Performance Reviews: How To Create a Culture Where Communication is Comfortable

Written by Paul Marchildon, on November 7, 2013.

What do you call it when you persist in doing something over and over again, expecting different results? Insanity. An alternate name for it is “performance review.” Ninety-eight percent of HR professionals say that these annual or semi-annual sessions are ineffective. They are the wisdom teeth of the business world: pointless and occasionally painful but we keep them around anyway. Creating an effective system for feedback is imperative, especially as more Millennials join the workforce. We can start by re-imagining the performance review and implementing more constructive approaches.

What’s wrong with performance reviews? In theory, they’re great, providing managers the opportunity to talk with their direct-reports about strengths, accomplishments, and areas of improvement. In practice, they often come down to numbers. There are more than a few problems with this. Mary Jenkins, author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals, says, “Unless you rate someone in the highest category, the conversation shifts away from feedback and development to justification.”

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We are hard-wired this way. When we are told how we need to improve in a review, our fields of vision contract. We take in less data, and we restrict our creativity. Just what we were going for as leaders! The whole thing is counter-intuitive. We want to boost performance, and we end up detracting from it. We want to pass on constructive advice, but all employees here is, “Blah blah blah you need to do this better blah blah blah.” Worse, though, we often evaluate on criteria that has little to do with the actual job – meaning high review scores do not indicate high performance rates.

As usual, I have a solution. Have performance reviews. Just make them better.

  • Hold these comprehensive reviews annually, semi-annually, or even quarterly. They do take time, especially now that you’re gathering input and feedback from multiple people. If you rush it or do not carefully consider your process, reviews can have a negative impact. 
  • Don’t wait for reviews to offer feedback. If you do, you risk losing your Millennials. Most Generation Y employees foresee changing careers several times. When they don’t receive valuable feedback, they are more likely to move on, even in a weak job market. Contrary to popular belief, they can take “bad news” and criticism when it is timely, justified, and clearly communicated. And they don’t really expect gold stars or trophies for effort.

If they screw up, tell them. If they have a success, tell them. If an idea was good, tell them. If it sucked, tell them.  Just do it now. Like flossing, you should engage in these on-the-spot conversations every day, at least once a day. It’s not just Generation Y; Boomers and Gen Xers want, and could use, this feedback as well.

Companies that implement a different approach to performance reviews stop running into the same brick wall and start seeing noticeable improvements in productivity and engagement. That’s what you call smart leadership. 

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.