Here we go again…

We’re on the march again…the annual Rite to trash and/or discontinue performance reviews.  Check out the blaring headlines and the time line.  I’m confident if we go back pre-2006, we’d see similar sentiment.

After all of this haranguing, a mere 1% of all major companies have elected to scrap the process.  Employees need to get feedback.  And, I’m confident that nothing will get done in the absence of a formal process.  And this is before we introduce “litigation protection” into the discussion.

In his post this week, David Witt referenced a recent webinar survey where seminar participants where asked “Do you believe that you, as an employee benefited from your last review with your supervisor?”  Over 58% said “no”.  Three key components were then identified as making up a successful performance management system:

  1. Clear, agreed-upon goals.
  2. Consistent day-to-day coaching designed to help people succeed.
  3. No surprises at performance review.

“The core of their message was that it’s all about trust and respect.  Organizations that treat people as valued team members by taking the time to structure jobs their properly, provide direction and support as needed, and focus more on helping people succeed instead of evaluating them, are the ones that create engaging work cultures that bring out the best in people.”

I would also suggest that the tone of the review process needs to shift – – shift from the traditional “how can I fix your developmental areas” (code for weaknesses)  to a focus on “how your strengths have added value to the organization” and how these strengths can be further leveraged.  (Think Tanveer Naseer & Marcus Buckingham here.)

As to the drum beat of eliminating the performance review process, my view aligns with an HBR Blog post titled:  “Ditching Performance Reviews?  How About We Learn To Do Them Well?

Here’s my Do’s and Don’ts list:

Done right, performance reviews take a considerable amount of effort.  There are no short cuts here.  You need to have established a trusting relationship with your employee.  They need to respect you to take the feedback in the spirit that it is intended.  You need to have established clear goals upfront.  Your employee needs to understand your expectations and the firm’s mission.  You need to review progress against goals on an ongoing basis.  You are best served in keeping a log or diary of the employees’ accomplishments to complete the actual review.  You should be providing real-time feedback to the employee on an ongoing basis so there are no surprises at mid-year or year end.

Is it any wonder then, why most performance reviews are a disaster?  Why they cause so much anxiety for the boss and for the employee.  It takes real work on top of the daily crush.  And most of us would just as soon avoid a potential confrontation.  Yet, as they say, “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject…


Sources:  (1) Tanveer Naseer: How to Give Feedback To Employee.  (2) David Witt: How Would Your Employees Answer These Five Questions About Your Corporate Culture.  (3) Marcus Buckingham: Now, Discover Your Strengths & StandOut. The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment. (4) Harvard Business Review: Ditch Performance Reviews? How About Learn To Do Them Well?


  1. Regarding the above post about performance reviews, I think the debate as to whether to get rid of them is inspired and kept alive by cowards and lazy leaders that don’t want to put in the time to do their main job (i.e. developing their people).

    Once again I’m drawn to what I learned at the US Air Force Academy. We actually had a leadership philosophy and codified it in discrete steps, the first three of which were Expectations, Skills, and Feedback. If the leader doesn’t establish clear expectations, then the employee won’t know what to do. This doesn’t stop after you’ve gone over goals and expectations during a performance review, it should happen every day. If you don’t provide clarity as to your expectations, then don’t be surprised if your people don’t meet them.

    The second step, Skills, is most often overlooked. As a leader, if you expect an employee to do something, it is your job to make sure he/she has the correct resources, training, and tools to accomplish the task. Whether that means teaching and coaching them yourself or sending them to some other form of training, you cannot expect them to meet their goals if they don’t have the resources to do it.

    The third step, Feedback, is the main subject of a performance review. However, the most effective leaders are those that provide feedback and coaching on a daily basis, not just at annual or bi-annual reviews. This feedback can be both positive or negative, but providing it often is most important. It prevents surprises, lets the employee know how they’re doing, and, when positive, boosts employee morale and increases motivation.


  2. In my experience, most performance reviews fail miserably because they are treated as an annual event. If you only look at your goals once a year, then how important can they be? That is the message that you send to your employees with an annual performance review. Formal reviews can be done semi-annually or quarterly, but you had better have some informal checkpoints that are weekly or monthly at a minimum. I honestly think this is the most important thing a manager can do.


  3. Hi David,
    Thanks for referencing our recent webinar survey results. Given the importance (and effectiveness) of setting clear goals and providing day-to-day coaching, it’s surprising how few companies get it right. Thanks for the reminder and for your on-target “dos and don’ts” list. 1% down, 99% to go!

    David Witt
    Program Director
    The Ken Blanchard Companies


    • Thank you David. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Dave


    • Great post! I love Mark's witirng as he is able to express in cristal cristal clear words, shared concepts and experience, just like his previous post on page as "internet dial tone".I have been involved myself in performance testing and totaly agree an all aspects of this post. Now that I moved from academia to industry, I am striving to persuade my company to scientifically evaluate performance figures of our IT products and disclose them along with tech specs in the form of self explanatory "reports" instead of plain useless numbers. It is incredible how this requires a big change of working habits (more precision, more effort…). I believe that this approach will state the quality of our work and therefore of our solutions. No secret it is going to be mayhem but fun and that will push us to improve. And at the same time it will be hard work to get costumers acquainted with this kind of "extra" information.Dependability vs. performance…is a never ending match as you can't have the best of both worlds! Similarly to Len, I'd like to think to the set of parameters that tune a system to a specific working point, as one of the possible solutions in the space that describes a system model. Moving within such space, from point to point, enables you to tune the system itself in a different dependability/performance trade-off.


  4. What I find ironic is that no one would seriously suggest that a company not report and review results with investors. Can you imagine the complaints that “we don’t have the time” and “no one wants to do this” for investor calls? Yet, feedback to perhaps the most critical stakeholders, employees, so often gets pushed aside.


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