Why Performance Evaluations Never Work


A remnant of days gone by (but still hanging by a thread and needing serious evaluation) is the annual performance review. Is it time to toss it, or just change the process?

The 8-to-5 workday, the fax machine and a Rolodex on every desk are artifacts of a distant time and place. The world is more sophisticated and in many ways, much more efficient. However, one remnant of days gone by still hanging by a thread, and needing serious evaluation, is the annual performance review. 

At this year’s Global Leadership Summit, Sheila Heen, author ofThanks For The Feedback, challenged many of our preconceived notions about feedback. She also acknowledged that much of what we receive in the spirit of feedback is poorly delivered and often ignored. 

Although I believe every leader can get better at giving feedback, I think the core problem is one of process, not presentation. For workers to toil away for 12 months, only then to have a leader tell

them how they performed and where they missed the mark is a conversation that will NEVER go well. 

What organizations need is a process to facilitate performance and success. I love the word facilitate – it literally means to remove barriers. With that in mind, here’s a path that can remove numerous barriers and enable people and organizations to excel. 

Plan – Coach – Encourage – Review – Repeat 

Hopefully, this simple process makes sense at face value. Therefore, I’ll say very little about each crucial step. 

Plan– What is it the leader and the organization wants, needs and expects from the employee? What does a win look like? I have long heard and believed a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved. The plan is where GREAT performance and feedback begins. Without a plan, the employee is literally flying blind. 

Coach– Imagine a coach who observes a player in practice and game situations but never offers any coaching. Crazy, right? Well, without ongoing coaching, instruction and correction, leaders fall into the same trap. Think about the absurdity of telling an athlete, “Seven months ago, I noticed a flaw in your shooting motion. I thought today, in your annual review, it would be a good time to tell you.” The best coaching is always real time and on-going. 

Encourage– If you think encouragement should be part of on-going coaching, technically, you are correct. However, this idea is so powerful, it deserves to be called out. Plato said, “What is honored in a land is cultivated there.” If you encourage desired behaviors, you will get more of them. Don’t miss the opportunity throughout the year. 

Review– Now, if you’ve done the Planning and Coaching, laced with heart-felt Encouragement, you are ready for a Review. If you have done your job well, there should be no surprises or revelations during this meeting. Also, if you do this right, it should be the BEST day of an employee’s year. Why wouldn’t it be? You are affirming their wins and confirming areas in need of continued growth and development. I want that type of review and so do your people! 

Repeat– Feedback and coaching don’t diminish in value over time; the opposite is true. The process I’ve just outlined grows in value over time – context, trust and confidence increase each time you repeat the process. When leaders commit to the long-haul journey of helping people grow, everyone wins. 

One more idea that is not process dependent: encourage members of your organization to seek constant feedback on their own. The days in which feedback comes only from a supervisor is so last century. Today’s workers want more feedback than a supervisor can possibly provide – also, the supervisor is rarely in a position to provide the BEST feedback. Those you work with on a daily basis are the best source of constructive feedback. 

As Sheila reminded us, “Everyone has blind spots.” The best organizations work to eliminate these and help people excel in the process. It’s the ultimate win-win!

By Mark Miller

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