Slamming the Door on Performance Reviews

Topic: Assessment, Organizational Performance, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Wall Street journal
ArticleGet rid of the performance review. 
Author: S.A. Culbert
Feature by: Benjamin Granger

Annual pay and performance reviews are rarely fun (We can all attest to that!).  But it remains a common practice in many organizations.  Surely there’s a good reason why we have to go through this sometimes painful process (“my review is today, I can’t wait to hear about all my weaknesses!”).  Although performance appraisals (PAs) are usually intended to help with pay and promotion decisions as well as help employees develop, some experts find PAs to be downright silly!

In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, Samuel Culbert provides several reasons why organizations should toss performance reviews out.  Culbert argues that in practice, performance reviews often do NOT accomplish what they purport to accomplish.  PAs are supposed to lead to employee and organizational improvement but often result in quite the opposite.  But, why?  Culbert suggests that:

1). PAs foster the power gap between supervisors and subordinates.  Ideally supervisors and subordinates are teammates who work together to meet a common goal.  PAs make this unlikely.

2). PAs are not objective.  Even when supervisors gather data from 360s, reviews are based on personal judgments.

3). PAs are likely to lead to employee behaviors that are intended to please the
supervisor (ingratiation) and not necessarily behaviors that lead to improved performance.

4). PAs don’t really determine pay, market forces do.  At best, PAs are stories that are used to justify employee pay.

In addition to his assault on performance reviews, Culbert offers a possible alternative: “two-side,reciprocally accountable, performance previews”. While the performance review focuses on “what went wrong in the past”, the performance preview keeps the supervisor and subordinate focused on the future.  

The tone of a preview is how the supervisor and the subordinates can work together as teammates in the future.  Both parties are accountable in the preview.

The conversation in a preview is not one-sided like the review (employee as the receiver).  Additionally, the preview is more likely than the review to lead to trusting relationships between the supervisor and his/her subordinates which is a necessary first step to employee and organizational improvement. 

Culbert, S.A. (2008). Get rid of the performance review. Wall Street Journal.