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Evaluate This: Job Reviews Are a Waste of Time!

October 21, 2010
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Here's a phrase that most workers dread hearing: "It's time for your annual performance review."

Stop shuddering for a minute. After all, a business professor at the University of California--Los Angeles is campaigning to eliminate them all together.

"Reviews are fraudulent and offensive one-size-fits-all metrics," said Samuel Culbert. "Getting the word out is important to me."

Along those lines, he recently co-authored the unsubtly named book Get Rid of the Performance Review!

To Culbert, annual reviews are dispiriting anathema. "It's all baloney and pretense [and] a systematic obstacle to getting people to do their best," he said.

Here are some of the reasons why, according to the professor:

· There's no objectivity. For instance, the same person could get two totally different reviews depending on which boss is doing the evaluating.

· It's wrong to think evaluations produce a meritocracy where the better performers are paid better. People primarily get paid what the market will bear, he said, and the pay range is usually determined before the evaluation is even given.

· Evaluations are one-way conversations that do not generate honest communication or involve talking to the boss about ways he or she can help the employee improve.

· It breeds an atmosphere of intimidation and mistrust, while hurting morale and prevents true teamwork.

· It feeds into the notion that workers must please their boss at all costs, yet hardly leads to frank discussions.

Culbert first gained the national spotlight on the issue when advocating for the elimination of performance reviews in the pages of The Wall Street Journal in 2008.

Locally, Penn State psychology professor James Farr agreed that performance reviews, if not done well, can lead to problems.

"Replacing annual reviews is not necessarily a bad idea if you replace it with frequent performance discussions," he said. Such conversations could provide helpful clarity for a person's role in the company.

Farr is aware of Culbert's book and his push to get rid of evaluations. But to Farr, what's worse than a poorly handled evaluation is not having one at all, because "people would not know how they are doing."

Useful feedback about performance and specific plans on what the employees need to do to improve will ultimately be more useful to employees.

Culbert suggests using what he calls a "performance preview" in place of the review.

He describes these as two-way conversations among teammates aimed at improving the worker and the company's performance, rather than simply finding fault with the employee. Bosses would then ask employees what they need to do their jobs more effectively.

And the previews would be done on an as-needed basis, rather than determined by some arbitrary date on a calendar. The idea is to change behavior or deal with issues before they lead to bad results, said Culbert.

"It's two flawed people finding a way to complement one another," he said. "You talk about results, not 'What are you supposed to do for me.' "

In the book, Culbert describes the process as more of a dialogue than a monologue, where people are still held accountable for their work. A collaborative process between two people takes the place of a competitive process between boss and subordinate.

But in the absence of annual reviews, how should raises be determined?

That should be a separate conversation, according to Culbert. Employees could negotiate pay, and look at what the market is compensating for similar work.

As for what his own evaluations are like, well, Culbert doesn't get them anymore, and hasn't for quite some time now.

He has tenure. 

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