I’m so over performance reviews

By Jim Grey (about)

It’s annual review season where I work. I wrote and delivered my team’s last week. But my heart wasn’t in it.

It’s because if I’ve done my job as my team’s leader, they already know what I think of their performance. It’s been an open conversation all along, happening most often in our weekly 1-on-1 meetings but also through in-the-moment praise and coaching. Nothing I tell them in their review should be a surprise.

And we should have also had occasional discussions about what excites them about their work, what challenges they’re facing, how well they’re working with their teams, how they’re experiencing me as their boss, what they need from me to be happier and more effective, how they do and don’t enjoy the company’s culture, and what they want from their career and their life. Hearing their full perspective on their work, the company, and their career, I have what I need to promote the best balance of happiness and productivity for them.

BumpThat’s because as their boss I am only as successful as they are. The more and better they do, the more and better I do and the company does. Giving feedback and coaching for ever greater performance is one of the primary two things a manager is for. (The other is promoting conditions that enable the best possible work to be done.)

And let’s say someone on my team had a bump in the road during the year — an incident where things really went poorly on their watch, or the quality of their work went south, or a particular behavior needed correction. If those issues have been resolved, it is often hurtful to remind them of them at review time. “I gave you a Needs Improvement rating here because of that thing earlier in the year. You know, the one you fully recovered from.”

Bah. I’d like never to deliver another performance review.

Unfortunately, every company that has employed me has based raises on review scores. (Amusingly, a couple of them have sworn review ratings weren’t coupled to raises — but every time I asked for a larger-than-normal raise, the first question asked was whether their review score justified it.) So I still do reviews.

But if you’re doing the valuable (and time-consuming) work of giving feedback and coaching to your team all year, reviews take little time to write. You don’t have to think as hard about their performance all year because it’s been an ongoing topic of discussion. Just summarize what you’ve talked about all along, give some examples, assign appropriate ratings, and you’re done.

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10 thoughts on “I’m so over performance reviews

  1. “I gave you a Needs Improvement rating here because of that thing earlier in the year. You know, the one you fully recovered from.”

    Don’t forget having to then scheduling the training for the thing you both agree no longer needs to be improved.

    Excellent post.

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  2. I felt the same way for a while—then I realized it doesn’t necessarily have to be some huge deal or have more weight than your regular check-ins (which you alluded to a little). I also, surprisingly, found that opening up to these occasionally turns into a really great, long conversation that I may not have taken time out for at those everyday kind of check-ins. Leave space for that kind of opportunity.

    Another take would be to use them to your favor as a chance to bring to light some of the really nice accomplishments people have made in the past year—”you did x, y, and z fantastically, more of that please” or “I like what you did on project blah, where else can you make that happen?” can be pretty ridiculously motivating as a rule.

    If can put your heart in it, you will be doing a good service for those whom you are trying to lead and maybe, just maybe, you can start a trend that turns an uncoveted corporate formality into something so much better.

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    1. Oh, make no mistake, I make good use of the time! This year I took each of my team members out to lunch. We did the review in like 10 minutes (because none of it was a surprise) and then we talked at length about how they experience the company and me as their boss, and about what they wish they were better at on the job, and what is frustrating for them day to day. They were great conversations! And…drum roll please…they weren’t that different from our weekly 1x1s.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not a fan of rating systems or putting exact numbers on performance, but I do love frequent reviews to make sure things are on track and both managers and employees are on the same page with expectations. Quarterly or at least twice a year; not waiting for those times to bring up hard issues, though.

    If you don’t keep in touch and keep up with reviews you can be in for a big surprise when you receive, or deliver, critical feedback — because the other person doesn’t share the same views, and it can be too late.

    Interestingly, I saw two articles recently dealing with this, first in The Economist: The measure of a man (Reports of the death of performance reviews are exaggerated), and also What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team from the NYTimes magazine.

    Good discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lance, exactly. Let’s all just have ongoing conversations, kind but clear, about what is working and not. Let’s listen carefully to the people who work for us — discover what makes them tick and what frustrates them on the job, and then help them do better work and achieve their personal goals through coaching and removing roadblocks.

      Thanks for the links — the Google story is especially interesting.

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