Thursday, January 07, 2010

Are employee reviews a waste of time?

"Performance reviews are fundamentally broken. Managers hate them and fear them and resent the drain on their time. Employees often leave reviews demotivated, cynical and with no clear idea of how well they’re doing and how to improve." - Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer

I know as both a manager and a employee I hated employee reviews. At 99% of the places I've worked and have friends working, these all look the same. They happen once or twice a year and are such a pain for managers to accomplish, and as employees, they make a lot of people nervous and often upset.

I also know too many of these reviews contain surprises. It's a surprise to find out what you're "rated". Or it's a surprise to find out that they didn't like your work on such and such. I could go weeks or months between speaking to the person giving me my review.

And this is coming from someone who did very well in these reviews.

At Inkling we are a small company so we have the luxury of being able to say forget about employee reviews. We hopefully give enough feedback to each other on a daily basis that a review would be completely redundant and a waste of time.

I can see in a large organization, like a consulting company where employees change managers frequently, it would be a pain to track the feedback if there were zero of these documented exercises. Maybe then the problem is that these exercises only happen twice a year. Why don't they happen twice a week?

It's kind of like building a product. The best way to build a product is build something quickly and get feedback early and often from people who are going to use that product. You are inviting disaster if you build and build and 12 months later finally show someone something for their review.

Same goes for employees. Why only help them build themselves every 6 or 12 months? Why only help them build you even less than that with their feedback of how you are doing?

And then if you get good about constantly giving and soliciting feedback, then what we really need (if we really need this stuff documented), are better mechanisms to capture the archive of this feedback. Not a 12 month late brain-dump of it. But some kind of summary of all those emails, chat transcripts, and phone calls of this stuff.

A couple thoughts on better archiving feedback would be to use something even like Highrise to track emails and summarize feedback conversations you have with your employees. Or use a note taking catch all like Evernote. If you find yourself forced to summarize all these feedback notes you've taken, one thing that could maybe help with that is Word's AutoSummarize feature, which I haven't used often but seems to do a pretty fair job of pulling out key points.

I don't have a perfect solution for a large business to do feedback better. But I do know most of these feedback reviews are still broken and need fixing. Any effort here would do wonders in improving employee morale, which continues to get beaten down in this economy.

There should be much more focus of providing and getting feedback constantly. If you need the archive, experiment with some ways to find the one that works the best for you so that you're creating accurate summaries that contain zero surprises.


You can read more about Alexander's and Joel Spolsky's take on it here.

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