Those Who Can’t Do… TEACH!

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal extols the virtues of getting rid of performance reviews. It’s written, of course, by a career academic and author who fancies himself a consultant as well.

Therein lies the problem. I have no problem with academics, per se. I just want them to remain in academia. It’s when they venture out into the real world that their distorted perceptions and laboratory theories fall apart.

Someone need to lock those guys up, before they do real damage to some unsuspecting company.

In summary, this gown-wearing, tasseled professor believes that performance reviews have no impact on measurement, pay, development or, in fact, performance.

And perhaps, given his limited, myopic experience, that’s been true. And I’m certainly not one to claim that all performance reviews are of great value. Some aren’t. Sometimes managers, untrained and unprepared, fail at the effort. Sometimes, we don’t communicate regularly enough to prepare them for success.

But to paint all performance management with the same “ineffective” brush is, well, just plain stupid. Well-trained managers, managing performance in a well-thought process, can create a higher-performing organization than would ever occur if we were all left to our own devices.

You would, of course, have to spend some time in the real world to know that.

The real reason for this article in the WSJ? The proposed alternative: “Performance Previews.” That’s right, an entry piece to introduce — in all likelihood — this pointy-haired ivory-tower resident’s new book.

More consultant-speak and fads. Yes, that’s what we need…

But that’s just me.


Kevin Berchelmann


  1. says

    Hmmm… I love a good dialog on this stuff.

    To Sally’s points: yes and no. 🙂

    Performance Management is not HR’s purvue (or at least shouldn’t be). HR can help, assist, train, and facilitate, but managing performance is the personal responsibility of any/every given leader. Never lose that focus.

    Performance REVIEWS, on the other hand, are an HR invention, created so HR and the boss would know for sure that some form (even the limited form process) of performance management was occurring.

    In other words, a performance review is a follow-up or metric to determine veracity of the performance management process.

    And at that, it sucks.

    But if managers are doing these reviews, and the process of performance management, poorly, this accountability sits squarely on the shoulders of the appropriate leader.

    And HR shouldn’t HAVE to suggest a bell curve; managers should realize that — in all likelihood — all their folks are not “A” players. Get over that.

    Performance reviews are NEVER inherently bad. Inadequate, unfullfilled, uninspired, maybe. But “bad,” no. And though I seldom defend typical corporate HR, they aren’t the bad guy here; they may be ENABLING the bad guy, but again, that real accountability for performance management (and the subsequent review) sits with the relevant leader.

    Regarding Andrew’s comments… I can summarize: Successful performance management is clearly setting expectations, then managing to those expectations. Accountability all around.

    I agree.

    Kevin Berchelmann

  2. Anonymous says

    Andrew said…

    There goes that gnatty, grey area fulcrum on the black and white spectrum of MANAGEMENT PRAGMATICS again! : )

    But I think also, at the end of the day, one would find a direct correlation between the acceptance of “formalized” performance reviews and an increased awareness in two (count’em 2!)areas of the reviewer’s settled introspection about themselves and about their responsibilities. They are:

    1) Confidence in their abilities as a manager and the insights that experience has given them to stand behind whatever finality such a review might bring, and…
    2) you guessed it, CONFIDENCE…in their NOT-SO-MUTALLY-INEXCLUSIVE capabilities in conveying the relevance and operation-critical information that a good performance review intrinsically contains.

    I do not think that they are the same confidences at all…and I’m stick’n to it!…

    I realize that a statement like this isn’t for Cousin Eddie who was placed into middle management by the family to keep him out of jail and now has to find those darn forms to have that secretary girl fill out…we don’t like him. But it also isn’t for that tweedy academic guy either…those ivory halls have him insulated from the “real world” as you say. No wonder that theoretical bravado doesn’t hold up against the reality of necessary benchmarks! He’s not CONFIDENT enough to fill those things out in the first place! Performance Mgrs. 1; WSJ 0 !!

  3. says

    Performance management is indeed a skill and one that HR rarely covers more than how to fill out the forms. On the other hand, performance management can also be abused to the detriment of the employee.

    It’s important for a manager to know his employees. A manager can’t just look at performance at the end of the year — they have to be aware of performance all year around and either praise or correct when a performance “event” happens.

    Improper reaction to performance events (especially if held until review time) can destroy morale and induce poor performance.

    HR’s common practice of forcing performance ratings to a bell curve is also wrong in my opinion. It is much better to train managers to understand how to properly rate performance and then allow managers to stick with (or justify) those ratings.

    I think it is the common abuse of performance reviews that may lead some in academia to say that performance reviews are bad. I’m inclined to partially agree. But the answer is not to do away with them, but to “fix” them. This can come about through educating managers both in the skills of managing performance and in keeping that “ball in the air” with all the other responsibilities of management.

    Finally, HR needs to realize the motivational bomb that a performance review can become when abused and ensure that they minimize improper use of a necessary tool.

  4. says

    Your comments make for good discussion…

    I agree that many managers dislike the performance review process. I also believe that many managers generally dislike the discipline process.

    Both, however, remain essential. Discomfort with an essential leadership task doesn’t eliminate the need.

    The issue, I believe, is systemic.

    Instead of HR simply berating managers about timely performance reviews (typical), we would do well to
    (a) remember that performance management is a process, and much bigger than a simple review form, and
    (b) realize that performance management isn’t a birthright — it’s a learned skill, and managers need to be adequately trained and counseled on proper process and technique.

    We (the system) are failing managers, which is why many managers are failing their employees.

    But that’s just me…


  5. smraff says

    Nice blog!

    My experience has been that most managers intensely dislike the performance review process. Effectively reviewing a subordinate’s performance requires organization, discipline, and commitment on the part of the supervisor/reviewer; qualities that many responsible for giving performance feedback lack.

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