The Real-Time Performance Review

By Jim Whitt

On the list of things that are done for all the wrong reasons in organizations, performance reviews would have to rank near the top. They end up being “check the boxes” exercises that have little influence on performance because they take place after the fact.

The typical performance review is the equivalent of landing an airplane and asking, “Now, where are we?” It’s a little late in the game for that question.

One of the worst things about many reviews is the use of numerical values to rate performance. I’ve known more than one manager who refuses to give the highest rating to anyone using the excuse, “I don’t believe in giving perfect scores.” If the scale is 1-5 and no one ever gets a 5 then that means you’re a lousy manager. Why can’t the people who report to you ever hit the mark?

A boss who is afraid to admit someone has met or exceeded expectations never quite understands why people quit trying to meet or exceed expectations. If you never give a 5 (or even a 4) when it’s deserved you create a culture where 3 becomes your standard of excellence. Mediocrity is not only acceptable it’s as good as it gets.

On the flip side is the failure to let someone know that they’re just not getting the job done. Too many bosses are so fearful of conflict or hurting people’s feelings that they will ignore bad behavior and poor performance even when it’s detrimental to the organization. Once people understand that no one will ever call their hand, the tail starts wagging the dog.

Like flying a plane, reviewing performance should be a matter of constant course adjustments. When people meet or exceed expectations they should be told they are on course. When they fail to meet expectations they need to be told they are off course. This means there has to be a flight plan with clearly defined expectations and constant communication to make sure everyone is on course.

If you wait until the end of the flight to make adjustments to the course you will always be disappointed with where you land. Worse yet, someone else will probably be sifting through the wreckage to figure out why the plane crashed.

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