Performance reviews: Are they so wrong they can’t ever be right?

by on March 3, 2011 · 16 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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“WHY YOUR BOSS IS WRONG ABOUT YOU,” blared yesterday’s headline in The New York Times, over an opinion piece suggesting performance reviews are inherently, fatally flawed.

The writer, UCLA management prof Samuel Culbert, said “nothing could be less fair” than these reviews.

Why? Because, he says, they don’t measure how well an employee actually performs, but how “comfortable” the person giving the review – usually the immediate supervisor – is with the employee.

Just as bad, Culbert says, the prospect of the review makes employees “too scared to speak their minds” about problems the organization needs to know about.

Checking up
Do you believe performance reviews are so wrong that they should be tossed? Leave a comment below and share your opinion.

In the meantime, you might want to ask yourself a couple of questions about how your organization does reviews:

  • Is the review basically up to one manager? Are you comfortable with that?
  • Is there a system to let people “appeal” reviews they deem unfair — without being punished or tagged as someone who can’t take criticism?

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16 Comments on This Post

  1. Jfaust
    March 3, 2011 - 7:11 pm

    No, performance reviews should stay and not tossed.

    As these are relevant concerns about performance reviews (they don’t measure actual performance and employees are too afraid to provide feedback…), I think performance reviews are very important to the success of organizational direction.

    I agree, that performance reviews can be improved and the process should be reviewed (audited) periodically to make sure peformance management is in alignment with organization goals, doesn’t have disparate impact, etc…, but peformance management is important and should be used to:
    1) document when an employee has performed well and when they haven’t. This allows managers the opportunity to have open discussions (during review meeting) about performance and establish goals/guidance to improve performance,
    2) creates a paper trail that can be beneficial to the employee and to the company. For the employee, they have something in writing to refer back to (the performance document) for reference sake or to hold a manager to their word. For the employer, the performance document can be used to make decisions on promotions, rehires, transfers, terminations, etc…

    If employees feel that they can’t speak openly and honest about the company (tactfully), then that suggests to me that perhaps there is a bigger organizational culture problem. Performance management should be used as a tool to guide performance. It shouldn’t be used to intimidate, but motivate.

    Jeff Faust, PHR

  2. Jfaust
    March 3, 2011 - 7:11 pm

    No, performance reviews should stay and not tossed.

    As these are relevant concerns about performance reviews (they don’t measure actual performance and employees are too afraid to provide feedback…), I think performance reviews are very important to the success of organizational direction.

    I agree, that performance reviews can be improved and the process should be reviewed (audited) periodically to make sure peformance management is in alignment with organization goals, doesn’t have disparate impact, etc…, but peformance management is important and should be used to:
    1) document when an employee has performed well and when they haven’t. This allows managers the opportunity to have open discussions (during review meeting) about performance and establish goals/guidance to improve performance,
    2) creates a paper trail that can be beneficial to the employee and to the company. For the employee, they have something in writing to refer back to (the performance document) for reference sake or to hold a manager to their word. For the employer, the performance document can be used to make decisions on promotions, rehires, transfers, terminations, etc…

    If employees feel that they can’t speak openly and honest about the company (tactfully), then that suggests to me that perhaps there is a bigger organizational culture problem. Performance management should be used as a tool to guide performance. It shouldn’t be used to intimidate, but motivate.

    Jeff Faust, PHR

  3. Believeitornot
    March 3, 2011 - 7:33 pm

    I would say throughout my career I can count the good reviews I had on my right hand. It was not because of my performance because that was always raved about or my attitude that was great too but because the manager didnt know how to make it about only that. They used it to say what they had bottled up all year. It would turn into a negative experience.

    Is the review basically up to one manager? yes it was and practically everyone on our team got a bad review except for the favorites.
    Are you comfortable with that? No
    Is there a system to let people “appeal” reviews they deem unfair — without being punished or tagged as someone who can’t take criticism? No there was not.

    I believe they are so wrong they should be tossed!

