How to guide employee performance

3 Mar

Sometimes, our BADM 720 readings are joy. Pure bliss. Get Rid of the Performance Review! is one of those proverbial breath-of-fresh-air pieces. In this Wall Street Journal article, Samuel Culbert, a professor of management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, outlines seven highly valid reasons why performance reviews are “a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work.”

One of the seven flaws Culbert cites is the difference in approach between the evaluator, the supervisor, and the evaluated, the employee. The employee thinks she is there to negotiate her pay. The employer is there to discuss performance and how it can be improved.

And as Culbert point out, that’s a farce. In most larger organizations, raises are limited to a predetermined range determined by senior management or the board, usually 2-5% annually at most companies. It doesn’t matter how fabulous your performance is — you’re never going to get more unless you get a promotion. Your employer is never going to raise your salary outside of your market range anyway. And if your organization is in financial trouble, the annual raise might be 0% across the board.

Culbert has many other strong points about the weaknesses in most performance review systems — that objectivity is subjective, and teamwork is disrupted, among others. However, what I responded to most strongly was Culbert’s suggested alternative.

He recommends tw0-sided, reciprocally accountable performance previews, where a boss can guide, coach, tutor and otherwise provide oversight — what a boss is supposed to do, after all. Rather than dwelling on what has already taken place and can’t be fixed, as in the performance review, the preview creates discussions about how boss and employee can work together more effectively as a team, separately from any discussion of pay.

I’ve experienced it,  and I know it works. I consider myself fortunate to have had a great boss, Lynn Atcheson, for 13 years, a boss who also happened to be an amazing leader. Twice a year, unconnected to our corporate-mandated performance review, she met with each member of her team to answer these six questions, what I now call The Lynn Review Questions:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. What are you learning?
  3. What are your goals?
  4. How can I help you?
  5. Please provide any recommendations how I might improve my leadership style.
  6. Provide any recommendations on how we can improve our department.

It’s been nine years since I worked for her, and I still have the questions! I later went on to use the questions with my own direct reports. When she first implemented it, we employees rolled our eyes about it a bit  — “Oh, it’s time for the meeting” — but actually, the formalized way in which she approached it made it both more comprehensive and significant. And because she had already built trust in her day-to-day leadership behaviors and actions, we could have truthful, meaningful, impactful conversations.


2 Responses to “How to guide employee performance”

  1. bplusbooks March 4, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    You may be interested in Culbert’s forthcoming book on this subject “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” which will be available in April.

    You can also take a look at this great performance review quiz

    • Kate Grey March 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

      Thanks so much for pointing that out, Bob. Funny enough, I sent Dr. Culbert a link to this post earlier today, and he wrote back to tell me about his book. Made my day! I’m sure people like me will talk his book up more once it’s out … hopefully it will produce change.

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