Performance Reviews: They’re helpful, but ongoing feedback is best
If there is a guaranteed way of raising the blood pressure of workers, it’s a simple mention of the performance review. “For most people, reviews tend to appear subjective and intimidating,” says Kim Hans, Carlsbad, Calif.-based director of operations for Adecco Staffing in the southwestern United States.
A survey of 2,000 workers by the staffing company found worse. It revealed that less than half—49 percent—believe their supervisors take the review process seriously and only 44 percent think their reviews include constructive feedback. “When I heard that, my initial reaction was, ‘I believe it,’ ” Hans says. “Reviews seem to be very stressful for most people.”
Hans suggests that workers would be happier if they got 52 reviews a year. Her logic is simple. If a supervisor and employee sit down for as few as five minutes a week, they can avoid some of the angst that seems built in to annual reviews. “If the manager says, ‘Let's look at what you did this week,’ that gives the performance review a fresh perspective and one that’s less intimidating,” Hans says. “You can catch a little problem before it becomes a big problem. It’s less painful for both parties.”
Bruce Katcher, a workplace re-searcher with Discovery Surveys in Sharon, Mass., agrees. “[Job reviews] should be to help employees develop and grow,” he says, urging employers to draw a distinction between reviews and pay raises. “Salary reviews should occur separately on an annual basis.”
Katcher contends that about 50 percent of workers understand the job-review process, a factor that contributes to a growing cynicism about evaluations. “This makes it very difficult for supervisors to have meaningful discussions with their employees about job performance,” he says. “It also makes it very, very difficult for organizations to improve the performance of employees.”
Some bosses simply are not good at the review process, while others often don’t give it the attention it should have, says Hans. “Employees often think it is subjective, but there are forms out there that guide the supervisor and make sure that he or she is objectively evaluating performance,” she says.
Adecco requires all new supervisors to participate in an eight-hour training session on performance reviews, which includes various exercises to guide them. In addition, the staffing company requires all supervisors to take an hour-long refresher course on the review process.
Hans says that today’s performance review is a two-way street: All employees should do their own self-evaluation to shed light on their needs and wants as employees. “It isn’t all on the supervisor,” she says. “By having the individual do a self-evaluation, it gives focus to a manager who may have to do 10 or 11 reviews each year. Some supervisors are so busy in their jobs, they don’t feel they have time to put into this, but if the employee shows an interest in the process, the supervisor will usually pay closer attention.”
Yet, even with the employee taking a more active role, the primary burden rests with the supervisor charged with managing workers and developing their skills for the good of the employer. “You can tell a lot about someone’s management skills by how they do the review and how much they value the process by how much they put into it,” Hans says. “If the performance review seems like an afterthought to the employee, it’s going to be taken as an afterthought.”