Is it time to ditch Performance Reviews?

When it comes to Performance Reviews, I’ve had my share of ‘what the?’ moments.

Going into one review, I remember thinking I smashed everyone’s expectations, and when I say “everyone” I mean that on a Queen of England-scale - I was expecting a call. My newly appointed manager explained that the reason I wouldn’t be getting an ‘exceeds’ rating was because it’s simply in my nature to work hard. I wasn’t exceeding, I was just earnest. What the?

The following year I had another manager who challenged my comfort-zone daily – that was a big agile transformation year for me personally. Changing from a ‘Command & Control’ mindset to an ‘agile’ one was still a work-in-progress. My manager surprised me with an ‘exceeded expectations’ rating while I put myself into the ‘needs improvement’ category. Again, what the?

That just makes it sound like I’m bragging but stick with me, I promise I do have a point. You see, I’m not the only one with these stories! I was talking to a colleague one review season who bitterly shared that his manager had sung his praises all year only to give him a mere “meets expectations” rating. He was having his own "what the?" moment.

A Performance Review purist would argue that we’re just not doing them right. I would argue that we are doing them as best as anyone can. Every year People & Culture, L&D and Leadership teams across continents spend months updating the process, championing the process, pouring blood, sweat and tears into setting employees up for success.

No matter how hard they try though, these review “scorecards” still feel like a glorified adult report card. Whenever I got mine I had to fight the impulse to take it home to my parents and confess I only got a B in Innovation.

Performance Reviews render people powerless as we try to justify our employment – we may get to fill out a template from our perspective, but someone else determines our rating for those 12 months which then gets calibrated across the whole organisation where people you may not really know get to have a say. Someone else tells us if we have “met expectations” meanwhile I’m still confused as to whose expectations I was trying to meet.



The point that I promised you earlier is - all the tears and angst and stress that goes into Performance Reviews can be eliminated by a simple coaching framework. I know, you were expecting something new and shiny and innovative, right? I only got a B in Innovation, remember?

We don’t need a new and complicated process to replace Performance Reviews.  What we need, is to be brave and step outside of the system - to stop repeating the cycle year after year.  Can we break this Performance Review loop and allow ourselves to focus on what’s best for our people and our customers?  I’m yet to speak to a customer and have them ask me what my Performance Review rating was for the year because they would like to speak to someone who rated higher.

If an organisation develops and prioritises a positive coaching culture that:

-         Is aligned to the company Purpose, Vision and Values

-         Inspires and empowers individuals to love and lead their own learning

-         Fosters a safe and collaborative network of mentorship and peer-coaching

-         Champions respectful and open communication

then the Performance Review system becomes obsolete. The People & Culture team, instead of killing themselves over a thankless process that causes grievances and disengagement, can immerse themselves in more value-adding initiatives - like improving coaching capability across the organisation.

Instead of reviewing employees yearly, let’s empower them to seek out opportunities for self-reflection, self-development and growth throughout the year. Let’s build organisations that drive success without the need of a scorecard, organisations that deliver results by ensuring everyone seeks alignment across the business and bravely reset when there's not.

Let's make the system of work so worthy of our customers that they rate us as “exceeded expectations” and then we won’t have to.

Now I know, you may be thinking, "what about my bonus?' Which is a topic we'll tackle in a future post. I'm going for a "cliffhanger ending" approach... stay tuned!



Written by: Marta Garbarek

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