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On performance reviews

Get Rid of the Performance Review! in the Wall Street Journal tackles the outmoded concept of one-way personnel assessments. In it, Samuel Culbert makes the case that reviews slow productivity and breed animosity in ways that are not particularly useful. Employee "previews" are suggested as an alternative.

But a far better mechanism already exists: the employee-led performance review. Staff are given blank assessment sheets and write objective reports of themselves. These are then shared with management; the boss leads a sit-down session to discuss areas agreed upon as well as areas omitted by the employee.

I've been giving and receiving self-administered performance reviews for years and see many benefits. Employees are often more critical of themselves than their managers. They encourage improvement even before the face-to-face review begins. The process also eliminates the one-sidedness of employer reviews, because the process begins with a dialogue rather than a directive.

Some organizations do two-sided assessments, which is even better: employee fills out a form, employer fills out the same form, then both sides review the two sheets together. This provides great momentum for consensus-building and easily identified goals. It also clarifies why areas are included or excluded by either party (e.g. "I hadn't mentioned my early Friday departures because I thought my late nights offset them... I'm glad you highlighted this as something that's important to the company.").

My current employer has begun managerial reviews, which is an interesting twist: we've got one-way reports, but they're up the chain of command instead of down, so I've been reviewed by a project manager and am scheduled to review the president. I was reluctant to do them at first, and now I know why: they are the one-side-accountable, administered/received reviews outlined in the WSJ article. Fortunately, bubble-up reviews work differently--they've been excellent sessions of constructive criticism and a good chance to think objectively about peers. Very useful for continued personal growth, particularly in a small company.

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