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Performance Review or Root Canal?


Performance reviews are looked forward to about as much as visit to the dentist. Most employees dread their upcoming evaluations for weeks or months prior, and if we’re honest - so do managers.

Root canal anyone?

Google ‘performance reviews’, and you’ll receive a plethora of results describing what it is, how to conduct one, and the many different templates to choose from. They will go into great detail on the structure of the conversation, the timing and cadence, how to prepare, what you should document in between reviews, goal setting, what’s the best day of the week to meet, time of the day, what clothes to wear, what direction you should be facing… and so on… and so on… and so on…

What most don’t explain is how to conduct a performance review that is based on facts rather than opinion. I believe the reason for this is down to the acceptance that in most companies, the data required to facilitate an objective performance review is either lacking, or simply not available. The organization is then forced to employ the use of flawed scoring systems such as the ‘5 point scale’, where there is no room for context. In fact, The Idiosyncratic Rater Effect, published by The Marcus Buckingham Company, reveals that “61% of a performance rating is a reflection of the rater, not the ratee.” Different raters will consistently give different ratings to the same person, which can be extraordinarily problematic when the results of these evaluations are tied to employee compensation and career advancement.

There is also the matter of the frequency in which reviews take place. The ‘Annual Review’ has been around since Advanced Australopithecus were being evaluated on the number of clubbings they dished out for the year, and yet it remains the preferred cadence for many organizations.

In recent years the half-yearly review has grown in popularity, and in some cases the quarterly review. Still, the challenge for leaders is that it’s almost impossible to have an objective discussion, no matter how frequently you are meeting with each employee, unless you have the right data readily available.

Periodic reviews rob managers of the opportunity to learn about the work environment they’re cultivating and identify ways to move their organizations forward. There is also a risk of recency bias when leaders are preparing for performance reviews, especially as the level of frequency decreases, as it’s mostly down to whether the leader has taken notes consistently, or they have an exceptional memory. A team manager I worked with recently shared that the increase in her team’s productivity over the previous 2 weeks, was due to the upcoming performance review period -

“My team’s performance increases this time every year, as they think it will effect their performance review. They don’t realize that I’ve already filled them all out.”

Gallup found that 21% of millennial employees and 18% of non-millennials meet with their manager on a weekly basis, and only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting goals — but those employees who are included in goal-setting are 3.6 times more likely to be engaged in their work.

It begs the question then — why wouldn’t you just increase the frequency of communication between managers and employees?

Sure, this would definitely be a step in the right direction, as it would reduce the ‘surprise factor’ that comes with periodic reviews. Going even further though, why not provide leaders and employees with a platform that provides both parties with an up-to-date view of expectations, goals and performance, that’s accessible at any time (whispers: Bramble). These aren’t written on scrolls found near the Dead Sea, so why all the mystery?

When you consider the impact that managers and leaders can have across an organization, it’s clear that they should provide them with every opportunity to improve their competencies. A more constant multidirectional flow of communication isn’t just useful in helping employees achieve their goals; it can help managers and leaders reach a higher level of competency as well.