based on “whether or not the boss likes you…
or is comfortable with
you,” not primarily based upon performance.

I watched an exemplary executive I know recently get whacked with
a poor performance review this month (after delivering tremendous results),
because his boss was discomforted by the process.  It underscored some of
what Samuel is writing.  I wonder if most people at one time or another
collect that type of (bad) review?  Have you?

As an alternative to traditional performance reviews, Samuel suggests:
“The one-sided, boss-dominated performance review needs to be replaced
by a straight-talking relationship where the focus is on results, not personality,
and where the boss is held accountable for the success of the subordinate…”

A couple of observations popped up as I was reading this:

1. Why is having the boss accountable for the success of the subordinate
a good alternative?  seems like that also introduces a point of imbalance.

2. Without someway to track and measure performance, (which ManagePro
does nicely as it displays not only the projects, but also the progress updates
along the way and the results) most managers don’t have access to an
accurate review of performance results throughout a review period.
E.g. the whole ability to have “straight talk” about performance is
compromised for most by limited access to data – which gets replaced by
recall through the filter of memory, emotional tags and perception.

3.  Straight talk about performance induces anxiety for most people, with
or without the vertical dimension of boss to subordinate relationship
introduced in the traditional performance review.   

Given that, in addition to being adept at feeling anxious when confronted
with feedback, we also are good at rationalizing… what would be a better
format for performance reviews?

Culbert suggests straight talk with your boss (is that an oxymoron?) and
basing the talk on your boss being responsible for your success or lack
thereof… that sounds like that will work ;).

Bottom Line:
Here’s my quick take on performance reviews:
Performance reviews always work better when based upon data, facts.
At the end of the day there are really two fundamental questions to be
addressed in a good “straight talk” performance review.
     1. Is this job a good fit for what you bring to the table?
     2. Are we (you and I) doing the right things to help you be successful?

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