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Putting Performance Reviews On Probation

Performance reviews are a predictable part of office life. Whether the employees write their own, or sit before a panel of bosses, it can be a grueling process. Often, managers only conduct them because they're told to, and workers embellish and obscure their accomplishments and failures. Some business leaders argue the reviews are all but worthless.

Samuel Culbert, author of Get Rid Of The Performance Review!, couldn't agree more. "It's the most ridiculous practice in the world," he tells NPR's Neal Conan. "It's bogus, fraudulent, dishonest at its core, and reflects stupid, bad, cowardly management."

Culbert sees performance reviews as a tool management uses to intimidate employees. "They know what it takes to get a good review," he says, so they tell bosses what they want to hear, instead of giving them "the real story."

Allan Polak, president of ALP Consulting Resources, agrees with Culbert. "It's much more often a nightmare than anything that's valuable," Polak says.

He traces performance reviews back to a collusion between HR and legal departments at companies, "in order to create a written trail when somebody isn't doing their job well." But over the years, "it's morphed into the annual ritual that is inflicted upon everybody."

"Nine times out of 10, it's more harm than good," Polak says.

Polak and Culbert both realize management and employees need a way to communicate about goals and accountability. But, Culbert says, performance reviews are the wrong solution.

"It makes it impossible for people to have authentic, honest conversations about what we need to be doing differently" and what's imperfect in a workplace, he says.

And "if it really is intended to be a valuable conversation for the employee," Polak says, the annual review needs to be wholly separate from conversations about money -- raises, promotions or bonuses. That way, the conversation focuses on a boss wanting to help an employee succeed.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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