Best. Performance. Review. Ever.

OK, so maybe I overdid it with my rant last week about the annual performance review.

Perhaps there is a way to make this (horrendous and widely despised) system work.

I’ve been thinking long and hard, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

The Best Performance Review Ever

Boss, walking down the hallway: Amiel, it’s time for your annual review

Amiel, stops to chat: Awesome, when can we schedule it?

Boss: It won’t take very long. How about we do it right now?

Amiel: Now works great. Did you want to get a conference room?

Boss: No need

Amiel: How about we at least step off to the side of the hallway?

Boss: No need. This will be fast. You ready?

Amiel: Shoot

Boss: Two things. First, you know that thing we’ve been talking about every week since your last review. That thing you’ve been getting really better at?

Amiel: Yes

Boss: Keep doing that

Amiel: Will do

Boss: And you know that other thing I’ve been giving you feedback about every day?

Amiel: How could I forget?

Boss: Keep working on that

Amiel: Got it. Anything else?

Boss: No, that’s it

Amiel: What? No ranking against my peers?

Boss: Nope

Amiel: Not even a rating?

Boss: Nope

Amiel: Alright. Thanks, boss.

Boss: Thank you.


The One Thing I Love To Rant About

Complaining about things that suck is overrated.

However, annual performance reviews are even more overrated. And that’s saying something, because everyone loathes them.

Seriously, have you ever once met someone willing to defend them? I mean, c’mon, what are they going to say?

“Look, folks, I know you hate them. I know they’re a waste of time. And, yes, I know that they encourage bizarre, reptilian behavior. But we have to have them because_____.”

Because why?

There’s just no way to fill in that blank and keep a straight face.

Apologies to all of my HR friends who own performance management. This isn’t personal. I won’t say this in front of your boss. And, anyhow, I’ve been outspoken on this since before I met most of you. It’s in my first book.

You know what’s even crazier? I once worked (as a W2 employee) for an organization that had never used performance reviews and thought it was missing out.


What my boss said

“Amiel, would you believe that we’ve never had a regular performance review here? It’s completely ridiculous.  So I’m creating a standard form we can use for everyone. It’s going be great, and I want you to help me.

What I said to my boss:

“Alright, I’ll help you make it work. [Gulp]. Now, first, I have to say that lots of research shows that consistent, direct feedback is the best way to increase performance. So I suggest that if we do this annually, we also make it part of everyday managing.”

What I wish I’d said to my boss

“Yeah, I know what you’re saying: Amiel, imagine we run a business on the American side of Niagara Falls. For years we’ve been watching those Canadians go over their falls in barrels like there was nothing to it. And thinking, ‘Damn it, why can’t we do that? We’re smart. We know how to make things in the United States. Why don’t we sell barrels that can do that?’

And so you’re saying to me, ‘Amiel, now is the time. Help me make a barrel that can go over our side of the falls.’


Prof. Samuel Cuthbert’s take-down of performance reviews


In an excellent interview with Mark Graban, Professor Samuel Cuthbert of UCLA has this to say about the performance review:

Performance reviews, in my mind, are a dishonest, fraudulent practice carried out and justified on grounds I have no idea, they never hold any water and they work against everybody.

It sounds at first like hyperbole…that is, until you realize that he has been studying this topic for decades and has quite a case to make. Here is my summary:

Microsoft, GE, and forced ranking systems

A month ago, Steve Ballmer announced he would be stepping down as CEO of Microsoft within a year. This led to a flurry of commentary about why he’s leaving and what this means for the company. Many cited an article in Vanity Fair to detail what went wrong. I wrote about this article and Microsoft in a section of my book about forced ranking systems for performance management. Here is an edited excerpt of what I wrote:

A classic expression of fear-based culture is employee performance management, particularly the type that ranks people against each other. GE has used such a system for years and done quite well as a company. However, it’s not clear whether their success is because or in spite of forced ranking. If you work at GE, your manager places you in one of three categories: high performer (the top 20%), middle performer (the middle 70%), or low performer (the bottom 10%). If you’re a low performer, you get removed or improved. Sounds like meritocracy at its best, right? Not really. As USC management professor, John Boudreau, points out:

Is removing or improving the bottom 10 percent valuable in all cases? Certainly in some situations even the bottom 10 percent are doing an adequate job and are doing better than those who could be hired or promoted. By definition, continually removing or improving the bottom 10 percent will make the bottom 10 percent more similar to the middle 70 percent and thus make removing the bottom 10 percent less effective in improving workforce quality.