  4. Believeitornot
    March 3, 2011 - 7:33 pm

    I would say throughout my career I can count the good reviews I had on my right hand. It was not because of my performance because that was always raved about or my attitude that was great too but because the manager didnt know how to make it about only that. They used it to say what they had bottled up all year. It would turn into a negative experience.

    Is the review basically up to one manager? yes it was and practically everyone on our team got a bad review except for the favorites.
    Are you comfortable with that? No
    Is there a system to let people “appeal” reviews they deem unfair — without being punished or tagged as someone who can’t take criticism? No there was not.

    I believe they are so wrong they should be tossed!

  5. Betty Babjak
    March 3, 2011 - 7:35 pm

    I believe PE’s can be extremely fair and objective to the extent that the employees have clear KPI’s or designated tasks/goals that need to be accomplished. Unfortunately, not everything is easily measured-particularly soft skills or personality (e.g. positive attitude, team player). Anyone doing a PE should be ready to clearly identify any deficiencies in these areas with examples the reviewer has noted during the course of the past review period.

  6. Betty Babjak
    March 3, 2011 - 7:35 pm

    I believe PE’s can be extremely fair and objective to the extent that the employees have clear KPI’s or designated tasks/goals that need to be accomplished. Unfortunately, not everything is easily measured-particularly soft skills or personality (e.g. positive attitude, team player). Anyone doing a PE should be ready to clearly identify any deficiencies in these areas with examples the reviewer has noted during the course of the past review period.

  7. Shannon
    March 3, 2011 - 8:09 pm

    Unfortunately the two concepts aren’t productive if only linked together- performance reviews and annual. Once a year anything.. generally does not work. And talk about pressure. No wonder employees are sweating the process if their whole year is going to come down to a few sheets of paper a 20 minute conversation. However, to quote an old saying…. it doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We do need to stop thinking about performance reviews and start concentrating on perforamance and talent management consisting of clear expectations, goal setting, employee involvement, training and career plans, on-going two communication and frequent documented benchmark updates to help keep employees on track toward success or clearly understanding why their continued employment may in trouble.

  8. Shannon
    March 3, 2011 - 8:09 pm

    Unfortunately the two concepts aren’t productive if only linked together- performance reviews and annual. Once a year anything.. generally does not work. And talk about pressure. No wonder employees are sweating the process if their whole year is going to come down to a few sheets of paper a 20 minute conversation. However, to quote an old saying…. it doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We do need to stop thinking about performance reviews and start concentrating on perforamance and talent management consisting of clear expectations, goal setting, employee involvement, training and career plans, on-going two communication and frequent documented benchmark updates to help keep employees on track toward success or clearly understanding why their continued employment may in trouble.

  9. Bill Cook
    March 3, 2011 - 8:50 pm

    The professor comes from an envirnment that is more about the employee’s feelings about fairness than about measurable results. The complaints about performance reviews is more about the manager who doesn’t like what he/she sees as a heavy responsibility that seems confrontational to him/her.
    Know what the results are suppossed to be, measure and analyze what you are getting. Let the employee know how he/she is doing. Set goals, measure results, report and act accordingly.

  10. Bill Cook
    March 3, 2011 - 8:50 pm

    The professor comes from an envirnment that is more about the employee’s feelings about fairness than about measurable results. The complaints about performance reviews is more about the manager who doesn’t like what he/she sees as a heavy responsibility that seems confrontational to him/her.
    Know what the results are suppossed to be, measure and analyze what you are getting. Let the employee know how he/she is doing. Set goals, measure results, report and act accordingly.

  11. Susan D
    March 3, 2011 - 9:38 pm

    Performance reviews, or as we refer to them – Employee Development – are essential to an organization that wants results. To answer the questions above: 1. The review is written by the primary supervisor, but goes through a director and HR review to ensure fairness and objectivity. So no, I would not be comfortable with a one-person system. 2. Yes, we have a clearly defined ‘skip level’ appeal process that is encouraged if someone feels they have not been heard or represented accurately. We do not have many folks who use that option, because our Employee Development process is a year-round ongoing process. Employees do not encounter surprises in their reviews, managers have discussed the objective data ahead of time and heard from the employee their own assessment of their accomplishments. We have very objective department goals that are translated into each person’s part to play, and this is what they are evaluated on – in addition to culture assimilation and professional development. Oh, and most important – each employee has input into the development of their plan and they receive it at the begiining of the evaluation period, with regular discussions and 2 formal reviews during the year.

