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Looking Forward Instead of Back: Rethinking the Traditional Performance Review

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There seems to be a split in regard to the perceived value of traditional performance appraisals. It continues to be a pressing debate in Human Resource circles these days.

As it turns out, 95 percent of employees and managers today are unhappy with the way their companies assess their performance each year – 90 percent don’t believe the process even deals with accurate information.

In addition, 65 percent of employees claim that the old school performance review process undermines their productivity. 65 percent of managers claim that the information considered isn’t even relevant to their jobs.

Why is everyone so averse to them, particularly milennials?  In their defense, besides the fact that they’ve been shown to be condescending toward talent, ineffective, expensive, inconsistent, and that they undermine team dynamics and momentum, perhaps not too much else.

Consider that if performance reviews as we know them are not slated for utter elimination, they are definitely trending toward quite an overhaul sooner than later.

A number of trendsetters have already begun to move away from the traditional annual employee assessment, including Deloitte, GE, and Accenture, and don’t be too surprised to see that the hot new emerging corporate trend is a new approach to giving employees feedback and making it worth their while to stick around.


It’s a Talent Retention Strategy Thing


Employee performance reviews date back to the 20th century when employees were considered to be easily interchangeable parts in a company machine – and the process has run its course.  You won’t turn many heads with your talent retention rates with the same approach today, as the traditional approach demotivates and instills dread.

A 2013 study by Kansas State University Associate Professor Satoris Culbertson and colleagues showed that high-performing employees were affected negatively by critical feedback on their annual performance appraisals.

In exchange for what modern skilled talent is expected to bring to the table, the expectation in return a more trusting relationship with their employers, as well as more meaningful autonomy in their professional lives.

Furthermore, when employees are treated as replaceable, faceless appendages, their unique strengths and talents go to waste, if not completely undiscovered. And the dynamics of business suffer.

Gone are the days when a manager fulfilled the role of overseer and taskmaster. The modern demands of being competitive look to leaders to be coaches and stewards, to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and to get them to buy into and align with organizational goals.

Forget about controlling your people.  When you look out for them instead, you get them to a place where it’s easier and more natural to unlock their potential.


A New Model for Employee Review


If the performance appraisal is done for, what should replace it with? According to 15Five’s CEO, David Hassell, a more relevant modern approach would involve:

  • Holding a predictable cadence of weekly and quarterly conversations with employees
  • Checking the pulse weekly on the morale of employees, and better understanding their engagement levels
  • Giving employees time throughout the quarter to reflect on performance to improve it
  • Having a formal performance conversation quarterly
  • Disconnecting compensation conversations from performance conversations
  • Connecting employees to a shared purpose to illuminate why their work matters


As businesses look for ways to improve their corporate culture and employee experience, the vertical relationship between managers and employees will become more cooperative than heirarchal, and they will unavoidably need to update how they assess their employees’ contributions. The performance discussion needs to empower employees to improve month over month, not year over year, according to Hassell.

Employees don’t want or need to be carrot-and-sticked, and companies that understand this sooner than later will focus more on working steadily with employees on improvement in the future rather than on merely reviewing the past.


  • Jonathan W. Crowell