By Shelley Donald Coolidge, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Here it comes again.
That time of the year that most employees enjoy about as a much as a flat tire.
And it's not much fun for the boss, either. Performance reviews. And just about everybody has a horror story to tell - the supervisor who doesn't do them at all, the manager who confuses you with someone else, the boss who recycles last year's reviews - hoping no one will notice. In fact, performance reviews can be so troublesome that some businesses ditch them altogether. Yet as companies look for new ways to motivate and retain top talent, a growing number of firms are reexamining their annual review process - a process nearly everyone agrees is both important and imperfect. "The performance appraisal is the single-most powerful tool an organization has to influence the performance of employees," says Dick Grote, a performance-management consultant in Dallas. "At the same time, it is the most scorned, reviled, disparaged tool in the entire management tool kit." Nearly every major survey on the top-ic draws the same conclusion: Everyone dislikes them. A 1997 survey by Aon Consulting of more than 1,700 human-resource professionals found only 5 percent "very satisfied" with their review process. The idea sounds fine: examine an employees' progress, strengths, and weaknesses to help them improve performance. Employees should also set goals and understand how they fit into the company's overall business plan. The reality is often a process hampered by politics, with little value to workers. One manager, required to maintain a quota of negative and positive reviews, told one employee, "It's your turn in the barrel, but you'll be taken care of next year," recalls Ed Bancroft, head of William M. Mercer's Midwest performance and rewards practice. At a recent seminar led by Shelley Riebel, a human-resources consultant in Armada, Mich., "some participants claimed their review was exactly the same as the previous year, only the date was whited out." Another worker compared his review with his co-workers and the comments were the same. "The worst thing a supervisor can do is communicate that this is not an important process," Ms. …