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Performance Reviews; Skill Rating, Outcome Measurement or Process Review

January 09, 2009

Annual performance reviews will be due soon for many organizations, and perhaps this year more than any other in decades, it’s time to look at the assumptions behind performance reviews.  Do performance reviews make sense?  Do they warrant the time invested?  Do they effectively address expectations and accountability?  Do they actually move people and the organization forward… that is the goal, isn’t it?

Historically managers approach such reviews with a paper or software based rating scale, typically rating effectiveness at job skills deemed to be required to function well in the position for which the person being rated holds.  Perhaps they include some key performance indicators, which often are impacted by numerous factors.  Conducting this process is presumed to document and improve employee performance.

STOP.  Why does receiving a skill rating make performance improve?

Some suggest Employee reviews don’t work and lead to lower morale, mistrust and communication lapse.  Very negative outcomes, if correct,  for something that’s supposed to improve performance.  Certainly not what you would vote for if selecting the top three drivers for a performance improvement process.Historically we equate skill ratings and fuzzy assessment (without specific backup metrics) of goal achievement with job performance.  Why?

Why don’t we equate job performance with job performance?   I think the answer is because we typically don’t have access to (have invested the resources to measure and track) good measures of job performance.  But it gets worse, sometimes the “direct” link between employee performance and job or business outcomes gets over-ridden by larger environmental forces (like a recession) and so it’s really difficult to accurately say what employee performance lead to specifically what outcomes represented as specific increases or decreases in business or organizational indicators.

If we aren’t really measuring job performance most of the time, why not approach performance reviews as a more open-ended, less threatening, review of “what worked and what didn’t” as it applies to core day to day processes, deliverables and business outcomes?  It’s certainly a question that drives out development of our product ReviewWriter.

Maybe something as simple as discussing what’s working and what doesn’t work so well in relationships (with peers, customers and management), and in the area of completing tasks (on time, on budget, innovatively, with documentation, with quality). 

Bottom Line: Maybe reviews best help performance if they are a scheduled “discussion” and feedback period which should include setting performance improvement objectives, and less of a rating session.  Your thoughts?

3 Comments. Leave new

Rodney – I agree that ratings are not ideal (http://cynicalsoftwaremanagement.blogspot.com/2009/01/semi-bi-annual-review-time-part.html). I agree that it is vital to a company to pursue company goals. I just believe that the appropriate forums for that discussion are planning meetings, retrospectives, 1 on 1s, and quarterly company meetings. Performance reviews should be about the employee and their growth, and so I think the most valuable reviews are of the “what worked and what didn’t” type.


Ted, Good point. I think you’re pointing out that company goals and personal goals are two different discussions. I’m suggesting that the performance review needs to link the two together.



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