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Here is my view on FORMAL performance systems. They are pretty much worthless. Unless you have the time, energy and training capacity, they are detrimental to your organizations health.
There I said it.

Steve Roesler

Yeah, GL, haven't seen a slew of good ones. Different context here. The issue is "What happens when companies downsize and don't have the real data to act on the right decisions?" Separate topic.

As for genuine performance, if people aren't talking to each other every day, a formal sit-down isn't going to boost performance or build teams; if accurate, it may keep one or both parties out of trouble when the stuff hits the fan.

Maybe they should be called, "It's time for our mutual CYA discussion." Waddya think?

Jim Stroup

Steve, this is a favorite topic of mine. Performance review inflation is an endemic problem, and will probably never go away. But it seems to me that specifics about what is meant by the elements of them, and about how to measure and communicate assessments of those components, should make up a greater part of a manager's training - and of his or her own performance reviews. Frequent informal communication in this respect is essential, but I also like the structure and meaning a well-executed formal review gives to those conversations.

Your suggestion that employees should seek such evaluations is great. They (at least the good ones) have the same interest as management in conducting and documenting this process. I like the dynamics it suggests, and that it might promote.

Both approaches to this are helpful to both management and employees in both good times and bad. GL is right that they usually are done so poorly as to undermine, rather than promote, progress in performance. But there are too many reasons - certainly including the desperate ones you posit in this post - to invest the time, energy, and training he refers to. If that isn't being done, management isn't being done.

Steve Roesler


It's a bit sad, yet totally realistic and necessary, to talk about performance discussions as a "defensive" posture for tough times.

Given your consulting and leadership background, perhaps you've had this experience: It's easy to tell who the effective managers are because their people aren't wondering where they stand, what the standards are, and are seen moving up and around the organization. This is because the managers play an active role with them and not just with their tasks. I think this is what GL was accurately reflecting: frequent, informal "How are we doing?" are far more useful--and natural--then a periodic, "Now it's time to sit down and go through the appraisal form" routine.

As you state: If managers aren't investing tie, energy, and training into people, then management isn't taking place.

Wally Bock

It would help if we made it clear to managers that performance management (including those regular evaluations) ARE the job. They are not bolted on to the job. They do not hover over the job. They are not what you do if you have time after the real work is done. They ARE the real work. Put it in the job descriptions. Evaluate them on performance management. Tie incentive pay to it.

Steve Roesler


I have one client who has, as of last month, done just that.

Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie

Steve, thanks for the followup to my comment. Great suggestions. Performance reviews are just one step, one aspect of managing people performance, as Wally writes a manager's job, hence the title. duh.

Steve Roesler


It's helpful to readers to hear as many real-life examples as possible. I appreciate you willingness to weigh in with that one.


Hi Steve,

I wholeheartedly agree with your stance on this for both managers and those who report to them. However, the culture of an organization plays a big role in just how authentic either side is willing to be in the whole performance review arena.

I work in an organization that is highly patriarchal and has a culture deeply rooted in the idea of deference to (if not fear of) hierarchical authority. Feedback is seen as an annual event and always comes with compensation implications. Because of this cultural lack of practice, managers aren't especially skilled in delivering feedback, yet their opinions are taken as near sacred facts. Upward feedback is simply unheard of. To top it all off, we use a forced distribution of ratings. The net result is a lot of politics because the reality is that your performance rating is driven by how well liked you are and by whom you are liked.

Sad but true!

"Joe" (not my real name)

Steve Roesler

"Not Real" Joe,

Well, I can understand the pseudonym under such circumstances and appreciate your willingness to lay out that scenario.

I've seen--and worked with--these kinds of cultures over the years. The upside is that if you keep your nose clean, learn how to play the game and suck up, you've probably got a long career ahead. The downside: It's easy to lose one's sense of self and personal integrity. The organizational implications are another whole story, although I've seen some very financially successful companies run this way; it's just not very relaxing to be there.

