Performance Reviews: Like Bad High School Movies: #TChat Recap

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It’s like a bad high school movie — where one clique picks on another less popular clique. But in this movie, it’s not the popular kids who taunt the geeky ones. No, in this movie the still popular kids are traditional Annual Performance Reviews and the geeky aberrations are the pundits pushing to change the system. But like the perennial popular kids of lore, these not-so-bright knuckleheads have a C average.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article titled Performance Reviews Lose Steam:

Performance reviews have long received poor grades, even from those who conduct them. Nearly 60% of human-resources executives graded their own performance-management systems a C or below, according to a 2010 survey by Sibson Consulting Inc. and WorldatWork, a professional association. 

Sixty percent graded their performance-management system a C or below. Time for some remedial attention. For the geeky aberrations driving change, awareness is always the first step — but there’s a difference between best practice and business case.

If I’ve been conducting traditional top-down annual performance reviews for X number of years in my company, and for the most part my employees get the process and it technically works, then what’s the problem? I mean, if they understand how they’ve performed during the previous year along with setting goals for better performance in the coming year, maybe getting a reward in the form of a tiered pay raise is worthy. In that case, C grade or not, unless I can document negative effects of this process on my employees, our productivity and our revenue, then changing it is a nice-to-have.

Nice-to-have versus a must-have; that’s what I mean by best practice to business case. You can talk to me all you want about performance management best practices,

‘Cause we’re friggin’ busy here trying to run a business.

A yet-to-be published study, by researchers Vicki M. Scherwin, Jean-Francois Coget and Randall J. Kirner, examined 17 firms without formal performance appraisal systems. Those organizations all reported low turnover, high employee morale and strong relationships between managers and employees, among other benefits, found the study.

Lower turnover and higher productivity can all be measured as well as the impact on revenue. These help make the business case for change and give gumption to us geeks shouting, “We need more weekly one-on-one’s and one-on-many’s and many’s-on-many’s and mentoring and 360’s and collaboratively training and continuous feedback loops.”

Lastly, why not experiment with various modalities, customizing the way employees and managers are evaluated, trained and rewarded? If you listen to this Freakonomics podcast titled How Is a Bad Radio Station Like Our Public-School System?, you’ll hear a fascinating story about the New York City Department of Education pilot program called School of One, which customizes the classroom experience for each student — whether that be live face-to-face individual instruction, live virtual individual instruction, small group face-to-face individual instruction, and the list goes on and is still be added to. Then every child is tested and evaluated daily with all the data plugged into a software algorithm that evaluates and recommends course corrections (because software can do that these days). A far cry from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Winter break is over. It’s time to disrupt the C-grade performance cliques and really make that geeky business case for change. Sweet.


Thank you to everyone who joined us last night! Welcome to 2012 #TChat! If you missed the preview, you can read it here.

Next week on #TChat — Developing leaders in 2012 — 1/11/12, 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). Join us!

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Kevin W. Grossman

Kevin W. Grossman

Kevin W. Grossman is the Talent Board Vice-President responsible for all aspects of the Candidate Expe-rience Awards program and other Talent Board activities for North America. He also produces and hosts the new Reach West Radio where each week he talks with his guests about their effectual stretch and the impact it makes in the worlds of work and life. Kevin co-founded and co-hosted the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat with Meghan M. Biro for over five years. A certified Talent Acquisition Strategist (TAS) and Human Capital Strategist (HCS) by HCI, Kevin has over 17 years of domain expertise and familiarity with the HR and recruiting technology marketplace and remains a top social influencer in leadership, human resources, talent management and recruiting. He’s been a prolific "HR business" blogger and writer since 2004 and his first business book titled Tech Job Hunt Handbook was released in December 2012 from Apress.


  1. Great conversation. Thanks for including us in your “Top 23” tweets of this version of the famous #tchat.

    I’m truly convinced that the formal top-down performance reviews exist only for compliance, legal, and CYA reasons. As new generations come on to the workforce, these will become more social, frequent, and natural “conversations”, not used to punish, but to celebrate talent and accomplishments.

    At the end, people care about how they’re doing because we all want to know we’re doing a good job, but also because we want to have opportunities to advance our careers. That’s why we’re perfecting “internal mobility” upmo as the social talent engine to help employees drive their destinies!

    Pretty snazzy storify plug in you got there, BTW.

    1. @robgarciasjupmo

      I no longer deal with performance reviews here on the farm, but not too long ago I had 35-40 people working under me that needed these reviews. There are seemingly necessary, but they are also quite limiting. They have a way of trapping the review into a box created by the form on your desk. Also some policies limit the way you can use the review. We were often told to almost never give an employee an excellent rating because they would never improve if we just told them they were excellent. What if I hire a bunch of excellent people who do an awesome job? Sure, everyone can improve somewhere, but some people are actually excellent at their job. My wife is a supervisor herself and she cannot give someone in her offices a high rating without giving someone else a low rating. What kind of nonsense is that? I agree with you that reviews as they exist now are for compliance, legal, and CYA.

  2. The fact is, no matter what kind of evaluation/feedback system used, the focus should be on straight-shooting and where to improve and grow or even when to go. Thank you for the comments, guys!

  3. Kevin, I couldn’t have put it better myself. You are completely right. tThe focus should be on straight-shooting and where to improve/grow, not red tape and condescending comments.

    Feedback between manager and employee can (and should!) be in the moment. Thanks to the now social workplace, I know that we’re at the very cusp of seeing big changes here.

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