Babies, Bath Water, and Performance Evaluations

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 HR Morning just published a post with the title "OK, performance review process is broken: Now HR’s on the hotseat." Here's the lead.

"Seriously, now: Is it time to get rid of the annual performance review once and for all? Ask employees, middle managers and executives, and pretty much everyone will agree: Performance reviews stink."

Note that there are two items here. There is "the annual performance review." And there are "performance reviews" in general.

The annual performance review system is really dumb. Imagine if we used a similar system for parenting.

Once a year we'd sit down with our child. We'd fill out a standard form. Then we'd have a seven-minute (on average) discussion of a year's worth of behavior and performance. That would be it until next year.

Why don't we do that? Because it doesn't work. It doesn't work for companies, either.

What we do (or try to do) as parents is talk to our kids several times a day. We try to deal with issues when they come up. Sometimes we need to take corrective action.

That's how performance evaluation should play out at work, too. Good performance evaluation is frequent, mostly informal, and rooted in supervision. If you want to improve the performance evaluation in your organization, improve the way you select, train, and support supervisors.

At home, that's all you need. At work, where there are laws and regulations, you need something more. You need something more if you've got more than 100 or so people.

That's when you need some kind of system that leaves a permanent record behind. Daily performance evaluation should be mostly informal and mostly about today's performance and behavior. The permanent record system should be different.

The permanent record system should include a review and record of recent performance. But it should be mostly about the future and possibilities and potential.

Boss's Bottom Line

Your job is to do performance evaluation with your team members every day. Most of it will be informal. If you do that, there should be no surprises when the time arrives for whatever formal process your organization uses. In other words, you can do good, effective performance evaluation while you're waiting for the Powers that Be to fix the system.

Additional Reading

Let's not fire the supervisors just yet

Three rules for performance evaluation

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.


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  • 7/12/2010 10:50 AM Gary S Hart wrote:
    While reading a conversation you were having with Mary Ellen on your "Identifying Great Leaders" post, I though about the parenting metaphor.

    I was certain your response of "spending time with team members and having conversations" included ongoing, motivating performance discussions.

    Performance reviews that do not coach employees to excel, they are valueless.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/12/2010 10:58 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      I think we're in agreement there, Gary. Bosses who touch base a lot with team members will have two kinds of conversations. Some will be the kind of conversations that everyone has at work. Others will be opportunities to coach, counsel, encourage, and correct. You must have both. If you only have "supervisory" conversations, you won't build the relationships and trust you need for really tough conversations. But if all you have are social conversations, you're not doing your job.

      Reply to this
  • 7/12/2010 4:54 PM Derek Irvine Globoforce wrote:
    I like Carol Bartz' approach (CEO of yahoo): “I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, ‘Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?’ That doesn’t make any sense. ‘This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.’ And then I’m on to the next thing. If I had my way I wouldn’t do annual reviews, if I felt that everybody would be more honest about positive and negative feedback along the way."

    Our way is exceedingly better. Employees receive constant feedback on what they are doing well -- from managers and peers -- and this is recorded and reported. It's easy to see areas that are lagging and intervene as necessary. And the positive reinforcement is always in the moment. Of course, managers are still on the hook to provide the necessary constructive criticism along the way, but that's been less a historical challenge then getting them to give the positive -- in the moment and not at the annual review.

    (Citation for the Bartz quote and additional detail on feedback and appraisals here.)
    Reply to this
    1. 7/12/2010 5:24 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Derek. Thanks for reminding me of that Bartz interview. Human beings simply aren't wired to wait a year for feedback. We want it now!

      Reply to this
  • 7/13/2010 4:26 PM davidburkus wrote:
    Good analogy with parenting. I agree with need more feedback to grow, but is personal growth really the job of managers? It probably should be but it isn't...hence seven minute annual reviews.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/13/2010 4:51 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for those comments, David. Let me unwrap them in order to respond.


      You ask "is personal growth the job of the manager." My answer is a solid "Yes," but I'm not talking about personal growth in some macro sense. If I'm the boss, part of my job is helping team members develop mastery of what they do. And part of my job, for those who want it, is helping them achieve career growth.


      As for the seven minute performance evaluation interviews, those came from research. But top performing supervisors took more than three times as long. The content of their interviews was different, too – more future- and growth-oriented.

      Reply to this
  • 7/19/2010 9:58 AM Jim Morgan wrote:
    Right on target, Wally. I've been saying for years, "Annual performance reviews are nothing more than legal protection for bad managers." Weak protection at that.

    Jim Morgan
    TeamTrainers Consulting
    Reply to this
    1. 7/19/2010 10:43 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      That's a good point, Jim, and strongly phrased. I wonder, though, if the protection isn't more for the companies and less for the managers. What do you think?  Thanks for coming by.

      Reply to this
  • 5/21/2011 5:28 PM Danie Vermeulen wrote:
    Thanks Wally - I agree. For me it's all about constantly looking out for those "teachable moments" that we can use as managers (and parents) to encourage and discourage certain behaviors within real life and real time context ... surely the best way to learn and form healthy habits.
    Danie Vermeulen
    Kaizen Institute (New Zealand & Australia)
    Reply to this
    1. 5/22/2011 4:37 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Good point, Danie. I've been considering using the term "coachable moments" when I'm talking about bosses and team members. Whatever you call it, though, you're right that if you keep on the lookout for it you spot opportunities to encourage, discourage, and correct. Thanks for coming by.

      Reply to this
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