Maz Dannourah


Employment and HR

Are performance reviews worthwhile?

Maz Dannourah

There are many issues in the workplace which have the potential to cause divisions of opinion between employees and management but one issue which appears universally controversial is the concept of “performance reviews” or “appraisals”. 

For the purposes of this article I will use the term “performance review” but there is no intention that this covers some specific form of process different to appraisals or other variations in the name.

Most employees will have experienced some form of performance review and will have, if research on the topic is believed, largely formed a negative view of the process.

Problems with performance reviews
Critics of the use of annual performance reviews cite, amongst other issues, the following problems:

1. No one likes them. Managers and employees alike dislike the process often leading to a build up of distrust and resentment at the same time each year.
2. It is not possible to evaluate an individual’s performance over a 12-month period in a meeting which may only be scheduled for one hour.
3. Negative feedback to employees is made more difficult if issues have been saved for the performance review and occurred some time ago.
4. Both managers and employees are reluctant to be honest. Managers fear that honest feedback, particularly negative, may lead to conflict whereas employees are concerned about the impact on pay reviews that a “bad” performance review might have.

Scrap performance reviews?
From what I have read around the subject, those who take issue with the use of performance reviews (particularly annual ones) suggest simply scrapping the process altogether. I can certainly see the attraction in dispensing with a process which leads to the issues listed above but is the complete absence of the process better than no process at all?

If you consider that one reason why performance reviews are used is in order to deliberately give structure to the monitoring of performance, it may be for some at least a step too far to remove performance reviews completely. There must be a risk that no review could lead to employees feeling that employers have forgotten them, take no interest in career progression and make no effort to formally recognise good performance (which may be just as important as reviewing what is not going well).

Points for Improvement
My view is that performance reviews are as useful as you make them. There is certainly no “one size fits all” and whilst there may be common features across organisations, it would be sensible for employers to consider what works best for them. The following are points to consider in order to maximise the effectiveness of performance reviews:

  • Performance reviews are not a substitute for day to day management.  Managers should still be expected (and supported) to recognise good performance and issues which require improvement on a day to day basis. Managers who seek to use a performance review to evaluate the good and bad of the last 12 months are likely to be failing in their management responsibilities.
  • Limit the extent of specific and narrowly defined forms by way of preparation for performance reviews.  Remember that questions about performance in the context of one part of the business may not be relevant to employees in another. If appropriate, look at tailoring forms (and the review process) in line with different roles or departments.
  • Employees should be encouraged to think about how their performance furthers the goals and targets of the business and this should be factored into the review of performance and the setting of targets or areas for development. Of course, it may be that the first step is for the business to communicate what its goals and targets are.
  • Allow for preparation ahead of performance reviews and ensure that managers and employees are prepared.  It would be no surprise for either party to feel the process has not been worthwhile if a lack of preparation leads to a non-productive or disjointed review.
  • Don’t be afraid to make changes to the process if things are not working. Continuing blindly with a process which is proven to have flaws is likely to be worse than risking disruption that comes with change.  If changes are being made for positive reasons (and they are communicated) there is likely to be more wider acceptance.

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