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Clippings from Don: Dumping the Dreaded Performance Review

Everybody hates performance reviews. As much is not news to anyone.

More interesting is the lack of creativity in designing meaningful and effective alternatives. 

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Rachel Emma Silverman takes a look at the fading allure of this rigid, intimidating and counter-productive time-waster.

Teams need to be able to communicate about their work. Everyone needs to be able to give constructive and timely feedback to those with whom they work.

The problem with most performance evaluation processes is that they function exclusively as a top-down tool for ineffective leaders to communicate the negative feedback they didn’t have the courage or grace to communicate throughout the year.

Two major problems result. The climate of judgment and intimidation makes even the most competent employee reticent to be honest about their weaknesses. Poor performers, on the other hand, are rewarded for exaggerating their achievements instead of actually achieving.

Silverman cautions, though, that dumping mandated performance reviews risks either giving poor performers room to slack off or overlooking the achievements of your high performers.

What to do?

I have long maintained that companies need to foster cultures of open, direct, respectful and constructive communication that takes place all of the time.

Supervisors are fools who cut themselves off from the feedback of their subordinates with practices of intimidation and retribution. Negative feedback is a gift to those committed to improving their professional game.

Another problem is when performance reviews become tools for keeping wage increases down. High performers get mediocre reviews so that there is minimal written evidence of deserving appropriate compensation adjustments.

So many games. So little communication.

Maybe the problem isn’t performance evaluations at all. Maybe the problem is the games we play in order to manipulate behavior, exploit wages, build legal documentation, avoid confrontations, and/or counter our own insecurities about our leadership capabilities.

Small wonder everyone hates performance reviews.

(You can read Rachel Emma Silverman’s article here.)
Voracious reader friend Don Silver always has an eye out for what interests me. Clippings from Don is a column where I pass on some of these articles, stories and resources to you.


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