The Wonder of Performance Reviews

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The Wonder of Performance Reviews

Kabuki: a highly stylized form of theater

Jena McGregor’s piece The Corporate Kabuki of Performance Reviews (The Washington Post 2/24/13) gets it right. This annual ritualized bloodletting doesn’t appreciably improve performance and yet we persist. Ask yourself, when was the last time you came out of a performance review and said, “Wow, I got some really helpful feedback. Today could be a turning point for me?” I can’t remember that time either.

Back in 1994, my book Feedback Toolkit, was published. I said that I hated performance reviews and explained why, and then went on to say that since no one seemed to be listening to Deming (whose influence was godlike back then), Peter Block, Philip Crosby (another quality guru) and Stephen Covey, I doubted anyone would listen to me. I was right! The book has been in print (and even revised in 2011) for nineteen years and sells pretty well every year. I get emails and calls about how helpful it is. I do appreciate that, of course, but I have NEVER ever received a message that read, “Based on your sound thinking, we have given up performance appraisals. Thank you, Mr. Maurer.” I doubt that I ever will receive that message.

But perhaps Jena McGregor’s column might sway some people. One important thing that she adds to the discussion is how much corporate leaders actually hate these things too. While most continue with a practice they seem to hate, Medtronic “ditched the old style of performance management,” according to Chief Talent Officer Caroline Stockdale. They replaced it with a quarterly system that focuses on a few goals and no ratings.

I encourage you to read The Corporate Kabuki of Performance Reviews. And if you do abandon Kabuki theater, please let me know.

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