the silly practice of performance reviews

For Deming performance appraisals and the often subsequent, employee ranking, is one of the seven deadly diseases of management. He also insightfully told us to get rid of numerical targets and work quotas, clever fellow Dr D.

As you may know I am a big fan of Elliot Jaques and his seminal work developing a comprehensive coherent organisational theory.

Regarding this topic however, Elliot Jaques’ states:

“An individual’s performance is the relationship between targeted output and achieved output.”

I’m afraid it just does not stack up, it is way too simplistic in today’s complex business environment. Firstly all targets are arbitrary so measuring performance relative to an arbitrary target is just as arbitrary. Secondly, I most likely work in a system that has been designed by someone else (if at all, it may just have emerged over time) so it constrains my ability to perform, meaning there is inherent unfairness in assessing my individual performance as measured by output. Dr Deming’s 95-5 rule highlights the impact of the system on performance vs. the impact of the individual. Of course this is not a literal rule but it is clear where the greatest leverage for improvement is.

I agree wholeheartedly that feedback is essential but I think annual reviews should be banned; they have no place in a modern organisation. I really do wonder for whom they are valuable, not once have I heard a manager nor a staff member even hint at getting any value from them. Someone in HR however, most likely with a nonsense target about how many have been done, harasses anyone who still has not completed this complete waste of time.

Often the design of performance management systems are delegated not only to HR, but to a level in HR that is too low to understand the true complexity of the task. We end up with a process-laden system that assumes there is true objectivity in numbers and targets as measurements of performance.

Of course we all need to know what is expected of us in our role and how we are going. That bit goes without saying and I think your 8 questions go some way to improve the feedback process and as you point out make it a more frequent occurrence. Discussing performance and the role is something that can and should happen continuously. Context changes and subsequently roles may need to be adjusted to better reflex these changes so the role description can be a live document. It is also critical that the role description outline what the expected good behaviours are for the different elements that the role is accountable for. I like that your questions are based on manager’s using their own judgments to assess performance. An often overlooked role in performance systems is the role of the MoR who plays a critical part of the overall system in that their role is to make sure the manager-subordinate relationship is fair.

If you subscribe to the idea that systems drive behaviour, you have to, as a manager dig a bit deeper than the individual if you see undesired or unproductive behaviours emerge in the organisation.

I wrote this entry as a response to Michael Cardus’ post on performance appraisals.

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7 thoughts on “the silly practice of performance reviews

  1. I believe that one of the biggest challenges is to change the way that senior staff think. The concept of a performance review is the only way that old school managers believe the performance and productivity is measured. Thanks for the
    article.

  2. Absolutely Sharon, when you shift the thinking that underpins the current design a new world will become visible and with it new possibilities. This shift is unlikely to come without senior staff immersing themselves in really understanding the issues that the current system creates. Some people know how ineffective performance reviews are but cannot think of an alternative so it stays, even though removing it would do less damage.

  3. Agree that the whole system needs to be redesigned to support this line of thinking. Removing one part of the system without changing the thinking that reinforces it is unlikely to make a material difference overall.

  4. Pingback: Performance Without Appraisal | Create-Learning Team Building

  5. Great blog! I am just confused about how you can on one side have such thorough understanding of systems, or complexity, theory, and on the other side be enamored with Jaques, whose ideas are (I think) competely and utterly un-systemic. Great prose and lot of interesting thoughts!

    • Hi Niels and thanks for your comment. My early consulting years were in a Requisite Organisation based firm so much of it comes from there. I am currently battling with some of Jaques’ view and their alignment with the latest developments in complexity theory.There are certainly some bits that I have now dismissed but others that I find very hard to put behind me. I would be interested to understand what it is about Jaques that you find utterly un-systemic.

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