When Performance Reviews Fail: Performance Management Often Conflicts with Relationship Management. Negative Feedback Doesn't Motivate; Ignoring the Subjective Element in Reviews Undermines Employee Attitudes. Here's a Proposal for an Alternative Review System That Takes into Account the Important Emotional Aspects

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Performance reviews often conflict with relationship management. Negative feedback doesn't motivate, and ignoring subjective elements in reviews can undermine employee attitudes. In fact, Simmons says this primary tool designed to improve performance can, and often does, create the opposite of the desired and intended result. Instead, she suggests an alternative review system that takes into account the important emotional aspects.

The core assumption of most performance reviews is that if you clarify the gap between current performance and desired performance, that will drive improved performance. However, that's not the case. Instead, reviews tend to amplify the quality of the personal relationship between boss and employee.

Another problem is forced ranking. These protocols test managers' ability to balance accuracy with effective relationship management. An inflexible review system can ruin relationships between bosses and employees. What's worse, it erodes cooperation and doesn't motivate average employees to be more productive.

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Apparently, I'm not a "team player."

That's what it said on my last performance review--the one I received right before I quit. It was, in fact, the reason I quit. I had killed myself trying to perform and was shocked to be graded below average on two measures: team player and communication. Somehow, that valuable feedback didn't encourage me to dig deep and find my inner team player. It felt like a smack the face. If I were a better person, I might have examined the truth in the rating. But being a regular human being, I felt hurt and angry.

What about you? Have you ever experienced a performance review that left you feeling bad instead of motivated? You're not alone. It's time to admit that this primary tool designed to improve performance can, and often does, create the opposite of the desired and intended result.

Equal parts accurate and ineffective

From the perspective of 10 years hence, I'm forced to admit that my review was accurate: Team focus wasn't my strength. But accurate didn't translate to effective. Average and low ratings often don't. Take Amy, now a producer at a local TV station. Amy once received "3s" all the way down the line on a five-point performance scale. When she asked her boss, he said, "No one gets a five." Doing one's job was the basic requirement and thus warranted no more than a "3"--average. "You're doing your job, so that's what you get." Amy asked more questions, but his insistence that "no one gets a five" sabotaged their discussion on what actions might get her an "excellent" (5) rating.

In order for a carrot to motivate, the rabbit needs to believe that he or she can reach it. Otherwise, we risk developing learned helplessness. Try-lose/try-lose/try-lose experiences breed a why try? attitude.

Even in the short-term, Amy's emotional reaction at being labeled "average," and her boss's defensiveness at being questioned, hijacked the opportunity for productive dialogue. Their emotions were more powerful than the facts. The manager was defensive and hiding from Amy's anger behind accuracy. Still, he was right: On a bell curve, "5s," by definition, should occur only 5 to 10 percent of the time. But hiding behind accuracy weakened his ability to stay connected. Amy says, "I remember it vividly. I was already considering leaving. But after that review, I knew it was the infamous last straw. I'm not average, and I'm no longer employed by that company, thank goodness."

The company lost a great employee because accuracy was valued over emotional connection. …