Are Performance Reviews Still Worthwhile?
In this article, John Vester examines the end-of-the-year performance review process and questions the value of the process.
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With the end of the calendar year approaching, one common theme that I have participated in as a corporate employee is the performance review. While the tools in use have changed, the process hasn't changed all that much in the 25+ years that I have been receiving yearly performance reviews. If something hasn't changed that much in a quarter of a century, is it possible that it is still a worthwhile endeavor?
To make sure we are all on the same page, let's review the process.
In my experience, the performance review begins with the employee. The employee provides self-feedback on either a list of corporate objectives or personalized goals set earlier in the review cycle. Most of the time, each item provides a high-level status (exceeded objective, met objective, did not meet objectives, etc.) and also includes a free-form text field to provide additional information. At the end of the review form, fields exist for future goals and an overall summary for the employee to utilize.
I remember my first performance review, fresh into the job market, riding the wave of way-cool new microcomputer applications. I made sure my WordPerfect (yes, WordPerfect) version of the performance review included charts from Harvard Graphics and tables from Lotus 1-2-3. The OLE technology was rough, but when it worked and the document saved properly, it was ready for print on our department's fancy laser printer.
In talking to my peers, I realized that few opted to put that much detail in their performance review. In all fairness, though, back then most of my colleagues were still working on green-screen COBOL programs. I was one of the few who was fortunate to program and support microcomputers, realizing their potential.
Once that's completed, the next step is for the manager to provide thoughts on the same topics. Similar fields exist for the manager, too, plus the whole idea of talking about salary updates and maybe even things like a bonus or profit-sharing rewards.
In the years that I have been submitting performance reviews, I have worked with managers who have generally taken one of the three approaches below.
The Less-Is-More Review: The manager provides little detail, perhaps one sentence for each topic and a few sentences at the end. Their view is that they prefer to talk in person more than provide written feedback.
The Over-the-Top Review: On the complete opposite side, this is the manager who dives into extreme detail. Their responses provide an essay response to each topic. The in-person review is spent reading everything that is written.
The Balanced Review: This review provides detail on every point. However, more detail is added when there are constructive items or items that exceeded expectations. When a short comment makes sense, it is utilized. Bullet points (while not always preferred by Human Resources staff) are often employed, as well.
In the years that I have maintained a manager or supervisor role, I tend to use the balanced review style as much as possible. My goal is to focus on the areas where the employee exceeded expectations or areas where some constructive guidance can be offered.
The information I provide is (hopefully) not over-the-top, but is detailed enough so that the employee can refer back to the completed review when needed. The review should also become an artifact for the portion of their career that covers the review cycle.
For me, the most important resource are the employees that make up our teams, departments, divisions, and corporations. They are the difference makers in today's very competitive world. As a result, I feel like I should take the extra time to provide the best summary of their performance possible.
While the process for performance reviews has not changed much (if any) over the last 25 years, I believe this to be a positive thing.
As much as other tasks can compete with a manager or supervisor's time, there is no more important resource than the employee. That is why it is pertinent to allocate ample time to complete the performance review for each team member. While it may be their career journey, the manager has a co-pilot seat for this phase of their life. As a result, no one is in a better position to review their performance from a positive and constructive perspective.
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