Performance Reviews Suck! There’s A Better Way

Wow! I’m so excited about my performance review. Said no one… ever!  Well not many anyway.

For most, performance reviews are becoming as exciting as a trip to the dentist – costly and painful and as effective as a pair of sunglasses for a blind man, if improving performance is the aim.

But don’t take my word for it.  Just look at the research from Bloomsberg, The Wall Street Journal or Kevin Kruse Author of Employee Engagement; All experts in performance management.

So why aren’t they the tool for performance and development we need them to be?  There are several reasons but these are the main ones I have observed, and researched, over the past 20 years.

1. The feedback is stale or hidden. Most people want to avoid the tough conversations so they tend to store it up until the dreaded performance review. Many employers I’ve spoken to dislike performance reviews as much as their employees do. They become our excuse to not discuss things in the moment. Or we could deliver it but hide it in s*&t the sandwich. Or worse still, mumble it haplessly in the hope that the full impact is uncovered from under the rock.

2. They are full of ‘surprises’ and not the good kind.  People tend to avoid tough conversations. Most people are naturally conflict averse. However, what this means is that the initial issue presenting as a small problem can become an elephant in the room (spot fire can grow into a bushfire) by the time the review comes around and it may come as a complete surprise to the recipient. This causes all sorts of flow on issues with trust and respect and has quite a negative impact overall.

3. There is little room for the ‘real truth’.  The real truth is a combination of what one person knows coupled with the other.  It is two perspectives that create the actual truth of a situation.  The review process does not typically allow this as it is time poor and ‘tell’ orientated.  We tend to see more ‘yoursations’ by the Managers rather than conversations by both parties.  The numbers and results are typically decided prior to the review so where is the ‘real truth’ in the process?

4. They highlight our crap.  Whilst some organisations and Managers have cottoned on to the power of building on strengths, unfortunately most still focus on an individual’s gap as the main conversation.  We only need to look at the work of Martin Seligman, a world leader in positive psychology to understand that to focus on our weaknesses creates little chance of development and change.  They need to be discussed but not in the spotlight.  These should be ‘nipped’ in the bud during the year.

5. They are too focused on scoring and box ticking.  Managers need to grade you 1 to 5 and we know that rarely will get a 5 as this will mean they have to increase salary or give us a big bonus.  So whilst we might be doing really well we don’t want a budget crisis so the scores don’t really represent performance.  Don’t they say ‘comparison is the killer of joy’?  Well here is a great example.  How do you compare you to the next person.  You can’t and you shouldn’t.  Individuals are unique and have their own talents.

6. They are way too time demanding.  Most Managers have many to prepare for and as a result it becomes about getting the job done and for many it can build in a little resentment to the process.  The reward for all the effort often doesn’t have a significant correlation.

7. They are stiff and boring.  Remember the feeling of going to your first school dance.  How awkward it was in your first formal outfit, seeing your date look as uncomfortable as you but trying to pretend you are all just fine.  Our reviews can be similar where they become way to formal for any real discussions to take place.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am passionate about the habit of having valuable conversations so people can be championed and supported to improve. I’m just not convinced the formal performance review process achieves this.

That’s why I believe in creating a ‘Feedback Flow’ in an organization where these conversations become habitual.  Adobe, who produce software including Photoshop, Acrobat, Creative Cloud, and the Digital Marketing Suite were bold enough to make this change in 2012 where they got rid of formal appraisals and creating regular ‘pulse checks’.  This affected 11,000 employees and they report the shift in engagement, culture and productivity as considerable.

Creating a ‘Feedback Flow’ is how high performing organisations get things done and create happy employees and customers.  It is where we reverse the push of giving feedback to the pull of receiving it and alter internal systems to be more in real time.

I’m passionate about people growing and developing in their workplace, on a daily basis.  And as a result organisations become more productive and great places to work.  Does yours have the courage to become better?

Contact me for my ‘Fixing Feedback’ whitepaper to learn more at