From the archive: Performance Evaluations “The GREAT EVIL”?

Performance reviews are often demonized.
Performance reviews are often demonized.

On July 8, 2015 I conducted a webinar on performance reviews for In that webinar I mentioned that today many people were calling for the end to performance reviews. I was reminded of this post, which I wrote and published on April 22, 2010. I think it is still relevant today.
Periodically performance evaluations/appraisals/reviews get demonized. We have another round of that demonization going on currently. A new book “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.” by Samual A. Culbert and Lawerence Rout is receiving media attention. Culbert wrote an article,Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and has been talked about in’s article Want to improve performance? Cancel reviews. Culbert’s premise is “This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.” He goes on further to state that it is all about whether the boss likes you or not and that performance reviews damage people psychologically and ruin productivity for the organization.
He also states that “Proponents of performance reviews say that the problem isn’t the review itself, but poorly trained reviewers. Sorry, but that doesn’t fly: The performance review done exactly as intentioned is just as horribly flawed as the review done “poorly.” You can’t bake a great cake with rotten milk, no matter how skilled the chef. They also say you need performance reviews to protect against lawsuits by laid-off workers. Nonsense: Most performance reviews hurt a company’s case because they aren’t honest assessments of a worker’s performance.”

Everyday conversations

His solution? Review performance everyday by having conversations.
That is all well and good. I agree with Culbert on a couple of areas. “Reviews” should be done all the time. The world changes too fast not to be doing “course corrections” to avoid surprises. And I think “conversations” are important. And the tools could be improved substantially in many cases.
But I disagree with Culbert on several areas as well. I disagree that the problem is just the tool. You will indeed have problems if you use some crappy check box format that is bought “off the shelf.” But you can, through interaction with your employees, design a meaningful review tool that measures performance, updates the job description and provides improvement plans as needed. The problem is that most companies are too lazy to spend the time to do so.

Training is an issue

Secondly, I disagree that training is not an issue. It is a major issue. American companies do a notoriously bad job of training supervisors and managers in ANYTHING. Culbert calls for “conversations” around work performance. Asking questions and listening to answers. Well hate to wake you up Mr. Culbert that requires training too. In case you haven’t notice most people are not good listeners and don’t know how to ask the proper questions. So “conversation” is not the simple solution.

Documentation is important

Thirdly, paperwork is necessary in this world. The governments require that you document your decisions. If you do not YOU LOSE! Poor documents can get you in trouble too, no doubt. But NO DOCUMENTS are even worse.
Culbert’s arguments almost sound like “sour grapes” from someone who has never gotten a good review. But I think there is a dash of senationalism tossed in there in order to sell a book. Hmmm.. I wonder, will Culbert be paying attention to the book reviews? Or will he ignore them as poor mechanisms produced by untrained reviewers who are only judging his personality?

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