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Just Cracks in a Castle of Glass

Optimize Blog - November 23, 2015 - 0 comments

As we approach the end of the year we are faced with the dreaded performance reviews. Now, if you only do them once per year then the task can be rather intimidating. For the more progressive amongst you that complete quarterly reviews the task is not quite as onerous as you have already had conversations about three quarters of the year. Anyway, for the majority of companies the primary way that employee effectiveness is judged is still by way of the performance review.
In our years of delivering and receiving such reviews, we’ve learned that they are often subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to the overall results of the organization. They can be an intimidating tool that make employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations.
Performance reviews often fail and undermine the purpose of the organization by getting employees to focus on pleasing the boss, rather than on achieving desired results. We would go on to say that in our experience there is no convincing evidence that performance reviews are fair, accurate or consistent across managers, or that they improve organizational effectiveness.
Think about it. Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers. Now, maybe your boss is all-knowing or maybe you even consider yourself all-knowing. But we’ve never seen one that was. In a self-interested world, where imperfect people are judging other imperfect people, anybody reviewing somebody else’s performance is subjective.
Under such a system, in which one’s livelihood can be destroyed by a self-serving leader, what employee would ever speak his or her mind? What employee would ever say that the boss is wrong, and offer an idea on how something might get done better? How many leaders even actually ask for feedback on their own performance during the review period……?
Now we do support the appropriate use of performance reviews when they are conducted properly – our concern is generally with the ‘how’ not the ‘what’ and so we suggest that we should focus on how they are conducted to at least give us a chance to succeed.
Instead of top-down reviews, both leader and those being led should be held accountable for jointly setting goals and achieving results. No longer should only the employee be held accountable for the often arbitrary metrics that the leader creates. Instead, leaders must be taught how to truly lead and learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their people to get the results the organization is counting on.
We should seek to provide performance evaluations with a system that emphasizes goal-setting and continuous improvement. This encourages leaders to act as coaches and mentors. Generally employees are eager for such collaboration.
In reality the people actually doing the revenue generating work are almost always better at coming up with metrics that lead to company-wide gains than bosses alone are. The key to system-wide success (as opposed to individual success) is still employees working together under the leadership of good managers.
Of course, not every employee will seize the opportunity to collaborate with managers and figure out ways to improve overall results. If they don’t, there should be ways to get rid of them.
But understand that a badly conducted performance review makes it nearly impossible to have the kind of trusting relationships in the workplace that makes improvement possible. With a top-down, bottom-up approach employees have the opportunity to make a valid contribution to their and the team’s success.
As leaders I don’t think that we can ask for more than that……….

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