So it's time to kill the performance review. Again.
The latest charge is led by Samuel Culbert, author (along with Lawrence Rout) of Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing and Focus on What Really Matters. Professor Culbert summarizes his thoughts in the Wall Street Journal article Get Rid of the Performance Review that preceded publication of his book and also in the more recent Journal article Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews.
His primary point as I see it: That performance reviews, "one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities" should be "replaced by a straight talking relationship where the focus is on results, not personality."
He isn't the first to come out against the formal appraisal process and in praise of replacing it with regular coaching and feedback (although he does strike me as perhaps notable in the sheer amount of vitriol he hurls). And it's difficult - on some level - to completely disagree with him or with those who came before him preaching along the same lines. No performance development or improvement is going to come out of the kind of once-at-the-end-of-the-year, back door "gotcha" assessment that he describes and that, for sure, some organizations and managers are guilty of.
(Funny though, my experience would suggest that most of our problems lie at the other extreme, in a tendency to whitewash performance conversations in an effort to avoid anything difficult, let alone insidious. But that aside...)
Any employee I've ever interviewed who had good things to say about a performance management process talked about a direct manager who was committed to (and skilled at) daily, two-way dialogue about how things were going. So I am inclined to agree that regular coaching and feedback is undeniably the best approach to managing employee performance. But ... is it sufficient?
My experience, particularly what I've learned from working with organizations who have tossed out traditional performance reviews in favor of regular performance conversations, would say it is not.
In a world populated with human beings, lawyers and business competitors, regular performance conversations need to be accompanied by three things:
Structure. Without the timeframes and discipline imposed by a regular process and performance calendar, performance conversations have a tendency to drop off the radar screen when managers get harried and overloaded. Which is often.
Documentation. Like it or not, performance conversations, particularly ones dealing with performance issues or challenges, must be documented. Yes, of course it is a CYA activity, but that is the nature of the environment that our organizations are operating in.
Conclusions. I've talked before about performance processes with no final rating or assessment ("rating-less systems"). In a world where more and more decisions (base salary and incentive awards, for starters) are being linked to individual performance, somebody somewhere needs to pass judgment on how well an employee has lived up to his or her job expectations. Pretending otherwise strikes me as disingenuous.
By the time you wrap these arguably necessary things around your regular performance conversations, you uinvariably end up with something that bears strong resemblance to a performance management program (aka the root of all corporate evil).
A good friend of mine likes to describe performance management as a necessary but unsolvable problem. I have to say that there are days I feel the same way.
What do you say? Where am I wrong here - what have I missed?
Ann Bares is the Editor of Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force and Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting services to a wide range of client organizations. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School and enjoys reading in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.