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Author: Dump Performance Reviews

In Get Rid of The Performance Review (Business Plus; April 14), UCLA professor Samuel Culbert argues that performance reviews pit employees against one another, undermine relationships between bosses and subordinates, reward personality over performance – and decimate the bottom line. We asked him Five Questions.

1) Performance reviews have been around forever, or have they? When did companies start doing them and why?

Performance reviews have been around since the post–World War II era when everybody became enamored of “management by objectives” — setting department goals and then setting the individual employee goals that supposedly were needed to meet the department goals.

It was all very simple: On day one, a subordinate sat down with his or her manager to review work priorities and to decide what goals, results, timetables, and metrics to shoot for over a period of time, usually one year.

Here’s how many phone calls you must make, how many calls must be converted into meetings, how many meetings into sales. With tangible results agreed to, a person’s performance could supposedly be objectively assessed.

2) When and why, in your opinion, did these reviews take a bad turn?

Let’s see. I’d say…from day one. They were always ridiculous. The idea that you could measure an employee against pre-established metrics – that often had nothing to do with whether the employee was really helping the company or new circumstances that arose – was absurd.

But as more and more companies institutionalized the reviews, using more irrelevant metrics, they got increasingly more harmful. It allowed the boss not to manage, not to figure out how to work best with each employee to meet the goals of the company. Instead, it became all about the boss finding weaknesses and telling the employee what he or she was doing wrong. As if the boss had the vaguest notion.

3) You propose an alternative called the Performance Preview. What is that?

The performance preview replaces the one-side accountable, boss dominated performance review with a two-sided accountable conversation. Instead of a boss saying, “here’s what’s wrong with you, now fix it,” the boss says, “tell me what you need from me so that together we can give the company what it needs.” Instead of a monologue it becomes a conversation, where both the boss and subordinate are on the hook for achieving corporate results.

4) How would I go about persuading my company to adopt PP?

Well, have them read my book. If they do that, they’ll see just how much havoc the performance review wreaks on the company. But at the least, I hope this book sparks a conversation within companies. Too many bosses and subordinates do performance reviews simply because it’s all they’ve ever known. They have no alternative. Now they do.

5) What if management says no to PP? What alternate steps can any employee take to ensure that their performance reviews are more palatable for both managers and employees?

Sadly, I don’t think there is any way to make performance reviews palatable, or any way to make them do less damage. Some people say the problem isn’t with performance reviews but with the reviewers. If only they did it well, they say! Sorry, but that doesn’t fly.

A house built on a flimsy foundation is going to fall apart, no matter how beautiful it is. Performance reviews are a flimsy foundation.

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