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Why Performance Review “Survival Kits” Send a Really Negative Message

I was browsing an HR Online forum recently and saw an advert for a “Performance Review Survival Kit”. So being a curious person I clicked the link and downloaded their free offering. But while I was genuinely curious about what innovative tools were going to be provided in this “survival kit”, I couldn’t help but thinking that “surviving” a performance review is the wrong way to think about the process. And such an inherently negative connotation can only lead to long-term failure, or at least a permanently pessimistic outcome for what should be an inherently pro-active and productive activity.

I’ll happily agree that most people don’t’ like doing performance reviews. In fact I once wrote a company Guideline on Performance Reviews (PR) that clearly stated “No one really likes doing performance reviews”. I could hear individual gasps as the email hit inboxes and people started reading. But like it or not performance reviews are a part of business life because the simple fact is that done properly and well, they produce results and employees and managers alike feel more satisfied in their work as a result. The simple act of sitting down twice a year with your people makes your staff feel good about themselves, which means they feel good about you as a manager and good about the organisation they work for.

Often performance reviews are highly convoluted, labour intensive and, when done poorly, of little value to either employee or manager. I’ve seen PR systems that have 10 pages of tick boxes, essay answers and multiple choice questions to complete before you even get to booking in a time for the meeting. Many managers don’t bother to do the necessary preparatory work for the reviews that can actually add value for their employees. And many employees go into a review with either an over inflated idea of their own skills and contributions, or with such a negative disposition that no matter what beneficial feedback is provided the employee has already made a decision to not constructively participate.

When these things happen it is a shame. Because the majority of the population respond positively to recognition of their achievements, and just as positively to kindly given constructive feedback as to how to make improvements to have more achievements of which to be proud.

Every organisation will do things differently whether it be in regards to performance reviews, job interviews or any other HR related activity. And rightly so. These activities produce the best results for organisations when they are tailored to meet the individual and unique cultural need of the organisation. If your organisation has a 50-page process for completing performance reviews (and it works), good for you. If you do performance reviews quarterly – fantastic if that is what gets you the best results. If you find that a once-a-year approach with 5 dot points on the back of an envelope is what works for you, then I say bravo. Because you’ve worked out what you need to make performance reviews relevant for you.

But please, don’t make the mistake of telling your people that performance reviews are something to be survived. People survive cancer. You shouldn’t make them feel they have to survive performance reviews.


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