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Cussing in the Workplace - World Series Edition

Kill the Performance Review - But Only If Every Manager You Have Can Coach...

Every once in a while, you get a swarm of articles that says the annual performance review should die a horrible death.  The latest in the line of these rants comes from Samuel Culbert of the UCLA School of Management.

The intro to Culberts' manifesto as recorded by the Wall Street Journal:

"You can call me "dense," you can call me "iconoclastic," but I see nothing constructive about an annual pay and performance review. It's a mainstream practice that has baffled me for years.

To my way of thinking, a one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense. It's a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work. Even the mere knowledge that such an event will take place damages daily communications and teamwork.

The alleged primary purpose of performance reviews is to enlighten subordinates about what they should be doing better or differently. But I see the primary purpose quite differently. I see it as intimidation aimed at preserving the boss's authority and power advantage. Such intimidation is unnecessary, though: The boss has the power with or without the performance review.

And yes, I have an alternative in mind that will get people and corporations a great deal more of what they actually need.

To make my case, I offer seven reasons why I find performance reviews ill-advised and bogus."

Click here to see the 7 reasons Culbert cites.  It's a good list, but it misses one very important point.  You can keep the annual review, tie it to a merit increase, etc., if your managers can do one very important thing - coach talent on a daily basis. 

No coaching skills?  Then the first time the employee gets feedback on adjustments/improvements to make IS the annual review, which nets all the problems that Culbert outlines.

I think effective performance management that places a premium on coaching skills is key to maximizing engagement. Where are you going to be more engaged as an employee - in a relationship with a manager who positively affirms what you are doing well and brainstorms with you how you can maximize yourself and your career, or with a manager who only engages you on your performance on an annual basis? I've had both in my career, and I think the answer is pretty clear.

The problem that all the folks who make the easy claim that we should kill the performance review don't acknowledge?  It's a bloodbath out there in terms of coaching skills, for new and experienced managers of people alike.  Most managers aren't good coaches - they avoid the conversations (both positive and corrective in nature) that they should have daily.  Too much confrontation, too messy, I've got other stuff to do, blah, blah, blah. 

So, it's great to call for an end to the performance review.  Make sure you put your money and time where your mouth is, and be involved in providing the training and CONTINUOUS feedback to managers on their coaching skills. 

What's that?  You don't have time?  Guess what Tony Robbins - you can't kill the performance review then, because your words are empty and not backed by action.  Call me when you're ready to do something to improve the situation.

While I'm on a rant, I'll throw some props to Jessica Lee at FOT and agree with her - can I get some opinions from people who are actually responsible for the performance review process?  It's OK if you aren't. Opinions are like home improvement shows - everyone's got one.

By the way, when I had the guy/gal who only gave me feedback once a year, they looked about as happy as Culbert does in the video below. (email subscribers click through for the video)



If I had a performance review with this guy I would be scared and intimidated as well....maybe it is just his experience? He doesn't seem like the coaching type to me.

Jessica Lee

go KD! thanks for the shout out. by the way... you went for sharing the video. lol. i was tempted but then i just felt bad. i riffed on the gentleman enough... why expose the absurdity even further? i'm honestly surprised WSJ posted that with the article.


I really believe that the area of greatest impact I can make as an HR professional in my organization is with supervisors. This is not rocket science but it is not easy. I live and breathe it every day and think, read, inquire about it A LOT and yet I feel that I have more to learn about performance management and how to better coach and develop my staff. I have tools availaible to me yet I kinda-of-sort-of dread the motions of a performance review. I am personally committed to doing this differently so let's keep the conversation going.

Chris Young

Aaah, the annual cry from the death of the performance review... The new year must be closer than I realized!

You make some excellent points in your post Kris - the only way these cries for the abolishment of the performance review could ever be successful is if every manager was a skilled coach and talent developer.

This is something I think we are all too aware is far from being a reality.

I shared your post with my readers in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks of the week which can be found here:

Be well!

Chuck Allen

Yes. Lots of rants about performance reviews lately. But as you say, any expectation that every or most managers can coach is unrealistic as is the expectation that every employee is coachable.

There also is an incredible amount of hype around E2.0 - I don't want to completely drink the Kool-aid, but I do wonder if simple improvements in the visibility of what people are doing (everything from the informal - twitter to the formal objectives management stuff) and increased visibility of various dimensions of individual and organizational results will ultimately have more impact than either re-inventing review processes or new attempts to make everyone a coach or coachable.

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