I am going to recommend that you read Samuel A. Culbert’s (with Lawrence Rout) new book “Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on What Really Matters.” You should know that I got my copy to review free of charge from the publisher. It’s a good book, not a great one, but it’s an important book because it is one of the few that makes a serious and impassioned case for abolishing the performance review.
I agree, performance reviews suck. Everyone involved – those that give them as well as those that receive them – dreads the process.
How could something so obviously destructive, so universally despised, continue to plague our workplaces? In part, it’s because the performance review is all executives have ever known, and they’re blind to the damage caused by it. In part, it’s because few managers are aware of the addiction to the fear that reviews create amongst staff, and too many lack the confidence that they can lead without that fear. In part it’s because HR professionals exploit the performance review to provide them a power base they don’t deserve. And it part it’s because few people know an alternative for getting the control, accountability, and employee development that reviews supposedly produce – but never do. (pp. 1-2).
The efficacy of the performance review is based on a number of false assumptions, almost all of which Culbert addresses in his book. The biggest false assumption is that the honest, accurate, and helpful subjective assessment of performance can take place in relationships where the boss has all the power and the employee has none. This mirage of efficacious subjectivity is most notable when the boss has an implicit or explicit numerical distribution to meet (e.g. make the average rating 7 on a scale of 10, only 10% can be rated excellent) that is something they in-turn are rated on, and when the performance evaluation is linked to pay actions.
As much as I concur with the premise of the book, I have to tell you honestly that I really don’t care for the authors’ writing style. I’ve read one other book by Culbert and I didn’t like that one either (although I agreed with the premise of the book). I love sarcasm, but Culbert is in my opinion overly sarcastic in his style. He is very hard on HR in the book, and everything he says is true and the criticism is in my opinion merited. My concern is that his sarcastic and overly wordy style will be a distraction that will allow folks to miss or dismiss his very valid message.
The other big shortcoming of the book is the description of the performance preview, which the authors’ suggest is the remedy for the performance review. The performance preview is:
An ongoing dialogue between boss and subordinate, where each of them is responsible for asking the other: What can I do to make us work together better and get the results we’re both on the hook for? The focus isn’t on the past and how one person screwed up, but on making the system work better in the future. (p. 147).
I love that, but I wish he could have provided more solid examples of companies that have abolished performance reviews and replaced them with the performance preview or some other credible process. I think a lot of people will read the book and dismiss it feeling they still don’t have a better alternative.
In the end, the authors nail the issue for me when they state:
Keep in mind that improvement is each individual’s own responsibility. Only you can make yourself better. The best you can do for others is to develop a trusting and safe environment where employees can ask for feedback and help when they see the need and feel sufficiently valued to take it. Getting rid of the performance review is a necessary, and affirming, step in that direction. It provides employees with a relationship where confiding need, admitting mistakes, and asking for help, coaching, and guidance is increasingly likely. And it provides bosses a practical motive to share impressions and to help out (p. 215).
Read the book with an open mind and decide for yourself.