Lessons,  Management

The Circus of Performance Reviews

“Out of all of the methods used to rate and grade employees, the dreaded annual or semiannual performance reviews are especially unhelpful and potentially harmful…”

Performance Reviews. I’m not sure who hates performance reviews more – the managers who have to give them or the employees who have to receive them. They are loathsome all around.

The well written and well-researched article from www.knowablemagazine.org is full of alternatives. The best alternative, however, is the hardest to implement: daily evaluation and feedback. Does that mean I have to actually talk to my employees? Yes. Yes it does. It very specifically means daily interaction.

If you have more than about a dozen employees, that becomes more difficult. The key then is to focus your energy on the top and bottom of your group. The top performers so vastly outweigh their contribution to the success of the company that focusing on them simply makes sense. The middle group, and it’s a little callous to say, but the middle group isn’t going to improve much with additional attention – but keep an eye out for the rising star. The bottom of the group needs attention least they bring down everyone else and the company with them. These are the employees that you have to move either into the middle competent group or into a career change, but they can’t stay where they are.

Once again, I’ll refer to Work Rules but Google exec. Laszlo Bock – they have some interesting ideas about reviews but he does stress the importance of regular feedback from your top performers. As a manager, your job is to keep the top performers happy – Autonomy/Mastery/Purpose (Drive, Daniel H. Pink) and obtaining for them the resources they need to continue performing at peak levels.

I really like the the article points out that straight objective criteria should be avoided. It’s the same reason I don’t like sales quotas. The person who brings in the most revenue this quarter is not necessarily your top sales person. But it takes real day in, day out, hands-on management to figure that out and it’s always easier to simply look at a chart and hand someone a check.

I’m advocating for a humane management. Yes, it’s hard, but hopefully that’s why certain people are managers because they want that one on one contact. It’s humane, but it’s also effective. Helping people to get incrementally better at their job day by day is always going to be more effective than a once a year stress-filled circus of a day handing out performance reviews.


Original article from Knowable Magazine: Low Marks for Performance Reviews.

Image Source: The Met Open Access.  “The Circus Performance” by Irene Aronson, 1958. Lithograph.

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