Why The Performance Review Should be a Performance Preview


By Chip Joyce

When I first read “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” by Samuel L. Culbert in The Wall Street Journal, it entirely convinced me, that a traditional performance review “destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line. And that’s just for starters.”

Six years later — I have come to believe that requiring managers to conduct yearly performance reviews undermines even the best of managers, by actually destroying employee trust. As Culbert writes:

“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.”

Culbert asserts that the performance review is “intimidation aimed at preserving the boss’s authority and power advantage” and the mind-sets of the boss and employee “work at cross purposes”. Furthermore, “The boss wants to discuss where performance needs to be improved, while the subordinate is focused on such small issues as compensation, job progression and career advancement.”

Clearly, all parties are not united — or seeking the same outcomes. This is where things begin to unravel.

I believe that most managers dislike the traditional performance review. However, their companies ultimately require it. Furthermore, most managers do not intend to intimidate. However the system forces them to play the role. No matter how they try to cushion the trust-crushing blow of the performance review, it is perfectly designed to draft them as bullies.

The typical performance review unfolds something like this: The employee makes the case for his good work and consequent worthiness for a raise, and then, as Culbert puts it, “the boss comes up with a story to justify the predetermined pay” by criticizing the employee sufficiently such that, hopefully, he no longer feels confident in the value of his work, feels fortunate he still has a job considering how poorly he is valued and he will work harder out of fear of being fired.

Does anyone actually believe that encouraging someone to feel badly about themselves —  and fearful for the future of their career — motivates them to do their best at anything?

It’s a truism that most people quit their bosses, not their jobs. However, how many people quit their bosses because of an unfortunate performance review? I know quite a few people and I’ll wager you do, as well.

I have been there, myself. You may have also experienced this.

I suspect that more times than not, the performance review forces employees to think worse of their manager. Now that would be an interesting study, wouldn’t it?

(Incidentally, the performance review can be especially cruel to women.)

Instead of the performance review, Culbert recommends a performance preview:

“The alternative to one-side-accountable, boss-administered/subordinate-received performance reviews is two-sided, reciprocally accountable, performance previews. . . .

The boss’s assignment is to guide, coach, tutor, provide oversight and generally do whatever is required to assist a subordinate to perform successfully. That’s why I claim that the boss-direct report team should be held jointly accountable for the quality of work the subordinate performs. I’m sick and tired of hearing about subordinates who fail and get fired, while bosses, whose job it was to ensure subordinate effectiveness, get promoted and receive raises in pay. . . .

The preview structure keeps the focus on the future and what “I” need from you as “teammate and partner” in getting accomplished what we both want to see happen. It doesn’t happen only annually; it takes place each time either the boss or the subordinate has the feeling that they aren’t working well together.”

If you want to be a great manager — to attract, manage, and retain people to do great things for your company — you’ll need to really get to know your direct reports, ensure that you know what they want out of the working relationship, and commit to helping them get it.

In exchange they are helping the company to achieve valued goals.

In order to do this, you must develop a trusting relationship (See my partners’ book The Alliance on how to do that) with each contributor — and then ensure you don’t destroy that trust by subjecting them to a performance review.

In a nutshell, here’s the secret sauce: An employee who trusts that his manager, and who genuinely supports his aspirations and values, may not need a traditional performance review to direct behavior and motivate him or her.

He will give you his best, simply because he is proud to be on that manager’s team.

Now that’s a win-win scenario.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent. He brings the Alliance Framework to organizations worldwide.

Photo Credit: morgueFile

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