Are We Throwing Performance Reviews Out with the Bathwater?

Review WEBThey are dreaded, awkward, often biased, and described as a necessary evil. Indeed, many companies, such as Adobe, Deloitte, and GAP have stopped giving performance reviews. Is it working? According to a new study by CEB (now Gartner) maybe not. The study posits that performance went down in companies not using performance reviews. Brian Kropp with CEB suggests that there are not too many managers who can provide good reviews without some type of rating system. With apologies to cognitive psychologists out there, perhaps this is a cognitive function. In other words, from the managers point of view, how are we to rate someone at any level without something to rate them by? Then from the employee’s point of view, how do I really know where I stand without a scale to measure myself against? Except for the Picasso’s in the world, the human mind probably doesn’t think as well in the abstract. A good question to ask is, “Have the ratings really disappeared?”

I’m glad you asked. According to an article in HBR “The reality is, even when companies get rid of performance evaluations, ratings still exist. Employees just can’t see them. Ratings are done subjectively, behind the scenes, and without input from the people being evaluated.” So much for transparency. It isn’t necessary to throw reviews out with the bath water, but perhaps modification is called for with this debate over reviews. Moreover, it’s never just one thing that leads to successful employee performance processes.

  • Continuous: It is important to provide continuous evaluation. A study by Gallup suggests that this leads to better employee engagement. In fact, 7 Geese provides some excellent templates to guide you through weekly, monthly, and quarterly questioning techniques to get the answers you need.
  • Guidelines: Use your strategic and business plans as guidelines. Refer to them frequently to ensure that your team is on track to achieve organizational goals. In addition, don’t neglect to address their own development and career goals.
  • Customization: Remember that each member of your team is different and requires different management techniques. Good managers get to know their employees. A quick way to do this is through assessments at hire. Assessments provide managers with input directly from the employee, provide a place to begin conversations, coaching, and goal setting to match each team member’s skills, talents, and attributes. Assessments are great time saving tools. They help reduce biases. At Facebook, managers’ names are taken off reviews and then other managers review them for bias. Further, assessments can jump start any team member’s productivity and build their development.
  • Self-Reviews: Some managers find it helpful to have the employee also complete a review for themselves at the more formal review times such as quarterly, semi-annually, and annually. This helps the employee to have a voice and helps the manager to determine if the employee and the manager are on the same page to move forward. It is almost impossible for the manager to keep track of every kudo or disappointment for team members and this idea helps force the employee to have some accountability in that regard.
  • Ratings: If you are going to use ratings, don’t hide them. Many feel ratings are clearer and if every precaution for fairness has been taken, there should be no issue with them.

According to the HBR article, neuroscientists state that “highly anxious” people have a more intense reaction to the uncertainty, i.e. no ratings, than receiving a negative rating. Neuroscience also tells us that our brains are flexible and that we can adapt to how we react to a negative rating. In addition, helping employees with lower ratings to set goals that are challenging tells you and the employee if they really want to achieve the higher performance levels that your organization demands.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you would like to have a discussion around employee behaviors and development, call 404-320-7834, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with “Let’s Chat” in the subject line, or visit

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