The Performance Review Process is Broken

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Nov 04

We are coming up on performance review time. Cali and Jody do a quick review of the four problems with the current performance review process from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The problems noted are accurate. But, since we deal in reality, we still need to deal with the performance review because, in the end, our raise, bonus and promotability depend on a good review.

How do we address the flaws of the performance review?

Here are the four flaws and how to best deal with each of them:

A performance review is about the person and the work, instead of being only about the work.

Managers don’t look at just results, but look at HOW you went about achieving the results. If a manager doesn’t like your work style, you can get rated lower even though you accomplished the result. This is the manager that focuses on your strengths and weaknesses, not your results.

In the theoretical world, managers would only rate us on our results. But, in the real world, if a manager likes a particular style of getting the work done, that is the way you need to accomplish the work. It is important to listen to the manager and determine the process to follow for the work. Even if you modify the process a bit to fit your style, your reporting about the work should follow the process the manager prefers.

Performance reviews require standardization, when little is standard about our global, 24/7 economy.

Particularly in large corporations, the formal review process is very formal and standardized. One reason is that with large volume, processing so much work requires standardization. Another reason for standardization is to look for reviews that are exceptions. And standardization puts you into finite, standardized categories. Great for defending lawsuits.

The most important way to fight this standardization is use the standardization as a weapon. Since the process if formal, use it. Since the forms are standardized, use them. Since the process usually requires you to write a self-review, do it. The way to fight the standardization is to input your performance review accomplishments (your content) into the process. If goal attainment is part of the review process, you need to track your goal attainment. If competencies are part of the process, have accomplishments to address each competency. If you write a self-review, then make sure your review has a laser focus on your results.

Read the definitions of what constitutes superior work. Use the definitions to choose your accomplishments and the language needed to tie to the superior ratings.

Performance reviews are an event, instead of a continuous discussion.

Today is Election Day in the United States. It is the day of the “performance review” of the candidates running for office. Yet, there was a “continuous discussion” of the candidate’s performance for the last two years leading up to this performance review.

The way to fight this flaw is to ensure that you are having regular, continuous discussions with your manager. Not just about your work, but also about your job performance. Most managers have a hard time discussing performance, so you will most likely need to initiate discussion about performance. Be open about the responses you get – the way to influence the performance rating is to build off of a consensus of your job performance with your manager.

If you are finding out about your performance when you get your review, you lose. Ask early.

Performance reviews give bosses all the power, which distorts the assessment of the work.

As Culbert notes, bosses want their employees to answer to them. This leads to leads to “inauthentic behavior, daily deception and a ubiquitous need for subordinates to spin all facts and viewpoints in directions they believe the boss will find pleasing. It defeats any chance that the boss will hear what subordinates actually think.”

The way to get this power back, or to at least minimize the difference in power, is to have the regular performance discussions with your manager. It means negotiating your goals for your review when they are set up rather than just accepting them. It means questioning why you are working on anything that is not related to your goals.

Good employees are focused on their work and careers. By interacting with management on their work and performance, they almost force the relationship to be more equal.

While the performance review process may be broken, it doesn’t mean you just give up and accept it. Use what you have in the process to put your best performance forward and never give your manager a reason to rate you low.