How Performance Reviews Brand the Reviewer

It’s a draw. All the arguments about performance reviews are correct. The process can be fair or unfair, useful or a sham, legitimate or bogus.

It all comes down to us—the reviewers.  

Do you care? 

For many supervisors, it’s about the paper, not the process. We whine about writing comments, deciding on ratings, and holding those dreaded employee review meetings.

We forget that performance reviews are about feedback. The process is supposed to be a way to help employees do their best.

Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles raises serious points about performance reviews in his NY Times article, “Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You:”

“In my years studying such reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how ‘comfortable’ a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations.”

He adds: “Think about it. Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers.” And, of course, s/he doesn’t.

It takes two….

We often forget that job performance is a partnership. Supervisors and employees need to work together so that right effort generates desired results.

This only happens when the supervisor is clear about what each employee needs to do to achieve stated goals. There needs to be a conversation about this—a face-to-face dialogue so employees understand what they need to do to help the cause.

That means supervisors need to be evaluated on how well their employees perform. Why? Because the supervisor is supposed to provide direction, support, and encouragement so that their employees can succeed.

Culbert proposes “the performance preview” where “both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results.” This way, he adds, “…bosses…learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their subordinates….”

Too many supervisors don’t (or can’t) write measurable/observable goals, engage with employees, or collaborate with their teams. That makes the supervisor culpable when employee performance falls short.

Face yourself.

If you asked your employees, what kind of performance reviewer you are, would they say, you:

  • Just go through the motions
  • Are biased
  • Don’t really know what they do
  • Have no basis for evaluating them
  • Are objective and goals-focused
  • Care about their success
  • See your own performance reflected in them

Their answers brand you.

Horror and hurrah stories 

You don’t have to be in the workforce too long to experience the upside and downside of performance review. Here are examples of mine:

Horror: As a high school teacher, my supervisor was expected to observe me in the classroom at least annually. One year he chose a day when I was giving a full-period test. He sat in the back of the room, watched me pass out the test, give instructions, monitor the students, and collect their papers. My rating—Outstanding (My reaction—disgust)

Hurrah: As a corporate manager, I worked for a VP who knew the drill. Annually, he laid out his department goals, requiring each manager to do the same for his/her work group. I met with the VP to discuss and finalize my goals.

At quarterly status reviews, we’d discuss which goals were in good shape and which ones were at risk, framing recovery strategies that made the best use of remaining time and resources.

Each year there were never any surprises during my formal performance review.

(I  was expected to (and did) follow the same process with the employees who reported to me.)

Earn a positive employee rating. 

There’s no hiding the truth from your employees. They decide about the kind of person and supervisor you are by the way you review them, more than the rating itself. A strong team starts with a supervisor who’s part of it. Let that be you.

Photo from Robert Higgins via Flickr