Oct
1
2006

Performance Appraisals are Bullshit

Categories: Parenthood, Values, Work

Performance appraisals are bullshit.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s not that they’re not useful. They are actually a great tool for managers. Employees get to receive regular feedback about their performance and managers get to periodically check in on their employees.

It’s the imposed regularity of it all that makes it bullshit.

A good manager, in my opinion, is like a good parent. Good parents don’t schedule a talk with their children every three-to-six months to find out how they’re doing. Good parents are constantly reviewing, correcting, suggesting, and encouraging their children.

Let’s take a purely hypothetical situation. If your son accidentally sets fire to some bushes, you’d probably punish him right there and then. You wouldn’t wait a few months to discuss the incident. Immediate feedback is how you’re able to steer your children from wrong and right.

Now let’s say your daughter gets an A+ on her exam. You’d probably reward her soon thereafter to let her know how proud you are. The immediacy of positive reinforcement is a powerful parental tool. If you wait three months to deliver the feedback, she may grow cynical or insecure of your reactions.

But being a manager isn’t the same as being a parent, you say?

Sure. There are important differences. You can’t “fire” one of your naughty kids, for instance. (Though you may wish you could.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage your experience as a parent.

Being a manager means having a large load of diverse responsibilities, just like a parent. With twenty things to do and only time to do four, how can you justify prioritizing performance appraisals into your everyday work?

There’s a reason performance appraisals are delivered periodically (generally every three-to-six months). This framework ensures that busy managers get to spend time with their employees. By making it a job requirement, employees are guaranteed this feedback.

That, to me, is where it becomes bullshit. If a manager is doing a performance appraisal merely because he/she has to, then the quality of the feedback is highly suspect. As a child, would you want your parents to spent time with you because they have to, or because they want to?

This feedback doesn’t have to be a long and drawn-out meeting either. A five-minute chat is sometimes much more effective than an hour-long meeting. If you’re too busy to give your employees just five minutes a week, then you’re taking on too much work and need to talk to your supervising manager about decreasing your load. Maybe it means splitting it with another manager, or hiring a manager under you, or even hiring more employees. But cutting out a few minutes here and there with your direct employees is not the answer.

Some managers argue that their employees don’t want this kind of constant attention. That this would be a form of micromanaging. That their employees would rather be left alone to do their work.

That’s what employees say about managers who don’t make an effort to get to know them. Sure, everyone has their idiosyncrasies and preferences. Some people are very self-directed and don’t need a whole lot of guidance. Others may not want that kind of scrutiny; they’re afraid their career direction would effect their manager’s perception of them.

But I have yet to find a person who would refuse honest, immediate, and from-the-heart criticism from their managers. Honest and from-the-heart implies a manager who genuinely cares for his/her employees. Immediate implies a manager who doesn’t wait until the next performance appraisal round to give feedback.

So if you’re a manager, don’t give your employees bullshit. You don’t have to agree that good managing is like good parenting. But don’t wait for each performance appraisal cycle before giving your employees constructive criticism. And give them their appraisals because you care about them, because you want to, not because you have to.

Your employees will thank you. I guarantee it.

. . .

What did you think of your last performance appraisal?”

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  • http://skitten.best.vwh.net/diary/diary.html Jennifer

    The performance review at Microsoft is why I quit. Now, I’m back there as a vendor, working for a company I really like whose “reviews” are the 15 minute, “hey, how’s it going, your MS boss says he loves you” type. I’m 1000 percent happier.

  • Mike Lee

    That’s awesome! It sounds like you have a boss who really cares about you. And that can totally make all the difference.

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