The Dreaded Performance Review

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Is your institution still stuck in the cycle of the dreaded, annual performance review? I am afraid mine still is, and frankly it’s awful. (I am sure some of my coworkers reading this will rat me out. It’s okay the Boss knows how I feel.) I agree with a Washington Post business writer who called it a “rite of corporate kabuki that restricts creativity, generates mountains of paperwork, and serves no real purpose.“

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It is time to leave these reviews in the last century where they belong. This focus on past behavior does little to improve performance, groom talent, or prepare for the future. Who feels good after a performance review? The answer is usually no one—not the reviewer or the employee. I have never really felt happy about a performance review even when the employee received an outstanding one. How do you compress what they accomplished in a whole year into a form with all the right boxes filled in? Certainly, if there is a problem with performance there must be ongoing discussions about the problem and how to correct it. So why wait a year to handout praise?

Need a review? Google “performance reviews,” and you will find “100 Useful Phrases for Performance Reviews.” Certainly makes completing that HR paperwork much easier, but serves no other purpose. There is also the problem of inconsistent evaluation throughout the institution. We all know the managers that give everyone the top performance ranking even to obviously under performing employees, and then there are the managers that take a harder line. A study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000 documented this problem. 4,492 managers were rated on performance by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates. Individual rater peculiarities of perception accounted for 62% of the variance in the rating. Actual performance accounted for only 21%. It seems that ratings reveal more about the rater than the ratee.

A system that gives more immediate, less judgmental feedback improves both the manager and the employee. The art of conversation goes a long way. Have more casual conversations about progress, problems, and individual goals. As a manager I feel much better about these conversations–the “great job” ones and the “need to work on this” ones. I think the employee does too. Talent is in short supply and recruiting and training is expensive. We need to invest in developing people rather than just seeking to hold them accountable.

What do you think? Does your institution have a really good system?

–Kathy Dickson

ALHFAM board member Kathy Dickson is the director of Museums and Historic Sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society. She stumbled into the museum field over 30 years ago and never left.

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