Jason Lauritsen - Crushing talent dogma to free human potential

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Archive Redux: Performance Appraisals Must Die

This is one of my favorite short posts that I’ve written.  I originally published it earlier this year as my corp HR team was working on solving the performance appraisal problem within our organization.  I love talking about performance appraisals because of the angst that it creates for people.  I’m perplexed why it seems so hard for organizations for to do the right thing and walk away from this craziness. 


I’m hoping that more people will step forward to share an alternative, to reveal how they’ve found a better way.  Because, make no mistake, there is a better way to manage and drive performance.  And it doesn’t have anything to do with an appraisal.   


Performance Appraisals must Die
Originally posted 3/9/11

As every other HR department has done before and will likely do again, my team is working on answering the question, “What should we do about our performance appraisals?”  So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic lately.  That means I’ve had my radar up for information and solutions about performance management.  It seems to me that the performance appraisal is a perfect example of how Paul Hebert explains that HR is caught in the monkey trap.  Letting go would set us free, but we just can’t seem to do it.  I think that’s a mistake and here’s why.

This is what I have found to be almost universally true when you talk to people about performance appraisals.
  1. Managers hate writing them.  Even the best managers hate them, regardless of the form you use.  Too much work for what they get out of it.  
  2. Employee hate receiving them.  Regardless of how great of a manager you have, the process of the once a year sit down is riddled with anxiety and angst.  
  3. HR hates administering them.  It’s an enormous black hole of time and energy, and no one loves you for doing it.  
  4. There is no evidence that traditional performance appraisals have any impact on performance, good or bad.  At least I’ve not found anyone who has any data either way.  
  5. Despite what some HR folks may argue, having annual performance appraisals usually makes it HARDER to terminate a low performer because most managers generally resist addressing performance issues within the appraisal itself. 
If these five things are true, it would seem that the solution would be to stop the insanity and pull the plug on performance appraisals.  Here’s what should happen if you do.  Managers and employees both love you more.  Your HR team gets back some time that can be invested in work that matters.  Organizational performance won’t change and you’ll be better able to swiftly address employee performance issues.  Where’s the down side?  
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  1. stuart chittenden

    Great post. It appears as if the purpose of an appraisal is for legal reasons… hardly suited to encourage cultural engagement, growth and dedication of that discretionary effort.

    I recall an appraisal that I had, following a year of numerous (sanctioned) extra-curricular activity, that impinged on "billable time." When my appraiser said, "All that other stuff you have been doing has been great. But, for next year, why don't we focus on getting towards 100% of billable time?" And I thought to myself, "Why don't I focus on getting a new job." And I then left that firm…

  2. Carol Carter

    I hear what you're saying! The problem is, without some kind of measurement and reward system, your team will die.

    I don't think it's performance appraisals themselves. I think it's how they are done. Managers should set specific deliverables WITH employees each year and there should be a mid-term review to see what's working and what's not, make adjustments to the deliverables or help that employee by removing obstacles to success.

    When performance reviews are there as a legalistic piece, they just add to the frustration and inadequacy of the work environment.

Jason Lauritsen