Let’s eliminate performance reviews

I just decided to do a Google News search for “performance reviews” out of generalized interest and came up with these two headlines — “Is it time to kill them?” and “Five reasons to abandon them.” Yep. Everyone seemingly hates them: they can be rushed, they can not align with actual goals, they can be time-consuming and political, they don’t always end up leading to promotions, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. Here’s an article on the common mistakes in the process.

Here’s another one entitled “Skipping performance reviews has few consequences.” Indeed on that one — although I admittedly worked different jobs in the period, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have an actual performance review from 2009 until, well, about now. That’s a half-decade! Now, two of those years I was in graduate school, so there’s that … but still. I had a job from 2009 to 2011 at the same place and in 2010, I think I was supposed to have two reviews (a mid-year and an end-of-year). My boss cancelled both because she was “slammed;” I’m fairly certain there were no consequences anywhere.

Part of the issue here might be that performance reviews are typically associated with HR, and HR isn’t necessarily seen as a business partner — moreso it’s seen as a support function, so they lose priority on projects. That’s one way to look at it. Another way would be the idea that processes and products tend to matter to organizations, but oftentimes people can be seen as interchangeable. While this wholeheartedly isn’t true, it is an attitude you see in a lot of places, unfortunately. Then there’s a third attitude that says “Well, managers know who their top people are … why does it need to come with a lot of excess paperwork?” Well, maybe that’s true with some managers — but definitely not with all.

There isn’t a simple answer to this whole situation. The easiest way to think about it — although this is harder to execute — is to try and make the idea of performance reviews more organic and less forced. The idea there is more regular check-ins between managers and employees, in the form of lunches and 10-minute check-ins, as opposed to one major dump (the performance review) at a specified time of year.

Cool article here on some new performance review software for the HR world and this concept is mentioned: there’s a thing called Trakstar, for example, that can allow for easier and more open communication. There’s another tool called ReviewSnap that focuses more on real-time feedback. I’m not sure any of these things necessarily need to be contained within systems/platforms — can’t people just talk to each other, especially people who theoretically have the same aligned goals at work? — but they seem like interesting alternatives if nothing else. There are others on that initial link you can check out as well.

A lot of these issues are rooted in base human issues around communication, transparency, and the value of work — and those are hard to just up and change, so maybe there’s no true “easy answer” here. (There definitely isn’t an easy answer, no.) I do think the performance review as we currently construe it needs to be scrapped. No more once-a-year, paperwork-laden, confusing, what-does-this-lead-to stuff. Shorter, more organic, and more frequent check-ins, with maybe one major check-in a year on future aspirations / checking on engagement and connection to the company and organization. I’m not sure how you set that up in terms of HRIS, software and all that, but I think that’s the goal.

Doesn’t that seem to be how humans process most of their relationships with friends, etc? They check in a couple of times a year to see how things are, with maybe 1-2 in-person visits and 1 bigger thing? (A wedding, etc.) Shouldn’t we use that model for work check-ins, then? I don’t know if that’s the answer, but it seems potentially logical.

Ted Bauer