10 Reasons to Get Rid of Performance Reviews

Why would any corporate executive allow this to continue? Why don't they put a stop to this destructive, intimidating practice, a practice that instills fear in employees and prevents open communication in the workplace? I wish I knew.
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10. Everybody hates giving them and getting them. Do you know anybody who actually enjoys being on either end of a review? (No need to answer that: It's a rhetorical question.) Those who give them find it torture to have to fill out the ridiculous one-size-fits-all forms. They hate having to search for weaknesses because the HR department insists that they not be wusses and give all their employees high marks. And those getting them? No need to say more. Most of them would rather do, well, just about anything than have to smile and nod for that half hour.

9. They're not objective. Yes, I know, the boss has to pretend that they are objective. The company has to pretend they are objective. They have a number on them, don't they? What could be more objective than a number? Well, movie reviewers put numbers on their reviews, too. Wives put numbers on their ex-husbands (often, zero). That doesn't make them objective. And neither does putting a number on a performance review. Unless you have a boss who is able to put all of her biases or agendas or human-ness aside, then the review will be subjective. Want proof? Studies show that the best way for an employee to get a different review is to switch bosses. Now, maybe that's because the employee has changed overnight. But I'd bet it has more to do with who's doing the reviewing.

8. They prevent employee improvement. Think about it: What employee is going to reveal any weakness if he knows the admission will come back to bite him in the next review? (Hint: Only the stupidest employee.) Instead, the employee is going to spit back exactly what he knows the boss wants to hear. That's hardly the way to get an employee to seek help on sharpening any skills that might be lacking.

7. They destroy teamwork. If you know that your boss has to grade his department on a curve, with only a limited number of the staff getting top grades, are you going to go out of your way to help your colleagues, knowing their gain may be your loss? Not likely.

6. They keep employees from offering smart ideas. Where do the best ideas for bottom-line improvement come from? It's the people on the front lines, the people who deal with customers, with suppliers, with the day-to-day bureaucratic hassles that plague, and hold back, every company. These employees know how to fix the broken systems that keep companies from doing what they could do best. By working with the boss, they could really make things better. But the performance review -- by decreeing that the boss is the only person who knows best, that the boss has a lock on the proper way to get the job done -- destroys the relationship between boss and employee, and guarantees that most employees will keep their mouths shut. The review ensures that employees work for the boss -- not the company. So the price of speaking truth to power is that they are labeled trouble-makers, non-team players, or just plain annoying on their performance review. Better not to say anything and just keep pretending the boss's way is the only way. As stupid as that way may be for everybody else.

5. They don't help with lawsuits. They hurt. The inherent dishonesty of reviews -- the different reviews by different managers, the often disconnect between reviews and objective measures -- is what every plaintiff's attorney yearns for. They love it when there are performance reviews, because they know they can use them to shred a defendant's case. Show me a paper trail, and I'll show you the path to a successful lawsuit.

4. They distort discussions about pay. The performance review is the story that managers need to make up to justify pay decisions that have already been made. Does anybody really think that a performance review is the key -- or even a minor -- determinant of raises? Of course not. Raises are determined by totally unrelated factors: how the company is doing, how the economy is faring, budget demands at the company. Budgets are first decided at any company, and only then is pay determined. Once pay is determined, the performance review is just a short step behind. Much better to be upfront and tell employees how the raise was arrived at, rather than pretend it was based on individual performance.

3. "Improvements" to the review only do more damage. HR departments often make the case that the problem with reviews aren't the reviews themselves but the managers who poorly implement them. So they are forever tweaking them. I've got bad news for you: A cake made with sour milk won't taste any better, no matter how beautiful you try to make it. Take the faddish 360-degree feedback "innovation," where employees get anonymous reviews from people they work with, for, and above. It must be objective, the argument goes, because it's anonymous. So is hate mail. Anonymity only makes it easier for people to push opinions that reflect their own biases and agendas. Objective? Not even close.

2. There's a better way. Yes, there is. I call them performance previews and they replace the one-sided, boss-knows-all performance review with a two-sided, straight-talking relationship where the focus is on results, not on placing blame. Previews aren't easy, and they take a whole new mind-set on the part of both employees and management. But done right, they promise everybody the chance to be the best they can be. And they offer the possibility that everybody can win: the employee, the boss and the company.

1. And the No. 1 reason to get rid of performance reviews: They're just plain stupid. There isn't a scintilla of evidence that performance reviews do a company, or an employee, any good at all. Why would any corporate executive allow this to continue? Why don't they put a stop to this destructive, intimidating practice, a practice that instills fear in employees and prevents open communication in the workplace? I wish I knew. I'd like to think CEOS and boards aren't as stupid as this ubiquitous practice. But honestly, I'm beginning to wonder.

Samuel Culbert is a researcher and full-time tenured professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles, California. Culbert holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is an author of numerous books including Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing -- and Focus on What Really Matters.

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