Performance Appraisals: Why They’re Mostly a Waste of Time and Effort

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sullivan has been a provocateur and strategist in the field of human resources and talent management for over 30 years. His specialty is HR strategy and designing world class HR systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms, and he’s never been shy about telling it like it is.

That’s why TLNT asked him to share his thinking in a video series titled “$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” Look for these videos twice a week here at TLNT.

Today’s topic: The problem with performance reviews

One of the topics that always seems to come up when people ask about how to improve HR, Dr. John Sullivan says, is performance appraisals.

And he adds, in his many discussions with executives, managers, and business leaders around the world, it is the one HR process that “everyone universally hates — employees hate it … managers hate doing it … and HR hates processing (them).”

The problem is that most performance appraisals focus on the employee’s traits — attendance, attitude, judgment — and not their performance. As a manager, you need to get away from reviewing these traits and instead focus on what Dr. John calls “performance counting, which is ‘how much money did you make me?’ or ‘how many of your goals did you meet?’ … so you (end up) measuring the output.”

This let’s workers check their own improvement, he says, and not have to wait an entire year to get a fix on how they are doing on the job.

Article Continues Below

Another problem: no one in HR ever checks to see if performance reviews are accurate — all they check is of they are turned in on time. Plus, Dr. John points to an example of a company that took a hard look at their performance review process and found that over a two year period, not a single performer with a “3” was able to get to a “1,” or top performer status, out of 1,000 employees measured. “We’re not even sure if performance appraisals … or performance management, even works,” he says.

In fact, he says that performance reviews are one of the worst processes that companies engage in because they don’t use them properly to get rid of poor performers. Yes, feedback is good, but performance appraisals are more about filling out forms and turning them in on time, he points out, rather than using them to truly measure how well workers are doing on the job.

Did you miss the last segment of$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” on “How Should We Deal With the Growing Employee Retention Problem?” You can see it here.

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.