Performance Reviews: An Exercise In Futility

It’s that time of year again, the dreaded end of year performance reviews have arrived. I work in this business, and I dread them. I know the line managers and executives do too, but we continue on with the process, forcing people into neat boxes and then having awkward conversations with them about why they landed there and what they need to do better for next year.

I have known this for some time, but we’re performance challenged when it comes to giving performance feedback. It really is on the borderline of being pathetic.

Let’s ignore for a moment that I vehemently disagree with the actual process and structure of the reviews. I know, hard to do, but we’ll have to suspend reality for a moment. Let’s assume that the process itself is not inherently wrong and let’s look at the integrity of the conversations and the supposed coaching that is supposed to occur in these sessions.

The majority of year end feedback sessions that I’ve personally have been a part of were awkward experiences. In the early years of my career, the more junior managers I had were clearly uncomfortable giving the feedback.

Knowing this, I pressed even harder on them for clarity with questions like; “So tell me where you saw that behavior? What does exceeds expectations actually look like? Who was I calibrated against?”

I’d make them squirm, intentionally. It wasn’t fair really, but even as people who work in this field for a living, it was an uneasy conversation. I remember one of my managers blaming “HR” for making him do this. He pinned my performance rating on them, as if they saw me work on deliverables all year. If you’ve had an awkward performance review, or a great one, I’d like to hear about it. The stories out there are comical.

My issue is that we don’t do anything to help people have these important conversations. And organizations don’t ask them to practice more than one or two times a year. If you want annual reviews to be effective, ditch the forced ranking, and start having performance conversations more frequently throughout the year.

Make performance a topic of every conversation in a dialogue with your employees … not a monologue at year’s end.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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