Throw Out Performance Reviews, Or Just The Formality?

picture from shorespeak.comI listened to a replay of the Bill Kutik radio show recently.  In this episode, his guest was Karen Cariss, Co-Founder and Global CEO of  PageUp People.  It was a fascinating discussion about neuroscience and specifically, how the human brain interprets certain situations using the limbic part of the brain.  During the show, Bill and Ms. Cariss began talking about performance and Ms. Cariss said, “Seventy percent of feedback is a waste and of that, half of it is actually damaging.”    Ms. Cariss also asserted that the reason is because it is delivered formally and throws the brain into a “fight or flight” mode.  The person becomes defensive and begins thinking with the limbic portion of the brain, thus not in the mode to readily accept the feedback.

With so many discussions in the HR space about whether or not there is value in formal performance reviews, this is a compelling argument against them.  Or at a minimum, in how to deliver the performance conversation.

Think back to performance reviews you’ve received and those you may have given.  Do you believe that such a high percentage of feedback is actually a “waste” or that it is a form of coaching that is valuable? I’d love to hear the arguments for and against the formal review.  Personally, I prefer the more informal, day-to-day feedback.  However, I’m still in the camp that an annual review is helpful if it is leaning toward the development of the individual for the coming year.

What you do you think?  Weigh in in the comments. And, be sure to check out the podcast of Bill’s show.  It’s a great use of twenty minutes!

10 thoughts on “Throw Out Performance Reviews, Or Just The Formality?”

  1. This topic seems to be a never-ending source of discussion. Clearly there is something wrong with how reviews are being done overall, or we wouldn’t be talking about them so much. I try very hard to make sure I meet with my direct reports regularly (weekly in most cases). As part of those sessions, I try to include feedback so that when it comes time to do their annual review I don’t have to discuss their performance because we’ve already covered it.

    I take those moments to discuss two questions: 1. Why do you keep working here? 2. What drives you crazy about working here (if I’m the reason we can discuss that too).

    This way I we can cover the issue of feedback on performance in a much more timely manner, and use our “review” time to go a bit deeper.

  2. I’d be “for” performance reviews if they truly reviewed a person’s full performance. However, most HR systems (including those that are sold to us) measure what people aren’t doing vs. what they are doing !!

    I wish people would determine how to put people’s strengths to work vs. just highlighting weaknesses. I believe in constant feedback with the thought of being direct with folks.

    This is so hard to land on a side because employees ask for reviews because they don’t get feedback from others. If we did this to start, as Trish likes to model, we’d be way ahead !!

  3. I’m not a fan of performance reviews for the following reasons:

    a.) Managers “store up” issues and wait for your performance review to bring them up formally, rather than addressing them informally as they arise.

    b.) This makes the issues come as a shock and the formality of the situation makes them feel much worse than they are, particularly as both sides will have built up negative expectations around the situation.

    c.) Conversely, managers should not be waiting for a formal opportunity to praise or congratulate staff, this should happen naturally and consistently as and when the need arises.

    d.) The whole thing puts two people into an unnatural and uncomfortable power dynamic that is totally out of sync with their day-to-day communication and can create mistrust.

    e.) Not many managers are actually any good at setting realistic, attainable and clear goals and can leave employees in a more confused and upset state than when the meeting began.

  4. I have never seen the performance evals the other commenters speak of; however, I know of some performance evals that are basic “form evaluations” for my industry that are frankly too vague and address the wrong areas. When you get right down to it, praise and critique when needed work best, rather than someone worrying about their dreaded “yearly performance review” .

    I worked in one place that tried to do quarterly evaluations- that fell by the wayside. Even the yearly evals fell by the wayside.

    If I were a supervisor, I would probably be the micromanager who kept notes all of the time and would base my yearly reviews on that. But I must digress- I would micromanage myself into a heart attack or stroke!!!!

    Regular feedback is probably best. No employee likes to feel un noticed by their superiors.

  5. Wow, I hope such a high percentage of feedback isn’t a waste of time! I agree that feedback should be given on a regular basis so that it’s part of the routine instead of one big scary meeting at the end of the year. Not to say that there is no place for annual reviews, but the content of those reviews shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

    Thanks for the food for thought :)

  6. I agree with much of what has been said already. I guess the key thing is ‘Performance Management’ vs. ‘Performance Reviews’.

    There is a place for formal performance reviews but they are not the only component of performance management, which is unfortunately the way they are being treated in many cases.

    If you are effectively managing the performance of your team, the discussion that occurs during the performance review should not come as a surprise because you have been regularly talking with your team members, making sure that they are aligned with their objectives and development. They also know that they have your support at regular touch points between reviews.

    The performance review should be a summation of what has previously occurred distilled into a planned event that has been scheduled for the purpose.

    However, much of effectively managing people’s performance is done without any formality about it, for instance, where appropriate, taking the time to walk the floor and visit people while they are working.

  7. I think you’ve nailed it, Trish. There is a place for both, if both are done well and effectively. Day-to-day feedback requires the willingness to devote the time and energy necessary to give thoughtful, helpful feedback (both positive and, erm, constructive). Annual reviews serve a purpose as well IF they incorporate this feedback that’s occurred throughout the year and – critically – broaden the scope of feedback/insight beyond that of the direct manager.

    That’s why we so strongly advocate our strategic employee recognition solutions as an important element of performance management. Since we encourage frequent and timely recognition of the vast majority of employees (up to 80-90%) and each of those recognitions is required to be detailed and stored in the system, managers can pull a year’s worth of recognition received by one employee (given by direct colleagues or employees scattered across the company) to see a more complete and accurate picture of the employee’s contribution, achievements and skills.

    I wrote about this in much more detail in a couple of posts on Compensation Cafe — the Performance Appraisal games we play. I’ve summarized and linked to both of those posts here: http://blog.globoforce.com/2011/03/performance-appraisal-games-on.html

  8. Hi Trish,

    Great post!

    I agree, the formality is part of what hurts.

    Formality makes feedback an EVENT vs. an ongoing process. That increases the “threat level” – making us much less likely to learn, or take feedback constructively.
    I think doing it more often, and making in an ongoing learning opportunity makes it less scary. That’s what we’ve tried to build into what we’ve created at Rypple.

    That being said, there IS value with a retrospective view into work, done periodically. But that value occurs ONLY in conjunction with ongoing feedback, so that the periodic review is well informed and accurate.

  9. Several people have made similar comments to mine, but here is my take on the question. There is no need to throw out either. If managers or supervisors are routinely providing effective critique and commendations to employees, a formal performance review should contain no surprises. Many managers fail to effectively manage in the moment, relying on an annual review to provide feedback.

    This would account for the “fight or flight” reaction employees often experience when confronted with a performance review.

    Performance reviews should always be viewed as an opportunity for two-way feedback, for both the employee and manager.

  10. Glad you enjoyed the program, Trish. Karen’s point was that a formal review puts people into the “fight-freeze-or-fight” mode, first developed when our ancestors confronted a sabre-tooted tiger!

    Reactions like that are all housed in the oldest and crudest part of the brain — the limbic system — also home to anger, hunger, killing and sex. The basic stuff. Not a lot of rational or deductive thinking.

    Her point was to move it into the Prefontal Cortex, where all the good things like rational thought go on.

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