58. Evaluations Don’t Need to Suck

Feedback is AWESOME, unless it’s not. The crazy thing is that the vast majority of evaluations, assessments, performance reviews are lame and unproductive, yet we are subjected to them time and time again. The good news is that employee reviews don’t need to suck!


On this second in a series of episodes exploring what does not need to suck at work, Crina and Kirsten delve into workplace performance evaluations.

And yes, even in the midst of a year into the pandemic, evaluations of how we do at work continue.  Evaluations, reviews, appraisals . . . so many names for what can be stress inducing and a waste of time.  To understand how we got here with evaluations, let’s look at the history.

Evaluations can be traced back to WWI when the military wanted to identify poor performers.  By the 1960s, 90% of companies were using appraisals and ranking systems.  During this same time there was a shortage of managerial talent and companies started shifting away from evaluations that reflected performance by scores to using evaluations as a professional development tool. This new approach was based on a theory that employees wanted to perform well and would do so if supported properly, opposed to the previous theory which assumed you had to motivate people with material rewards and punishments.  And this is the part where evaluations do not have to suck – evaluations should motivate and inspire employees to do better.  Companies have moved back to ranking and scoring rather than motivating and inspiring and we see evaluation programs trying to do it all and not doing a lot of it well.  The Future of Performance Reviews (hbr.org)

All of this is to say that we are all still trying to figure out how to 

  1. Support employees
  2. Reward good performance
  3. Recruit and retain talent
  4. Eliminate poor performers who are “uncoachable”

Here’s some of what we know about performance reviews and employee engagement:

The Harvard Business Review summarizes workers experience, “[w]ith their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, [annual reviews] hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organizations’ long-term survival.   In contrast, regular conversations about performance and development change the focus to building the workforce your organization needs to be competitive both today and years from now. Business researcher Josh Bersin estimates that about 70% of multinational companies are moving toward this model, even if they haven’t arrived quite yet.”  The Future of Performance Reviews (hbr.org) 


1. Engage more deeply with the work of your direct reports and team:

Regular check ins provide frequent and timely feedback and support.  And the data supports that frequency is important.  Studies show weekly check-ins increase performance by 13% where monthly check-ins decrease it by 5%.  9 Lies About Work, Buckingham and Goodall.

Companies who implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback. Employee Performance Program & Coaching | CoreAxis Corporate Training & eLearning.

Frequency is important because it allows real time considerations to occur, ongoing problem solving and direct application of learning. It allows employees and managers to make sense of real-time information together, focus on the next week, the problem to solve; build relationships and trust; and evaluates performance. It allows for listening, course-correcting, adjusting, coaching, pinpointing, advising, paying attention and providing real-time feedback.

This is in contrast to annual check ins where information is discussed when it is likely to be obsolete or irrelevant. 

2. Provide meaningful, real time feedback

Whatever the feedback, the purpose should be to motivate employees to do better work, position them for success and further engage them.  Gallup research tells us that managers have a tough time with this and only about 15% of managers strongly agree that they are effective at giving feedback.  And this is in contrast to employees who tell us that meaningful feedback would inspire them to work harder.  Employee Performance Program & Coaching | CoreAxis Corporate Training & eLearning

3. Reframe the annual review

The annual review process is better suited for a development opportunity.  Annual reviews should do a couple of big things:  set goals, align those individual goals with those of the company, include clear measurement towards the goals, including measuring progress.

The content of evaluations should not be a surprise, but rather a chance to sit down and review what you’ve been discussing all year.  


The first thing we can do is to ask for regular feedback.  Start small – or not – always interesting to go big!  When we ask for feedback, we need to be open to feedback and open to the process and we need to pay close attention.  

Another helpful strategy is to ask about the review process your manager uses.  What is it meant to accomplish, what does she want to measure?  Understanding the process can be helpful in determining what is important about your performance and allows you to better use the information you get.

There are things managers and employees can do to make the evaluation and review process better.  We can take it further from its military WWII roots and rather than use it as a way to punish, use it as a way to inspire and motivate to bring more ease, meaning and joy to the workplace.

And another great read:

17 Mind-blowing Statistics on Performance Reviews and Employee Engagement