23 Mar 2021

Performance reviews are dead!

Have you ever met anyone who likes performance reviews? There would be very few who love the idea of prepping for and delivering a performance appraisal – either as the manager or the employee – but I suspect they do live out there somewhere… in some deep black hole.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 95 percent of employees are dissatisfied with the company’s appraisal process – and what’s more 90 percent don’t believe the process provides accurate information.


So, why do we keep doing them? In part, it’s because we’ve always done them. We’ve been conditioned by 20th century corporate culture to accept them as the norm.    However, there’s nothing sacred and immutable about performance reviews. They are a relatively recent phenomenon, having their roots in early and mid-20th century Industrial era thinking.


Elton Mayo, a psychologist and organisational theorist, often considered the father of HR theory, established a model for employee engagement that was an alternative to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s rigid scientific management approach. It was a positive change at the time, and it started the trend towards more human-centred performance-based management.


Using feedback on performance to course correct once a year, or even twice a year, is akin to trying to navigate a minefield by reviewing your performance after you’ve crossed it…only on this minefield the landmines are shifting underground as you walk through them!”


Then, in the 1950s, the US government’s Performance Rating Act, which used the three categories of Outstanding, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory, along with the Incentive Awards Act, which provided cash bonuses and incentives to government employees, further cemented the idea of performance-based reviews. It wasn’t until 1970, however, that Aubrey Daniels, considered by many to be the father of performance management, coined the term “performance management.” Since then we’ve accepted annual performances review as gospel.


It should be no surprise that the practice of traditional annual performance reviews is finally being abandoned, given that the world of work looks very different than it did when the annual performance appraisal first rose to prominence in the 1940s.    Performance reviews in their traditional form are often cumbersome, more backward than forward looking and focused more on giving someone a rating than authentically helping them improve themselves or their performance over time.


More common these days is the concept of Continuous Conversations. This approach entails regular, focused conversations between managers and employees, and aligns individual goals with overall business goals. Continuous conversations are reflective in nature, and are wonderful if held regularly (e.g. weekly or fortnightly) to make sure we and the people who work for us are staying on track, are able to correct their course if needed and are able to give and get the continuous feedback necessary to perform at our best.


In practice, continuous conversations will save you an incredible amount of time.  No more writing down arduous plans that no one looks at.  No need to keep records for months on end, with the hope of raising the issue when you have your performance review.  No surprises that create tension and conflict; matters are raised in a timely manner and don’t fester. Conversations are just that – quick, real time, agile discussions that keep both parties focused and connected with the future in mind.