It’s time to scrap the performance review – Colin Browne

Here’s the worst-kept secret in the corporate universe: everyone hates performance reviews. So why are we still doing them when there are much better alternatives?

Few things in the employee engagement space are as incongruent as the general move towards more coaching and personal development and the persistence of the quarterly, or annual performance review. In a world where instant feedback tools such as Facebook exist for everything we do in our personal lives, the notion that professional feedback delivered sporadically, with messages that come long after they were needed, has long been in need of an overhaul.

Adding to the problem is the fact that they just don’t tend to work as well as we hope they will. Managers forced to do them, dread the workload and the difficult conversations, while employees find them draining and depressing, aside from those who are so narcissistic and self-promoting that they generally get a good one.

Finally, there’s insufficient evidence that performance reviews have the desired impact of moving the good people up and the bad people out, which is surely their intention.

But let’s look at that last point once again. I’ll go on and on until the day I die about the importance of creating workplaces where happiness is possible, and I’ve always had a problem with the Jack Welch ‘rank and yank’ philosophy that intends to keep people performing but possibly just ensures they stay anxious and paranoid.

So what are we to do?

Well firstly, we can grow some collective business cojones and try accept that it’s time for a change and that the change needed is going to challenge us. If your business performance and employee engagement levels prove to you the efficacy of your performance reviews, then by all means stick with them, but let me go on the record as a sceptic.

Secondly, we can take the need for them out of the system all together with better training. In a manager-as-coach scenario, where employees get regular feedback and assistance, or indeed praise and recognition, conversations that would otherwise be had once per year in an ice-cold formal session, can happen on the fly. But managers need to be trained in how to do that.

Thirdly, we can choose a more viable method of human interaction. The only people really good at delivering negative feedback are people who enjoy being unkind. The rest of us find it hard and so we rarely go in as deeply as we ought to. This is exacerbated when I have to rate you on behaviour you exhibited four months ago, which I failed to deal with then and there. The outcome is that most assessments are inflated, rendering them particularly pointless.

Companies from Microsoft, to Accenture to even GE, which practically drove the concept on its own, have ditched performance reviews in recent years and even months, citing a variety of reasons, but ultimately coming down to the same conclusion. The world has moved on. So should we.

Scroll Up