How To Eliminate Performance Reviews In Your Organization

Performance reviews don’t work. They are disliked by managers and employees alike. They are usually poorly written and disappear as soon as they are completed. Everyone knows this but most are not going to admit it. So why do organizations still use them?

Primarily, it’s because everyone agrees that employee feedback is important, but HR departments don’t always trust this exchange to happen without forcing everyone through a formal process. So they spend three months a year chasing up everyone in the organization in a system that is often measured by quantity over quality. Some HR professionals even lose part of their bonuses if 100 percent of them are not completed in their business unit. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ll always remember the humorous response I got from one CEO after asking him about reviews. “Buddy, we do 24 a year,” he said. “Yep, every time an employee gets a paycheck they know they are doing a good job.”

While this blunt, one-way process was not what I had in mind, the CEO was right about one thing. Reviewing the performance of your employees is not about meeting with them once or twice a year to recap the past and discuss the future. To effectively eliminate performance reviews in your organization, you must be deliberate about the management of your people. Here’s how:

Make Time

Imagine if a sports coach only met with their players a few times each season to provide feedback. It’s ridiculous. So why would you do the same for your team at work? The principle of giving continuous and on-going feedback on a regular basis to ensure alignment and success is essentially the same. Without timely coaching, people and teams can get quickly lost and lose any chance of accomplishing objectives – or winning the game.

Don’t Make It Personal

Most people want to be liked and managers are people too. But performance feedback must be all business. The future success of the company – and the employee – depend on honestly discussing performance, good and bad. Effective, direct performance management results in an employee adjusting their ways and becoming a positive contributor to the business, or realizing that the job or company is not for them and leaves on their own to achieve success elsewhere. Just because someone is not performing does not mean they are a bad person and they should not be treated like one. They may simply need more help or be in the wrong role, company, or with the wrong manager. By telling someone where they are not meeting business expectations, you are helping them self-direct before it is too late.

Ironically, the surefire way to be disliked is not to discuss performance issues when they arise. If you have ever had to terminate an employee with nothing but great performance reviews, you will know what I mean.

Be Specific

Most formal performance feedback is poorly written. Your feedback will be next to useless until you support your comments with examples. “Jane did a great job this year!” does not hold much weight unless you support the Why with examples of her great work. “Allen needs to perform at a higher level” creates nothing but frustration until the How spells out where he is lacking.

Make Feedback About Development, Not Termination

If you are using performance reviews as a means to support employee terminations, your process will be useless and won’t be trusted by your employees.

Even if you are using Performance Improvement Plans for struggling employees, employees should not see the process as a 90-day ticket out the door. The goal should be success, not failure – recognizing that there are times when this may mean an employee needs to move on to find success elsewhere.

I recommend using a progressive disciplinary process (i.e., first, second, and third/final written warning) when dealing solely with performance issues that may lead to termination. Everyone will see it for what it is and you will have the documentation you need to justify an employment action based on poor performance. When performance issue conversations arise, follow-up with an email to the employee clarifying the conversation and expectations.

Talk About The Future

One area frequently missed during performance feedback meetings is a discussion of the employee’s future. From an engagement perspective, discussing the future is more important than discussing the past and should be wrapped into your regular feedback discussions with your employees. You should make sure you know where your employees wants to be in the next three to five years and where they hope to end their careers.  If you see a different future for them, you should tell them and explain why.

Make a point of asking your employees the following questions every six months:

-What development, help, and tools do you need to make you even more successful in your current role?

-What development, help, and tools do you need to move you closer to your short and long term objectives?

-What can I do to help?

Seek Training

Most managers have never been trained for their positions. They have been promoted as a result of good individual contributor work. But giving effective performance feedback requires skill and training. Don’t be afraid to ask your employer for help regardless how long you have been a manager. You will have happier and more productive employees, less turnover, and deliver better results for your company. No one should balk at your request.

In the meantime, here are a few questions you should be asking your employees regularly:

-How are you doing?

-What is going really well?

-What are your biggest challenges?

-Are you getting everything you need from me?

-Is there anything I can do to help?

To ensure you are on the right track, here are a few questions you should be asking yourself weekly:

-Did I give honest feedback this week? Was it helpful? Will it change or reinforce a specific behavior?

-Have I recognized good work?

-Have I inspired my employees to grow and think differently?

-Have I asked for feedback from my employees and manager about my performance?

At the end of the day, effective performance management is about helping people succeed in life – either at your organization, or elsewhere. If you are achieving this on a regular basis, your semi/annual performance review process can be effectively eliminated.


Published on Forbes, 30th October 2013 and in Talent Management Excellence – December 2013.