Performance Reviews

December 20, 2010


There was an article in yesterday’s NY Times about the pitfalls of personal performance reviews written by Samuel Culbert. The article argues that performance reviews are unnecessary and, in fact Culbert wants them “put out of their misery”.

I have a few issues with Culbert’s message he is sending. While he does raise a few good points my concern is that his ultimate position is flawed.

I have always been a proponent of providing and receiving performance feedback. I like to know where I stand and believe the people that work for me also do. For me the difference has always been the meaning of a formal review and its role in an ongoing feedback process. Performance reviews are nothing more than a formalized summary of performance. They should not be a surprise or the opportunity to finally have the time to give or receive feedback. Feedback should be given as reasonably close to the event, result, situation, or behavior that generated it. This doesn’t necessarily mean “in the moment” or in front of everyone but, instead, when it makes sense. It could be that moment, the next day, or a few days later. It doesn’t mean to wait 3 months to tell an employee that their constant negative attitude around their team is impacting their performance.

What formal reviews do is to force a summary and conciseness around how the individual aspects of feedback formulated into a better sense of overall performance. This is both powerful and necessary.

Performance feedback is also a multi-level process. It provides the conduit to communicate performance to an employee and for that employee to communicate back things they like, don’t, and the things they would like to see changed and how. Feedback after all is given for a reason. It is used to help a person, unit, division or a company do better. To identify and communicate behaviors, action and results that should either continue or change. Lastly people want to know where they stand. Ongoing feedback is essential to impact the business real time and the “Performance Review” will put the individual data points of feedback over time into a more precise assessment.

Things do change. Putting goals and expectations in place for 3, 6 or 12 months is tough knowing that in most likelihood the needs of the business and expectations in certain areas for people will change.

Why should I have a formal review process if part of what I am reviewing either has changed or should have?

Are businesses today too dynamic to have a disciplined “review” process?

Why do I need to review what has happened?

Isn’t time better spent “previewing” what needs to happen instead of reviewing what has already occurred?

As leaders we need to balance the importance of objectives that should not change against the dynamics of the business that does. As leaders we need to introduce changes in expectations that are aligned to changes in the business. As leaders we need to introduce these changes in meaningful and actionable ways defined appropriately for each level of the business. As leaders we need to defend the core values of our companies –  the things that should never change no matter what changes in the business. Values that we must assess in each performance review as the foundation for results – good and bad.

As leaders we must use performance reviews for no more or less than what they are intended to do – that is to provide a summary of what should be known in a way that impresses upon the individual the appropriate balance of results and the best behaviors to achieve them.

Using formal performance reviews as part of a larger leadership process will provide clarity to all and assure alignment in business objectives.

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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