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Mar 23, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

The March HR Roundtable in Cincinnati sought to take a look at a topic that is highly polarizing right now – Performance Reviews.

The difference in this discussion was that we chose to look at three approaches to them – Yes, No or Maybe.

It just made sense to split the small group questions into these aspects.

  1. Why are you for performance reviews? [Yes]
  2. Why are you against performance reviews? [No]
  3. Is there a middle ground between the two? [Maybe]

Steve asked the groups to stay balanced and fully consider all three approaches. The groups took this challenge on and they were wonderful. Their answers were amazing!

Why are you for performance reviews?

  • They’re a tool for recognition —  This is incredibly utopian, but it was great to hear. If people used performance reviews to recognize the work that people did, then there wouldn’t even be a need to discuss this topic. It is a refreshing to have such a positive outlook, and it would be great if this was the foundation and purpose of reviews
  • They are a tool for positive/negative feedback — This was probably the primary reason that performance reviews were created. It is a vehicle to give feedback. The percentage of positive vs. negative feedback will be discussed later, but most felt that they are more negatively based in how they are conducted currently.
  • They can align you to the organization — This perspective assumed that reviews were tied to the strategic direction of the company as well as a review of individual performance. This would take an intentional structuring of the performance review system, but it is a positive approach.
  • They ensure communication is happening between a manager and staff — This isn’t quantifying if this communication is constructive or not, but reviews do provide a forum where communication can occur between managers and staff. Communication is often noted as something that could always improve. So, having a format to do that could enhance how people perform if there is more clarity between management and team members.
  • It’s a chance to review measurables — Reviews should have results and accomplishments that occurred over the time period of the review. It’s a great chance to see how those either reached, missed or excelled for goals. The key is to have results that were agreed upon between managers and staff.
  • It can be a plan for success — Again, a very positive look and something that could move reviews forward for people and organizations. If reviews have a plan for success, and not just annual goals, they would take a leap forward. This would be  a welcome change!

Why are you against performance reviews?

  • People feel they have to defend themselves during a review — Before you jump to conclusions, this is in regards to both employees and the company. Each side takes a stance going into reviews and then much of the time where discussions could occur, people posture instead. When people have to enter a look at their performance defensively, it’s not going to be productive.
  • Feedback is not ongoing — Companies tend to save feedback and cram it all into the review cycle. Once the review is completed, meaningful feedback doesn’t occur naturally until the next review. Having a lack of ongoing feedback adversely affects the performance of staff and managers.
  • The focus is negative more often than positive — The majority of reviews focus on what’s missing versus what’s accomplished. So many conversations put both parties in a difficult position because the focus is negative even if it’s meant to be positive. The key is how the discussion and evaluation is positioned before discussions occur.
  • The system overrides the purpose — The lays squarely at the feet of HR. We tend to make sure that reviews “get done” in order to have closure or an illusion of compliance. People become bitter because they aren’t asked to participate; they’re expected to get all of the forms filled out and the boxes checked. It is so unfortunate that HR has chosen to put more emphasis on systems instead of the people that should benefit from the reviews.
  • Reviews don’t look forward — This was very telling and an emotional hot point of the day. It’s intriguing that people haven’t brought this up before. It’s called a review, but we rely on people to remember what happened over a 12 month period when we can’t remember what we had for dinner last weekend! This has always been a gap that has never been addressed. Maybe it should be.
  • There’s a “documentation bias” — This is very similar to the need for the completion of reviews as a focus. People in organizations have heard from HR that they MUST have documentation on every employee for every situation. At the risk of being contrary, this just isn’t true. If the only reason you have reviews is to keep records on people, then you should get rid of them for that reason alone.

Is there a middle ground between the two?

  • Yes, if there’s context — Educating people as to the purpose of your review system just isn’t done. Companies just have them. If HR would give people more context, then employees and managers may adopt how you’re going to use reviews.
  • Yes, if you have “progress” reviews and not “performance” reviews — To combat the fact that currently reviews look to the past, have a process that looks forward. You can still set goals, benchmarks and measurements. However, now you’re looking forward to see how, and if, these are being accomplished.
  • Yes, if you change to development — We need to get out of the “report card” mentality of performance reviews. Employees do want to know how they’re doing, but they want to have that feedback on a timely and on-going basis. By positioning yourself to develop others, you start moving towards looking as people as talent and not just employees.

This discussion could have gone on for hours and we only touched the tip of this topic, and I’m sure we’ll be visiting it again. Having a discussion around this will only help us step back and reflect as to what decision makes the most sense for our organizations.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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