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Performance Reviews – Are they working?

Maybe it’s just that time of year, but recently I have heard a number of people talking unfavourably about their performance appraisal/review systems – which seem to get in the way of, rather than enhance, performance in their organisations.

For some leaders, the complaint seems to be the lack of time ‘available’ to carry out performance reviews – ‘I only have an hour budgetted for me to do the review and complete the paperwork.‘   For others it’s the fact that objectives that were established at the start of the year were either too broad or should have been changed during the year to more fairly reflect the actual work they have been doing. As a result the review isn’t a realistic assessment of what’s been achieved vs what was expected.

Research from Globoforce would seem to back up the anecdotal evidence.  In the research they found that only 55% of respondents thought that performance reviews were an accurate appraisal of employees’ work, down from 61% in the previous year.  Even worse, in a Reuters’ poll, four out of five U.S. workers indicated they were dissatisfied with their job performance reviews.

So, despite many years of using and ‘improving’ performance reviews, something is still not right with the process. As a result, reviews become less about assessing performance objectively and more about ticking a box to say the process is out of the way for another year!

One of the key things that we notice when working with leaders on this area, is the tendency of some to wait until the annual appraisal process before providing any form of feedback or objective assessment of performance to their team members.  So it’s not surprising that objectives have changed or that an hour is not enough time to complete the process – if you are looking to review and feedback on a full year of activity.

So what’s the answer?

Provide regular, objective and descriptive feedback and clarity of expectations (and whether these have been met) as this is a key part of the role of an effective leader. Take opportunities to do this on a regular basis (rather than once or twice a year). This not only helps in providing direction and recognition to team members but it also means that when the annual performance  review comes around,  there won’t be the surprises that we are told shouldn’t be there, and the review can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Both parties are already clear on how performance has been through the year – as feedback (positive or constructive) has been provided on a regular basis.

If you find you are dreading the prospect of this year’s performance review round, make a commitment to yourself that this will be the last year you feel that way.

  • Look to start the next performance year with an approach that creates/takes regular opportunities to provide feedback and clear expectations to your people.
  • Look for opportunities to coach both formally and informally – to support people in improving their performance in areas where they are not performing to the expected level.
  • Equally look for chances to positively reinforce where people are doing things to a high standard – so they know what’s expected.
  • Keep notes during the year of agreed changes to objectives and the feedback you’ve provided.  That way, when it does get to the formal review, it’s more a case of reminding yourself of things that have happened, than a mad panic trying to find evidence of what an individual has done well, or not, during the year.
  • You might also take a moment to think about who the leaders are in your organisation that don’t seem to have an issue re. the review process, and check in with them about what they do.   What can you learn from their practices that might help you?

It’s unlikely that the review process is going away.  So, much better to find a way to ease the pain than have to go through the same concern and ‘dread’ again this time next year.


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