More Frequent Performance Reviews? Please, You Better Shoot Me Now

I’ve never been much of a fan for the performance review process

I’m with people like Dr. John Sullivan, who says that it is the one HR process that “everyone universally hates — employees hate it … managers hate doing it … and HR hates processing (them).” He feels that the problem is that reviews focus almost entirely on employee traits and not really on performance.

Or, there’s UCLA business professor Sam Culbert, who says about reviews that, “First, they’re dishonest and fraudulent. And second, they’re just plain bad management.”

Younger workers want instant feedback

And there’s a lesser expert who declared, “I am not a fan of the annual review process, mainly because of the focus on the ‘process.’ The discussion with the employee isn’t the problem, but rather, what you must go through to get to that stage — the inflexible forms, the manual process, and the lack of a good follow-up system that makes the evaluation truly meaningful.”

Ok, so that last one was me a few years back, when I was toiling somewhere else, but my sentiment now is the same as my sentiment was back then. That’s why this story in The Wall Street Journal hit me with the proverbial WTF when I read it:

The status-update era is changing the annual performance review.

With many younger workers used to instant feedback — from text messages to Facebook and Twitter updates — annual reviews seem too few and far between. So companies are adopting quarterly, weekly or even daily feedback sessions.

Not surprisingly, Facebook Inc. exemplifies the trend. The social network’s 2,000 employees are encouraged to solicit and give small nuggets of feedback regularly, after meetings, presentations and projects. “You don’t have to schedule time with someone. It’s a 45-second conversation — ‘How did that go? What could be done better?” says Lori Goler, the Palo Alto, Calif., social-networking company’s vice president of human resources. More formal reviews happen twice a year.”

OK, I get the 45-second debriefing session, but how does that qualify as performance feedback rather than the regular daily office back and forth you have with all employees?

Are more regular reviews really the answer?

The Journal story goes on to discuss the problems inherent in the typical annual or semi-annual performance review — that “the traditional once-a-year review is so flooded with information, appraising past performance, setting future goals, discussing pay, that workers have trouble absorbing it all — and then makes a case for more regular reviews.

When Grasshopper LLC, was founded in 2003, the company conducted annual reviews. “We very quickly realized that it was impossible and foolish to sum up an entire year of someone’s work in one meeting,” says David Hauser, Grasshopper’s co-founder and chief technology officer. The Needham, Mass., company, which provides virtual phone systems, then moved to quarterly reviews, but found that employees would spend anywhere from four to eight hours at the end of each quarter preparing and writing their reviews, which seemed like a waste of time.

Now, every two weeks, managers and employees of the 50-person company meet one-on-one for 30 to 40 minutes to discuss issues big (“I want new job responsibilities”) or small (“Can I move my desk?”). They also discuss performance during the previous two weeks and set goals for the next period…

The downside is that the biweekly meetings are time-intensive for managers, but Mr. Hauser says that being in regular communication with reports is part of a manager’s job.”

Well, he’s right that “being in regular communication” with employee’s is part of a manager’s job, but formal bi-weekly performance review meetings? When does anyone doing that get any other work done?

I’m all for more feedback, and I welcome any and all attempts to make the broken and decaying performance review process better. But is the answer really to have more time in formal meetings (meetings that take a good deal of time to prepare for) yakking back and forth?

Automated performance systems are the REAL answer

I still think that automated performance management systems are the ultimate answer because they allow managers to give feedback to their workers every day but in small doses that can be easily tracked and memorialized by the automated system.

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Yes, I still think those systems are the solution, but far too many companies are unwilling to invest in them, especially given the uncertainties we’rer all struggling with in this economy.

Even The Journal story makes note of this, saying, “New software programs are also making it easier for workers and their managers to share instant praise and criticism,” but they only give automating performance management a couple of paragraphs when talking about improving performance management.

It’s worth more than that, I think, and automation is far preferable than bi-weekly performance reviews that take a bad process and just make it more frequent and time consuming.

In fact, I don’t buy the notion that more frequent formal reviews will do anything other than make everyone in the workforce even crazier about performance management than they are already. And if that’s the way we’re going, please, shoot be now because it will drive me nuts if you don’t.

Employee feedback is something that we all need to do more of, but we need to automate it, not simply take old systems and crank them along more often.

I long for a better solution than we have right now, but what The Wall Street Journal is touting isn’t it.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.