Why You Should Ditch Employee-Performance Reviews

Let your employees give the feedback instead.


Performance reviews provide an excellent opportunity to receive feedback in terms of how we are doing relative to expectations. However, research shows that employees and managers strongly dislike these types of discussions, with each party often leaving the exchange feeling disappointed and frustrated. On the other hand, informal feedback reduces the stigma and makes it more a part of an everyday conversation. Don't fear the feedback.

When it comes to improving the feedback process, consider inviting your employees to take the reins and conduct their own do-it-yourself performance review, preferably on a monthly basis.

This more frequent and employee-led approach is valuable on multiple levels. It:

  • Allows feedback to become less threatening through familiarity;
  • Provides opportunity for real-time change and improvement, and
  • Becomes a part of your culture rather than an annual or semiannual event
It invites your employees to bring up their areas of challenge

Perhaps the most important and distinct advantage is that it invites your employees to bring up their areas of challenge, which takes the burden off of you as the leader. In addition, it can even shed light on unexpected issues. For instance, you may be preparing for a performance review with an employee and have a list of points to cover. While a lot of it is positive, you feel some of the items may be challenging to deliver. Now, instead of delving into your list right away, turn to your employee and say, "I'd love to hear your thoughts. Where do you think things are going well? What do you think you might be able to do better?" 

In answering, the team member may well address many of the items on your list, including some things you may not have previously considered. It is an excellent opportunity to identify hidden strengths while also raising your attention to areas of struggle that you may not have been aware of.

It takes advantage of the reciprocity principle.

By affording your employees the opportunity to take the lead on crafting their own performance review, it maximizes the chances that they will be open to hearing your comments and observations when the time comes. 

This approach also provides a valuable opportunity for you to ascertain the levels of self-awareness within your team members. If an employee is lacking in self-awareness, you may want to monitor his or her performance more closely and coach around any blind spots you observe. 

It should be noted that some of the largest organizations in the world are now looking to get rid of annual or semi-annual performance reviews altogether and, instead, make feedback conversations an ongoing, embedded part of company culture

Research shows that performance reviews are outdated

Emerging research seems to support this shift, suggesting that annual performance reviews are outdated, stressful for employees and time consuming for managers. In 2016, Adobe surveyed 1,500 office workers in the United States and found that 88 percent went through the standard performance-review process with written reviews, rankings and ratings on a regular basis. Managers reported spending an average of 17 hours per employee preparing for a performance review, with very little perceived return on investment. In fact, 59 percent of the survey respondents reported these reviews had no impact on how they did their jobs. Instead, the process created stress, drove employees into needless competition with each other, and sometimes resulted in tears or employees quitting outright. 

What workers are looking for, the study asserts, is "a collaborative process with regular and qualitative feedback."

In 2012, Adobe eliminated its annual performance review, instead opting for what it calls the "Check-In," a process that "focuses on a two-way dialogue between manager and employee on an ongoing basis rather than heavy process and formal rankings."

Since implementing this model, Adobe estimates that it has saved more than 80,000 manager hours per year, which is the equivalent of 40 full-time employees. With the growth in head count since that time, the company estimates it saves over 100,000 manager hours per year and is now demonstrating higher retention, employee engagement and stronger performance management.

This is excerpt was adapted from Craig Dowden's new book Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership (ForbesBooks, Feb. 8, 2019). Used with permission from the publisher.