What Everybody Should Know About Performance Reviews

April 24, 2013


The phrase “performance review” doesn’t include any four letter words, but most people’s reaction to hearing it makes you think it does.  Why?  Because they are often painful.  Whether you are the reviewer or the reviewee.  The process just plain stings!

Some leaders will even go as far as to say that reviews aren’t even necessary.  That they are a waste of time.  Personally, I believe that they are necessary, but are unfortunately flawed in many cases. Here’s some examples of what I’ve witnessed:


Maybe you’ve heard this before, “don’t put too much thought into what this piece of paper is saying, it’s just for the file”.  Or “We have to do these once a year for HR, so please just sign here”.  Or best of all, “You’re doing a great job, despite what I wrote on the form”.

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Really?  You want me to sign my life away on something that goes into my permanent record and determines my salary, without taking it serious?  You’ve got to be kidding!


If you are a leader that has to use these “forms”, you are probably just as frustrated as your people.

Does this sound familiar?  “Make sure you check the average box, because average is really excellent”.  Or “Don’t spend too much time on these, just get them done before the next pay period”.  Or last but not least, “There is no money for raises, so don’t tell your people they are above average”.

Yikes!  Talk about a lose lose scenario!  No wonder everyone dreads them!

Here’s some of the common problems I’ve seen with reviews:

1.) They are annual.  Once a year?  I don’t do anything once a year, except my taxes.

2.) They are subjective.  Are you being measured against your colleagues, yourself, industry standards, you bosses mood???

3.) They are used to measure merit increases whether real raises are being given or not.

4.) There is limited details between the check boxes.  Big mistake leaving things up for interpretation.

5.) They are completed before the actual review has taken place.  What if the boss is wrong?  What then?

Here are some ideas I’ve seen that can make things better:

1.) Don’t wait a whole year, but don’t re-invent the wheel.  Have a baseline review and update / review quarterly.

2.) Be specific in what you are being measured against.  If Joe is your rockstar, then measure against what Joe is doing.

3.) Add a list of action items.  These can be a mixture of results and behaviors that were previously indicated.  They’ve either happened or not.

4.) Have a well defined job role.  This is extremely difficult for smaller businesses.  However they are even more important with less people.

5.) Have a clear path to raises, promotions, etc.  Nothing is worse than feeling like you are stuck no matter how hard you work.

6.) If you can’t afford to pay a raise, at least give them the accolades they deserve.  There is intrinsic reward in written praise itself.

7.) Create a place where people can review their bosses.  This can be invaluable to growing leadership and uncovering conflict.

There is one thing, however, that everyone seems to agree on…there should be no surprises.  When people are not performing well, they should know that long before it shows up on a review form.  Same goes for performing above average.  Not only should they know if they are leading in an area, it should also show up on the review form.

Now, let’s be clear, what I’m suggesting here won’t take all the pain out of doing reviews.  There are some hard conversations that need to be had during this process.  You can’t change that.  However, by being extremely clear and doing it more often, everyone is bound to get more out of this process.

Question: Can you share any performance review best practices?



3 responses to What Everybody Should Know About Performance Reviews

  1. This is great. Lots of leaders still have problems following through and making performance reviews effective in the long-run. Your suggestions are simple and practical – looking forward to directing people this post.

    • Hey thanks Roy! I appreciate that! Just trying to help people avoid some of the pain we’ve all experienced.

      I just added the GreenMango.cc blog to my RSS. Your interviews look very interesting…

  2. Temple University was the worst when it came to this. Performance review was supposed to be tied to merit but the Union Rules said that nobody could get a raise. You could however get your position reclassified to a higher paying one. As a result, I was actually marked “average” in “Technology,” a category that I felt I excelled in relative to the entire department (seriously, I was the only one who knew how to fix those intermediate problems that IT was always being called in to do….which would totally aggravate them. You know like “My computer shuts down after two minutes.” DUH!). And since my supervisor was the dumbest of all when it came to that stuff (and I was always fixing these things) I went totally ballistic. And in case you are wondering how I knew the co-worker’s score? I looked when my supervisor walked away from his desk for a moment. Who the hell wouldn’t? Two other very junior people whose tenure fell within the new-employee “honeymoon period” were promoted and given raises. (And the same person left six months later because he evidently didn’t like the Kindergarten Cop bullying badgering mentality either. That and all the gossip about excessive favoritism probably didn’t help too much.)

    They made it pretty clear that no matter how hard I worked I was always going to be stuck in the entry level job I started in.

    And it is the reason I quit as soon as humanly possible. Thing is, if I had gotten my raise, they might not have lost two employees. Only one, and possibly none.