#076: Are Performance Reviews Critical To Business, Or Worthless Paper?

Take a survey of the activities executives like the most in their jobs and performance appraisals of employees won’t be in the top 10, or even the top 20. In fact, if you ask most managers to describe their job-related duties chances are they won’t even mention employee performance reviews.

Performance Review

Most managers hate doing performance appraisals so much they’ll skip the entire process if they think they can get away with it.

If forced to complete the process, they typically save them all up until just before they are due and then run through all their employees one after another. They complete the forms, forward them to their boss, and forget about the process until reviews are due again next year.

Why is it that managers and employees dread the performance review? The list is long and varied:

  • the review is a complaint session in which a manager’s candor becomes a weapon to crush rather than build up an employee,
  • managers bring up gripes from all year and dump them on the employee,
  • managers and employees don’t view situations in the work history the same and no one can remember what really happened,
  • nothing ever changes as a result of the session so people view them as a waste of time, and
  • most performance review systems are highly subjective with standards that vary from boss to boss, and from one employee to another.

Here are twelve tips to make sure performance reviews in your organization are productive:

  1. Use honest scales. The Bible tells us to use honest scales and to not cheat anyone. Create a performance review system and then implement the system the same way with every employee in the organization.
  2. Train the trainer. Remember, your performance review system is no stronger than the weakest person administering it. Train all of the people in the organization how to administer performance reviews.
  3. Emphasize work in progress. Feedback in October that the employee did something poorly in February is not helpful. Provide constructive feedback on the spot. This may mean that the manager will have to spend more time with employees than with reports to executive management, but ask yourself which one produces more profit for the company?
  4. Develop measurable performance goals. The manager and employee should establish measurable performance goals before the work begins. While bosses would like perfection all the time reality says there will be more misses than direct hits. It is wise to set goals that reflect “above and beyond the call of duty” work, and that which is the minimum acceptable. Goals should be adjusted based on changing conditions.
  5. Keep detailed notes. No one has a good enough memory to remember the details of a project from six months ago. Make notes about each employee’s accomplishments as well as their shortcomings on an on-going basis.
  6. Measure what’s important. No employee should be judged on every measurable aspect of their job. Determine key measures that contribute the most to job productivity, and focus on them to the exclusion of the minutia.
  7. Evaluations should be a learning exercise for everyone. One of the best ways management can learn about the employee is to shut up and listen. During the review ask the employee to discuss his or her work, providing specific examples, for the past year. Do not jump in after the first example with your own editorials! Let the employee get all the way through their discussion before you open your mouth.
  8. Get peer feedback. Peers often have a better sense of how well someone is doing than anyone else. Solicit their confidential input. One caveat, though; beware the employee who never has anything bad to say about anyone and the one who never has anything good to say.
  9. Encourage employee assessment. Ask the employee for candid feedback with specific examples of how your performance helped or hindered them during the year. Again, shut-up and listen! No management editorializing or rationalizing allowed.
  10. Be an encourager. Jesus was a model of encouragement. No matter what dumb things the apostles did, no matter how thick-headed they were, Jesus never berated them for their honest efforts. He always built them up with encouraging words.
  11. Secure employee input. A study of Japanese industry indicated that top executives knew about 4% of the problems in the company yet employees knew about 95%. If you’re a boss and you want ideas that will solve problems and strengthen your company, ask your employees during the review process.
  12. Be accessible. Your job is to provide regular, balanced feedback that will help employee performance.

One Final Thought

As Christian managers and employees, there can be no doubt that we are called to set a high standard in the workplace. Over and over again God admonishes the lazy worker referring to them as “wicked.”

Throughout the Bible, it is clear that the example we set in every aspect of our lives is a witness to the world. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:13-15).

Regardless of which side of the table you sit on during the performance review process make sure that you are “a light unto the world.”

Bonus Whitepaper

Are Performance Reviews Critical To Business, Or Worthless Paper? is also available in the form of a bonus white-paper. This 11-page bonus white-paper includes:

  1. More information about conducting performance reviews,
  2. Some great quotes about performance,
  3. Meeting notes to help you run a meeting with your team, and
  4. A summary of the key points in conducting performance reviews.

You can download it here:  Are Performance Reviews Critical To Business, Or Worthless Paper? 

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What kind of experience have you had with performance reviews, either as a giver or receiver? What made the experience either positive or negative as it pertains to employee performance?

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Category: Skills | Human Resource Development

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3 thoughts on “#076: Are Performance Reviews Critical To Business, Or Worthless Paper?

  1. Ron- having done years of performance evaluations I have to say I’m a bit cynical about them. I do think employees appreciate honest feedback and the fact you’re paying attention to their work. But generally supervisors hate doing reviews and the results are often formulaic and minimally helpful. The cream of the crop rise to the surface, the bench players do just enough and the problem children eventually move on. Well done evals can sometimes redirect a wayward ship but often they serve more as periodic corrections. When supervisors lead by example and interact regularly with subordinates I feel more is accomplished.

    • John,
      I’ve been on both sides of the performance review camp – largely dependent on who my boss was and whether they handle the reviews as an annoying inconvenience or as a helpful tool to build the business!

      • Yep, I guess that’s true. Seems I read an article a year or two ago about performance evals, and whether they really accomplish much. I think it was a Wall Street Journal article. Anyway, I have to admit I’ve had a few supervisors over the years who gave excellent reviews with goals that helped me grow. Al the best!