Performance Appraisals — Not!

Those who have followed my writings on other venues, such as HRNet and TRDEV on Yahoo, will recognize that I am a huge opponent of the use of performance appraisals.  

By performance appraisal I mean the annual (sometimes more frequently) event where a manager sits down and fills out a form which rates individual employees on a variety of predetermined factors.  These factors are most likely rated subjectively, and they may or may not (most likely do not) directly impact upon the overall performance of the organization.  They are also usually focused more around the activities or actions that an employee “should” take, rather than on the outcomes of activities or actions. 

When it comes to performance appraisals, I think that Jim Collins said it best in his accompanying monograph to Good to Great about social sectors.  He stated on the first page: 

“When you compare great companies to good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness.”

I think this sums up performance appraisals quite nicely.  Many companies engage in them, however, they never drive performance.  I’ve spent the past 4 years reviewing large-scale research studies, case studies, and personal anecdotes on what drives high performance in organizations, and not once was performance appraisals a factor.

The problem with performance appraisals is that they are focused on the past, not future goals and results; they are most often dealing with the subjective opinion of the supervisor, not the objective measures of actual performance; and it happens so infrequently and so far removed from actual performance that any opportunity to enhance performance has long since passed.

I recently shared on the HRNet that I came across an article that was referred by Bob Sutton’s site (co-author of “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense” with Jeffery Pfeffer that I believe you’ve mentioned before) on this issue.  Sutton was musing about the possibility of performance appraisals doing more harm than good and referenced this article by Dr. Culbert of UCLA Anderson School of Management in the Wall Street Journal.  I found the article very well laid out with some practical approaches at the end.

There seems to be a growing concern with this issue of the traditional performance appraisals by thought leaders of HR.  I also notice a similar thought process about the replacement.  Terms such as “feedforward” instead of “feedback” or “performance previews” instead of “performance reviews” are becoming more common.  I have previously shared an article by Gallup in other venues on this concept (The Four Disciplines of Sustainable Growth).  Discipline #3 ( seems to have a lot in common with what Sutton shares at the end of his article.

Also, you might want to read an article by Marshall Goldsmith regarding the concept of “feedforward” as opposed to feedback.  You can find the article here:

I’ll share some more on a nasty variant of performance appraisals, the 360 Degree Assessment later.

Make a Great Day!