  12. Susan D
    March 3, 2011 - 9:38 pm

    Performance reviews, or as we refer to them – Employee Development – are essential to an organization that wants results. To answer the questions above: 1. The review is written by the primary supervisor, but goes through a director and HR review to ensure fairness and objectivity. So no, I would not be comfortable with a one-person system. 2. Yes, we have a clearly defined ‘skip level’ appeal process that is encouraged if someone feels they have not been heard or represented accurately. We do not have many folks who use that option, because our Employee Development process is a year-round ongoing process. Employees do not encounter surprises in their reviews, managers have discussed the objective data ahead of time and heard from the employee their own assessment of their accomplishments. We have very objective department goals that are translated into each person’s part to play, and this is what they are evaluated on – in addition to culture assimilation and professional development. Oh, and most important – each employee has input into the development of their plan and they receive it at the begiining of the evaluation period, with regular discussions and 2 formal reviews during the year.

  13. Shannon
    March 4, 2011 - 1:16 am

    I for one am not thrilled with a one person performance review system. I much prefer to have a 360 system where co-workers and clients in addition to the supervisor get the opportunity to contribute. This would identify (hopefully without sour grapes) problem areas that the person may be having and give a more complete picture of an individual’s performance. I’ve seen such systems in place and it appears to work better.

    I’ve also had opportunities to be an active participant in my own performance evaluation and goal setting. I had to take a copy of the previous goals and rate myself on my progress over the 6 months to year between and assist in setting new goals for the next year. Then my manager and I went over my ratings and goals to see if there was agreement in the ratings and feasibility of the goals. Frequently, the ratings of my manager were higher than my own.

    I’m currently with a company that is supposed to do reviews on the employees every 6 months. However, it doesn’t always happen. And the supervisors complain about not having the time to do reviews on their people. I also see a lot of “halo & horns” behavior from the supervisors.

  14. Shannon
    March 4, 2011 - 1:16 am

    I for one am not thrilled with a one person performance review system. I much prefer to have a 360 system where co-workers and clients in addition to the supervisor get the opportunity to contribute. This would identify (hopefully without sour grapes) problem areas that the person may be having and give a more complete picture of an individual’s performance. I’ve seen such systems in place and it appears to work better.

    I’ve also had opportunities to be an active participant in my own performance evaluation and goal setting. I had to take a copy of the previous goals and rate myself on my progress over the 6 months to year between and assist in setting new goals for the next year. Then my manager and I went over my ratings and goals to see if there was agreement in the ratings and feasibility of the goals. Frequently, the ratings of my manager were higher than my own.

    I’m currently with a company that is supposed to do reviews on the employees every 6 months. However, it doesn’t always happen. And the supervisors complain about not having the time to do reviews on their people. I also see a lot of “halo & horns” behavior from the supervisors.

  15. Charlenetcbc
    March 7, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    As an employee and manager I have worked on both sides of this issue. I feel employers and employees both need this venue to be able to discuss strengths and areas needing improvement for both parties. It is frustrating as an employee to not have feed back about whether you are “growing” in the right direction. It is an ideal time to recognize an individuals achievements. As an employer the perfomance appraisal can be used as an aid for training.. All employees are not created equal and reviews are a great vehicle to recognize individual effort. During the performance review it is easy to spot areas where more training would be beneficial, or where the training needs improvement.

  16. Charlenetcbc
    March 7, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    As an employee and manager I have worked on both sides of this issue. I feel employers and employees both need this venue to be able to discuss strengths and areas needing improvement for both parties. It is frustrating as an employee to not have feed back about whether you are “growing” in the right direction. It is an ideal time to recognize an individuals achievements. As an employer the perfomance appraisal can be used as an aid for training.. All employees are not created equal and reviews are a great vehicle to recognize individual effort. During the performance review it is easy to spot areas where more training would be beneficial, or where the training needs improvement.

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