One would have to wonder, though, if the company can be successful forever with performance ratings based on politics instead of performance.

Keep us posted...


It's interesting that the same people who want candid reviews from their boss and would never consider lying in the normal course of their life will give inaccurate, feel-good reviews, sometimes because they want to be kind, but more often because they're uncomfortable with confrontation. It's too bad, because reviews done correctly are valuable to everyone, worker, boss and team.

Steve, perhaps some of the informtaion I've posted on doing reviews would be of use to your readers, including a detailed explanation of doing a disciplinary review. Rather than post lots of links, check out the first four here and this one.

Steve Roesler

Right, Miki.

Readers: Have a look at the links Miki provided for some guidance when it comes to reviews.

Middle Manager

Very good points, all.

I have a staff m ember who is certainly on the bottom rung of our current staff. My own boss would like to see her gone not because of direct performance, but because of the staff member's "squeaky wheel" habits. The worker does her job. I've had to modify her job description a bit to keep her from having more responsibility than she can really handle, but what she does is what she can do well at. Meanwhile, every little thing sets her off and she carries complaints to HR all the time over perceived slights that just don't bother other workers. These complaints waste time for HR and their managers, as well as the staff member's union (she is the only member of my team who is a union member--she retained her membership from a previous position).

I know I could return her list of duties to what it had been before, force her to do things she doesn't do well, but not only would she suffer, but all of us would. I'm not willing to go there.

I don't know how to write her annual review with an assessment that reflects these unnecessary complaints that happen outside the office but within the organization. I don't know how, and I don't even know if I should. She has the right to complain, but she is abusing that right, and my boss wants her gone. (The HR office is reluctant to pursue this--for several reasons I'm sure.)

Steve Roesler

Middle Manager,

This is not as uncommon as one might think. What jumps out at me immediately is:

a. Your boss wants her gone
b. HR is, according to your description, having their time wasted.
c. The employee is apparently getting the job itself done as a result of the revised job description.
d. I'm unclear about whether or not the union would intervene on her behalf even though you imply that their time is being wasted as well.

Regarding the review:

If you are receiving complaints from within the organization--and, the basis for those complaints is excessive, wasteful use of others' time--then it is legitimate to document and discuss that. It is an organizational performance issue. Most companies have a set of guidelines/values for "How" people are expected to conduct themselves as well as "What' they are supposed to accomplish. Don't know if this is the case where you are.

What is clear is this: The other entities are looking to you as the manager to manage this. If the behavior is, in fact, disruptive and dragging down the ability of others to perform well, it's a performance problem. If your boss genuinely wants her gone--and the situation warrants it--then you need to sit down with your boss, HR, and the union rep (if necessary; don't know your union rules)and discuss how to proceed.

Of course, you could do something very simple and elegant with the employee, like: "Your constant complaining is getting in the way of others being able to focus on their jobs. My boss is aware of it and is looking to me to resolve it, including in the most extreme way. If you aren't willing to change this particular habit, you may not be employable here. How would you like to proceed?"

Let me know how things unfold, MM.

John Hunter

What people can and should do is eliminate the huge wastes of time and moral sappers (for management and employees) that "performance evaluations" are. To start read chapter 9 of Peter Scholtes' Leader's Handbook. My posts on performance appraisal: http://management.curiouscatblog.net/category/performance-appraisal/

If you are stuck with the farce of them, don't waste much time trying to make them actually worthwhile. The need for communication can much more successfully be achieved outside the performance appraisal meeting.

Steve Roesler


The whole topic of the value of "formal" performance appraisals prompts some very good discussion. Anyone who has ever worked inside of a large organization is familiar with the administrative role that they play and that they are rarely related to real development or developmental discussions.

Thanks for tossing in the resources.

Eliza K

Wow...managers who resort to the carrot/stick philosophy of merit ratings are wasting not only time, but money. Have you forgotten the Fourteen Points?

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