The Problem with Performance Reviews

I’ve always been troubled by performance reviews. I didn’t like them when I was working inside an organization. I don’t like them now that I consult with organizations. There, I’ve said it.

I have two problems with performance reviews. One, they look backward. Given the pace and complexity of business today, looking backward isn’t very useful. It’s too late. If someone isn’t as engaged as we would like or performing at the level we believe them capable of why would we wait until a quarterly, semi-annual, or (God help us!) annual review meeting to talk to them about it?

Second, they focus on the person “being reviewed.” Why do we assume that the person is the problem? When we focus on the person we are saying that their engagement and performance are totally up to them. That is simply not the case; and, it lets the leader off the hook. When people are not as engaged as we want or not performing as we would like, it’s just too easy to make the person the problem.

In fact, the person’s engagement and performance levels are impacted by the actions of leadership. Does the person have the level of clarity they need? Do they understand the vision and mission of the organization and the team? Do they know what they are responsible for and being held accountable to deliver? Do they have the resources they need? Do the communication patterns and other processes support the person’s success? Are they seeing high engagement and high performance modeled by their leaders?

Low engagement and poor performance are, more times than not, a symptom of poor leadership and not a sign of lacking aptitude on the part of the person undergoing a performance review. Our job as leaders is to give people with known aptitude (that’s why we hired them) what they need to make the best contribution they can.

It’s time to ditch the performance review once and for all and replace it with contribution management and coaching. Let’s look forward instead of backward. Imagine if we confirm the person understands the contribution we want and need them to make. Imagine if we ask them what they need from us as leaders in order to make that contribution. Imagine we agree to provide more clarity or work to shape an atmosphere that will help them be more successful. Imagine we hold one another accountable to follow through with our commitments. Imagine that we check in on a regular basis to gauge progress. Imagine how the person feels by not being labeled the problem and by being seen as a valued contributor. Imagine how much faster we can go when we are looking forward.

The performance review process was a well-intentioned idea for a time that has passed. It’s time for a change leadership revolution that tosses the performance review and replaces it contribution management.

Categories: Leadership.