For the past few years, employers have been ditching annual performance reviews for alternative approaches—more frequent appraisals, informal one-on-one discussions, and performance coaching, to name a few.
The list of reasons behind this exodus is as long as your arm: annual reviews happen too infrequently to be of any real help; they’re based on opinions, not data; too often they’re a one-way conversation; they fail to address long-term employee development; they’re too closely tied to salary. And so on.
Normally, employers take the blame for the shortcomings of annual reviews. Take Victor Lipman’s 2015 Forbes article, for instance, in which he writes, “The real problem isn’t the annual employee review itself. It’s management. It’s the way annual reviews are all too often administered.” Dozens of other articles make the same case.
I believe there’s a lot of truth to Lipman’s argument. But another Forbes piece, this one by performance strategist Laura Garnett, reminded me that employers and front-line managers aren’t the only ones culpable for the quality of performance reviews. As Garnett puts it, “The individual needs to take ownership of their own performance. One of the biggest myths of managing performance and one’s career is the idea that we must look to others and outsource performance management.”
Employees Need an Internal Guidance System
Garnett states there are five principles that guide great performance: mindset, perceived impact, challenge, effort, and enjoyment. These five principles are “a distillation of all the latest psychological and social science research on what creates peak performance.” And it’s the employee who must continually track these performance keys.
“You need to be conscious of your confidence, your impact, and if you are challenged or bored—and why,” writes Garnett. “Nobody can do that for you. We have been taught to be told what to do, which is why there are so many people who are not truly engaged in their work. We need a revolution, and that starts with individuals learning the habit of managing their own performance.”
She’s dead right. Individuals should continually monitor and assess their own performance—in other words, hold ongoing self-guided performance reviews. This would be a tremendous boon, not only to their performance but to their career planning and advancement as well.
Clearly, employees can’t “learn this habit” on their own. They need to be trained to assess and manage their own performance. And where will this training come from? You guessed it—their employers.
The indisputable truth of performance reviews (regardless of form or frequency) is that employers and employees share responsibility for the review’s ultimate quality and value. A performance review revolution simply can’t happen without commitment from both parties.
One small postscript from a 2017 Bloomberg article: the shift from annual reviews to more frequent ones hasn’t been a cure-all. “More feedback in smaller doses can still be time-consuming, and employees don’t always find evaluations fair. And companies that ditched numerical ratings have seen declines in worker performance.”
In short, the search for the perfect performance review, unsurprisingly, continues.