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Performance Reviews: I Don't Care, and You Shouldn't Either

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Edward Muzio
JOB INTERVIEW © BananaStock via Getty Images JOB INTERVIEW

You have to love workplace trends. An edgy, trendsetting company tears down the cubicle walls; a second one follows suit; next thing you know everyone is headed toward open offices. Then, a few years later, someone else declares it a mistake. But it's too late: the working world is now divided, red-state-versus-blue-state style, into pro-open versus pro-cube. Everyone's got an opinion, which is nice because it gives people something to type into the comment boxes below all the blog posts. Meanwhile, people - being people - adapt. The lucky ones end up in the environment they prefer, the rest blaze paths around cubicle walls or don headphones to block distraction. The workplace goes on, with social media a bit richer in gigabytes of data if not actionable content.
Of course, it's not just cubicles. We've moved on, too, to performance reviews. Some companies are doing away with them! Trendsetting employers have "thrown out the book" - they've "gone to a whole new paradigm." You can insert your own catchy phrases here too - they're great for search engine optimization. Try "out of the box," or "leading edge," or even "one strange trick to flatten your abs." Well, maybe not that last one, but you get my point.
The thing is, I can be apathetic on most issues, like open-versus-closed workspace. Usually the whole thing, whatever it is, will run its course, while people just do what works. But I can't be so blasé about performance reviews. It's an issue that demands I take a stand.
And my stand is... still apathy. But it's active apathy. That's right: It's not just that I don't care if you decide to have performance reviews in your company or not. I don't care, actively. I don't care, with passion. I don't care so strongly that I'm out stumping for converts. I want you not to care too; I want everyone not to care! I think the only right way to look at performance reviews is, in fact, to not care whether you have them or not. In fact, I'm thinking of starting a crowdfunded, grass roots campaign in support of my position. I want to distribute lapel buttons: "I don't care if you have performance reviews! Ask me why!"
I know, I know, it's not a popular position. "Really, Muzio," you think to yourself, "how are you going to drive traffic to your blog? What are you going to do for catch-phrase-laden, search-engine-optimized, expert-sounding content? What kind of management and workplace culture expert can you be if you're not going to take a side in the biggest debate since what to do about loud-talkers in the workplace?"
But you didn't read my campaign button. Go on, ask me why I don't care.
Thank you.
Performance reviews are a red herring. For employees, they bring up emotional fears and memories of a dressing-down from an inconsiderate manager. For managers, they raise the dread of announcing never-big-enough pay raises to never-satisfied employees. For HR experts, they're a catapult into talking about intelligent-sounding things like integrated talent management strategy and market based compensation models.
This is all valid, and terribly fascinating to the people suffering from the emotions and doing the intelligent-sounding talking. But it distracts from what's really important: alignment and accountability.
I'm telling you, I'm fanatical about my lack of interest in performance reviews. If you start talking to me about them, I'll quickly shift the conversation to a list of five specific questions about alignment and accountability: First, to what extent do your employees and managers share a common understanding of the employees' required output? Second, to what extent do your employees realize, day-to-day, how well they are performing against those expectations? Third, to what extent do your managers realize how well their employees are performing? Fourth, to what extent does everyone understand the relationship between meeting expectations and getting paid? And, fifth, to what extent are your managers and employees in frequent communication about the first four issues?
"The performance review" might be involved here, to the extent that it's a partial answer to Question Five - if that's the name you give to a meeting in which manager and employee discuss expectations and rewards. Or, you can have the same meeting and call it "Company Incorporated's Super Duper Fantastic Alignment and Accountability Meeting." Or "Fred." I don't care.
Actively.
What I do care about is that your answers to my five questions should all be the same, and should all go like this: To what extent do your employees and managers share a common understanding of the employees' required output? To a great extent, and yet, probably not enough. To what extent do your employees realize, day-to-day, how well they are performing against those expectations? To a great extent, and yet, probably not enough. To what extent do your managers realize how well their employees are performing? To a great extent, and yet, probably not enough. To what extent does everyone understand the relationship between meeting expectations and getting paid? To a great extent, and yet, probably not enough. And, finally, to what extent are your managers and employees in frequent communication about the first four issues? To a great extent, and yet, probably not enough.
Why this answer? Because "to a great extent" means that you recognize the importance of the process of employee/manager alignment on goals, expectations, and compensation, and that you and your company have worked actively to get good at it. And, "probably not enough" means that you also recognize that no matter how hard you try, you're never done - that this process requires continued attention, because it's competing for time with so much that sounds more urgent, but in the end is less important.
You can never be too popular. You can never be too good-looking. And, you can never be too well-aligned regarding goals and compensation. Alignment, and the accountability that ensues from it, are all that matter when it comes to performance. It's not about whether you have the necessary conversations via "performance reviews," one-on-one meetings, hallway conversations, e-mails, or text messages. You'll probably need to have them on more than one channel anyway.
Do We Really Need Performance Reviews? | The Workplace: Inside & Out
I don't care about performance reviews, with gusto. If the manager/employee conversations in your organization aren't already one big, ongoing, never ending dialogue about goals, expectations, and progress, you've got a problem that needs solving - and the cancellation of "performance reviews" won't do it. If your manager/employee conversations are already creating effective alignment, then the labels you give the meetings are about as important as the decision between wearing your "I don't care" lapel button on the left, or on the right.
Just don't stab yourself when you're pinning it on. In the new open work plan, everyone can see you, and they'll laugh.

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