Analog Angle Blog

Whoopee–it’s performance review season!

As we approach the end of the calendar year, our thoughts turn to the holiday season, gifts to give and maybe receive, end-of-year shutdowns or breaks, and, yes, even those performance reviews. I was reminded of this when I saw the recent Dilbert strip here , where Wally the chronic slacker utters some unvarnished words of truth.

[Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy, carefully reasoned article by Samuel A. Culbert, Prof. of Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Business. The headline and subheadline say it all: “Get Rid of the Performance Review: It destroys morale, kills teamwork, and hurts the bottom line.” The October 20, 2008 piece is not available at the WSJ site, but it has been expanded into a book, see here . I keep a printout of the article near my desk.]

I know the official reasons for doing performance reviews: to establish employee goals, to assess areas of needed improvement, to look for areas of potential skill improvement or career-path change, and to align goals of the individual and the organization (ah, such management-speak). We also know the unofficial reasons: among them, to create a “paper trail”, and to provide a legal appearance of uniform treatment of employees.

Of course, there's also the flip side of the much-deserved cynicism with which many employees view these performance reviews. I'm sure you can fill the specifics in yourself, no need to enumerate them here. What about when your boss/supervisor/manager—the person who is doing your review—is a complete idiot or jerk (in your opinion), and is totally unqualified to comment on your work in any way? (Been there, done that.)

Then there are the variations on the basic review. If it is such a good idea, why just do it annually? Why not do it quarterly, or even monthly? Some companies are doing just that.

Even more exciting, don't limit it to just what your boss has to say. There's the trend to adding in comments from co-workers, subordinates, anyone you've had contact with; it's called the 360° review.

If we do this right, we can spend all our time working on our own reviews, and adding to the reviews of others, and so have hardly any time left to do our actual work. The review process would soon take precedence over project completion. Dilbert's Wally would be proud!

What's been your experience with reviews: are they useful, useless, or somewhere in-between? Is the time spent doing them even worth it? Are they actually counterproductive and perhaps divisive? ?

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