Leadership Matters: Writing reviews that actually improve performance

Focus on clear, personalized feedback and more appropriate timing during the review process.

Virtually every leader dreads giving (and receiving) performance reviews. There are always too many to complete, they take too long, and assuming there is software involved, the software is always too clunky or over-simplified. Worst of all, when employees receive the feedback, they are often unhappy with the result—possibly to the point of completely ignoring the details. So, why bother?

That kind of thinking got about 6% of companies to experiment with abandoning performance reviews altogether around 2014. There was a burst of press about the idea that made it sound cool and smart, because many of these firms were well-known and no one in management particularly liked doing reviews in the first place. However, even those of us who are math-challenged will notice that 94% of companies continue to give annual reviews to employees. Why? Simply put, the traditional performance review process is alive and well because such reviews provide: 1) documentation of poor performance for legal defense, 2) a simple way to allocate rewards based on performance, and 3) a regular time for managers to provide guidance to employees on how to improve.

The first two of these reasons exclusively benefit the company, but feedback for improvement is quite valuable for employees and managers alike. Unfortunately, helping employees is where performance management falls most flat. 3D Group’s research suggests less than half of employees agree with the statement, “My last performance evaluation helped me improve.”


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