Down With Performance Reviews

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Samuel Culbert, a UCLA professor of management, has a blunt message in his new book for American corporations: Get Rid of the Performance Review.

Culbert, a no-nonsense speaker, writer, teacher, and clinical psychologist, calls performance reviews "a corporate sham" and "a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus" in an article he wrote for the Journal titled Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews.


Problems with performance reviews

According to Culbert, the performance review is not a tool that helps bosses evaluate an employees work -- but rather, it's a weapon of mass destruction that takes aim at employee confidence and security, straining workplace relationships and ultimately undermining productivity and morale. "It is the most pretentious, fraudulent, ill-advised exercise taking place at companies, and I can't understand why," Culbert told the Associated Press.


The American work force weighs in

A recent survey conducted by management consulting firm Taleo, and published at www.incentivemag.com, found that many Americans wish they had more control over job performance reviews. "With nearly 80 percent of employed individuals stating dissatisfaction with their current performance review process, these findings bring to light a deep desire among the American workforce to influence, impact, and improve how their performance reviews were managed," the authors stated.

This survey showed that the dissatisfaction that workers feel over performance reviews is not just about salary; they want to feel like they have some control over the process. Out of the 80 percent of people who want to change something about their performance reviews, 31 percent want them tied to compensation; 21 percent want them to be more fair; 16 percent would like more frequent reviews; and 11 percent said they wanted performance reviews to be done away with completely.

-- See salaries for jobs in human resources: HR manager, HR generalist, and HR director.


Why are performance reviews so common?

Many companies use performance reviews to show that they are trying to track and measure how well employees are performing on the job. Reviews are often used as a way to determine if an employee is worthy of a raise or more responsibilities, But, according to Culbert, that is the entire root of the problem: Companies want to pretend to be able to measure an employee's performance. He contends that performance cannot be measured objectively, and that "the annual routine {performance measures} is nothing but institutionalized bullsh--t. They have no meaning," Culbert was quoted as saying by The New York Post.


Why performance reviews cause so many problems

Because performance reviews are done so infrequently (usually annually), the focus becomes making yourself look good for the review, whether you are a boss or an employee, says Culbert. Everyone only worries about himself, which corrodes the open lines of communication and the give-and take relationship that bosses and employees should have. Performance reviews pit everyone against everyone else. This "every man for himself" attitude is detrimental to a company, the workplace culture, and the work force.


Solutions to the problem

Ideally, performance reviews should be a tool to help workers assess how their role in the company can help it run more effectively, Culbert says. He recommends making positive feedback a regular part of workplace practice so that lines of communication are kept open and honest feedback is a frequent practice, not a scheduled one.

Moe Jafrai, owner of professional services company HumanTouch, LLC, agrees with Culbert's contention that feedback needs to be constant and consistent. "I do not like performance reviews, but they are a necessary evil," Jafrai said, noting that "salary reviews and performance reviews are not always one and the same."

One approach that Jafrai is exploring is something called a continuous monitoring review, where managers keep constant track of their employees and how they are performing, and provide frequent feedback. Through this method, reviews are based on actions, not dependent on a time frame or calendar.

Ramsey Mark Elias, a payments industry consultant, has both given and received performance reviews many times in the past six years. In his opinion, "they are not causing any systems to fail completely, and they can be an effective way to officiate a business and how money is spent; but they are not always used properly."

Elias says that as a manger he likes to have an open-door policy so that employees get frequent feedback, even daily, so that there is no stressful buildup to -- or distressing surprises at -- the yearly review.


The future of performance reviews

While Culbert is leading the charge to get rid of performance reviews in corporate America, it is clear that many people are still undecided about the effectiveness of these reviews. As other review options are explored, performance reviews will continue to remain a part of many companies' corporate culture and business practices, even if they are misused or stress-inducing -- because for now, a better option has not been found and successfully implemented.


Next: Does More Money Always Lead to Better Productivity at Work? >>


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