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Get rid of performance reviews?!?

Posted by Justin Field on October 22, 2008


Dr Sam Culbert writes in the Wall Street Journal that performance reviews destroy morale, kill teamwork and hurt the bottom line.  I take pity on Dr Culbert’s manager, who must be tearing his or her hair out with Dr Culbert’s obvious distaste for the performance review process.  And I wonder what it is like to work at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.  Are they practising all the bad habits that Dr Culbert’s shares in his article?

If only Dr Culbert’s arguments made sense.  He is clearly trapped in a performance review timewarp.  His version of performance review is medieval, with the manager (who he consistently calls “the boss”) standing in judgement of the hapless employee, who meekly accepts the manager’s opinion.  There are however kernels of truth in Dr Culbert’s analysis, so let’s take a look at the modern (non-medieval) way of performance evaluation:

1.  We believe in the concept and vision of daily performance managementDr Culbert does make reference to this when he says the once-a-year judgement of performance is a poor vehicle for giving and receiving feedback.  And he’s 100% correct.  Our concept of daily performance management is that the manager and the employee have a continuous, ongoing dialogue regarding the employee’s performance and how it can be adjusted to make the employee successful and to make the organisation successful.  To enable daily performance management, we believe our applications shouldn’t limit the user to a once-per-year interaction.  The system should be open and flexible and it should facilitate more frequent interactions.

2.  We believe in a future-facing performance management environment.  Dr Culbert seems to hate having his manager look back at past events and indiscretions and pointing out how bad he was.  Poor sausage.  Instead, think about a system based on performance objectives or goals, where the manager and the employee discuss those goals upfront, and then they collaborate on achieving them.  Dr Culbert would think he’d died and gone to heaven!  In fact, it comes very close to Dr Culbert’s idea of “performance previews,” looking at collaborating to support future performance, rather than looking back at historical events.

3.  We believe in open lines of communication between the manager and the employee.  The thing that struck me reading Dr Culbert’s article was how often the problems he perceived could be dealt with by open communication.  Now, it is true that it takes effort for a manager to build trust that would facilitate this level of communication, and the employee has to play their part too, but that is not to say that it is impossible. 

4.  We believe in customised and relevant content in the performance evaluation.  One of Dr Culbert’s gripes is that “bosses apply the same rating scale to people with different functions” and that managers “don’t redo the checklist for every different activity.”  Well, of course, that would be silly and unhelpful.  So our applications provide the ability to define precisely the content and measurements for each job, so that the manager and the employee have specific and relevant attributes that define success for each role.  And over and above that, the manager and the employee can define specific and personal objectives that apply only to that employee.  By supplying a library of skills, competencies and accomplishments, and by defining highly specific job profiles, our applications will help managers and employees to understand what the baseline expectations are.

Dr Culbert’s right about improvement:  “[it] is each individual’s own responsibility.”  So let’s have a performance management system that helps the individual clearly identify the opportunities.  And he’s right about trust too:  there needs to be a high level of trust between manager and employee.  So let’s have a performance management system that supports building of trust, rather than tearing it down.

2 Responses to “Get rid of performance reviews?!?”

  1. Meg Bear said

    Excellent manifesto Justin. I could not agree with you more!

  2. [...] by Meg Bear on December 16, 2008   We talk a lot about how effective performance management requires regular coaching and feedback.  As luck would have it, I have been giving and receiving [...]

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