Blowing a Hole in Traditional Performance Reviews

March 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm 2 comments

Culbert strikes again! No, that’s not a typo. I am not referring to Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Central alter ego of Bill O’Reilly. However, Samuel Culbert may be just as intriguing and controversial. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, he follows up his 2010 book release by challenging a common assumption about union workers.

The fight in Wisconsin over bargaining rights for public employees highlights a long-held belief that union agreements don’t allow for honest discussion about worker performance. In other words, union workers are guaranteed a job so there’s no reason to evaluate their performance. Without unions, wouldn’t promotions, pay and recognition be doled out more fairly?

Absolutely not, says Culbert. His ground-breaking book Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters makes the case that annual reviews are flawed and actually lower employee performance, rather than raise it. Culbert says annual performance reviews measure how comfortable a boss is with an employee. They don’t offer constructive feedback to help employees improve their contribution to an organization.

Culbert’s bottom line: Whether you are answering to shareholders or taxpayers, “investors” get less bang for the buck when organizations use a traditional annual performance review system. It squelches suggestions and criticism from employees, because they don’t want their comments to become bones of contention during their reviews. But Culbert reminds us that those are just the types of suggestions and outspoken behaviors that help organizations perform well and make money.

Do you believe there is value in annual performance reviews? Is it realistic to eliminate annual reviews and expect managers to provide monthly or even weekly feedback?


Entry filed under: Employee Engagement, HR Management, Performance Reviews. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Pepitone  |  March 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Haven’t read the book, but concur with the synopsis provided here. We have researched this issue at great length, including substantial controlled experimentation within firms of all sizes and across many industries. In general, annual performance appraisals have significant negative impact on performance, in addition to wasting substantial time and money. More frequent feedback is essential, yet effectively designed work should provide workers at all levels with systematic feedback on their performance, thus making it unnecessary for the manager to restate the obvious. A manager’s time is better spent providing leadership, increasing value-creation and reducing costs through evolving work designs, and collaborating for strategic objectives and resources.

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