Let’s just kill performance reviews

I just had my first performance review in about seven years (I’ve only worked at this job for about 14 months). I ain’t gonna go and blog about it because I guess it’s proprietary / ain’t my story to tell (even though it’s about me, ha), but performance reviews as a concept are something I think about a lot. To wit:

Basically, start here: if you really believe that the millennial generation wants clear, consistent, ongoing feedback — which people keep saying, although in reality it might not be accurate — then how can a once-a-year, your-manager-throws-a-bunch-of-stuff-out-that-didn’t-come-up-at-the-time review be good for that generation? The logic is, it can’t. And that generation is about to straight-up own the workforce numbers-wise, so we gotta start chasing a new idea here.

Apparently, some people are starting to get it. Here’s an article claiming 70% of companies are reconsidering their strategy around performance reviews, including companies like GE — and those are organizations you could argue were initially at the forefront of this whole “We need metrics on our people annually!” thing. So for an old-school org like that to be considering shifts in the performance review space, that seems big.

That article is by a crew who’s done some research around performance reviews and our brains’ reaction to them, and they basically have four key findings in terms of the why around shifting to a new model:

  • Changing nature of work
  • Need for better collaboration
  • Need to retain top talent
  • Development cycle of employees

All these make sense — for example, if you think you’re competing with people on your team for better reviews/more money, then how can you successfully collaborate? — but the bottom one is pretty interesting. Consider:

The need to develop people faster. By removing ratings, early indications of our research are that companies appear to be developing people faster across the board. It’s happening because of more frequent dialogues, which also tend to be more honest and open when neither party has to worry about justifying a rating at the end of the year.

Alright, so that presupposes a generally-good manager — and that doesn’t always happen. I think the idea of “management by walking around” is a strong one. Essentially, reviews should be less structured, and more organic. (I’ll say this about my review mentioned above: a bunch of stuff came out that could have been said at the time it happened, and then there could have been more course-correction on the negatives. Right?) When you assign too much process to the idea of management — and an annual review is kind of the epitome of process in some ways — you’re confusing people about what the actual idea of management is. It’s not about hitting checkmarks, targets, and deliverables. It’s about that to an extent, but it’s really about developing people.

So isn’t it ironic, then, that if you remove one of the major checkmarks — the annual review! — you can actually do the core thing (developing the people) better?

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and I’m a member of the BlogPoets network. My deal: I try to think differently about work, the future of work, leadership, management, marketing, organizational development, customer experience, and more. I’m out here trying to chase real professional connection and collaboration, not just 200K page views. Anyone want to talk? (I also do freelance and ghostwriting work, if anyone’s into that.)