I’ve been pretty clear that I think performance reviews — as we have them built now — are a terrible idea. Everyone hates them with the passion of a thousand suns, and they add almost zero value to the organization, particularly from a proactive standpoint. (I understand they are sometimes used as a defense / covering one’s ass / paper trail. While this does add value in a twisted kind of way, it’s just not very noble.)

The goal here isn’t to destroy a touchpoint, however. We don’t want to leave a performance review shaped-hole.

That time can be made very useful… if we reclaim that space.

First, we must get rid of the weakness-focused mentality that drives reviews now. Then, we can repurpose that conversation time and expand it into something that is proactive, adds real value, and — gasp! — can be an enjoyable experience for both sides.

To that end, here are two suggestions to start making your review process better:

First, switch the direction.

Instead of being the one evaluating, let your organization evaluate you.

This is called measuring engagement, and it’s one of the most important things an organization can do. (By the way, my partners and I have a great way to measure this; please get in touch if we can help you.)

Most of the way we work isn’t taught, it’s caught. Model the behavior that’s desired, and it will trickle down. (For more on this point and why it’s so essential, please check out a great post from Bruce Johnson.)

Second, pretend you’re a coach.

Imagine you are coaching a basketball team. On the first day, you come in to welcome the players. You then let them go about their business (practicing, or whatever it is teams do) and check back in a year later to give them their performance review — being sure to inform them of all the things they’ve been doing wrong the whole time.

Terrible idea, right?

Do I really need to explain the analogy here?

It would be ludicrous to coach this way. Why do we think this method would create great performance in our organizations?

Engagement is about creating space for regular conversations — they don’t necessarily need to be long, drawn-out, epic talks. Just ways to check in. After a play, during a play, tips, tricks, constant feedback, continual improvement.

If you are a coach, not a “manager,” it’s the most natural behavior in the world.


One Reply to “A Performance Review-Shaped Hole”

  1. Marc Luber says:

    Josh – this is great! The way performance reviews are handled by most of corporate America is ridiculous…and that’s the nicest word I can choose. Your basketball coach analogy is spot on! The lack of communication between employees and their supervisors tends to be through the roof. As a recruiter, when I called on a potential candidate and they expressed dissatisfaction with their current workplace, so often it was a result of poor communication and not knowing where they stood within their own organization. I’ve seen this myself when I’ve worked for others. Unless you force it as an employee, it’s pretty common to have to wait an entire year to hear any feedback…and it comes in some nonsensical corporate format. So I always urged my potential candidates to change this from the bottom up by requesting a sit-down with their supervisors to get communication flowing properly. Learn what you’re doing well, what you can do better, how to do it better and how to keep communication channels open. I always advised that if supervisors refused to have these discussions and said to wait for the annual review, then it’s probably a good idea to search for a workplace where growth is more likely…and I would then help introduce them to my other clients. Employees shouldn’t have to force this change from the bottom up…and if companies would pay attention to your basketball coaching analogy, they could build stronger organizations and save themselves the money it takes to replace employees who bail on their own or get poached by smart recruiters.

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