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5 Reasons Why Annual Performance Reviews Should Be Banished, Adobe-Style

Rarely, if ever, does any manager or employee speak of their fondness for the annual performance review, that ritual outlining of personal mistakes, successes, strengths, and weaknesses. So, if everyone hates them so much, why are are we doing them? That's the question Adobe asked before deciding to eliminate the process in 2012, and the company hasn't looked back since. Here's why.

(Photo Credit: AJ Cann/Flickr)

1. Looking backward instead of forward isn’t helpful.

Focusing on the past doesn’t bring about the real change that comes from getting excited about the future. Adobe’s Senior Vice President of People and Places, Donna Morris, made the decision to eliminate the annual reviews. In an April 2014 interview with Business Insider, Morris says that a performance review is “like a rear-view mirror -- it had nothing to with the person’s progress forward.”

2. Co-workers become adversaries.

So often the annual review becomes a contest of the favorites, in which employees are compared to one another, or asked to provide feedback for co-workers. In some cases, they're even being required to share something negative about a colleague. It becomes difficult to collaborate with or trust your peers at work if management takes a particularly perverse pleasure in creating metaphorical cage fights. Morris says, “...we fundamentally believed people were our most important asset, yet once a year we had a process that pitted person against person.”

3. Recognition should be real time.

What good is praise or constructive criticism if it’s given eight months after the fact and only comes once a year? Human beings are motivated by positive reinforcement and direction, but it has to be timely in order to be effective.

4. Fear stifles creativity.

It’s sort of like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Performance reviews create fear, fear instills suppression, and suppression kills creativity and profits. People fear performance reviews because even though reviews are touted as objective, everyone knows they’re completely subjective.

Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, began championing the end of annual performance reviews some years ago. Writing for The New York Times in 2011, Culbert says:

“Under such a system, in which one’s livelihood can be destroyed by a self-serving boss trying to meet a budget or please the higher-ups, what employee would ever speak his mind? What employee would ever say that the boss is wrong, and offer an idea on how something might get done better?”

5. Damage caused outweighs benefits gained.

The aforementioned reasons combined make the annual review process a giant waste of company time and resources, especially since preparing reviews requires collecting a year’s worth of documentation. Not only is it wasteful, but it does nothing to teach or promote effective communication between colleagues or supervisors and employees. Rather, the arcane process holds the potential to breed failure amongst the workers it’s intended to help.

What are the alternatives to annual performance reviews?

After abolishing the annual performance review, Adobe created a new process referred to as the check-in, which is more informal, regular, and on-going. According to Morris, the check-ins are tied to expectations or goals established at the beginning of the year and often it is the employee who leads the discussions, sharing their own ideas about what they should be accomplishing.

Culbert also advocates for an alternative to annual reviews that he refers to as “performance preview,” in which supervisors and employees work as a team to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to accountability. He suggests both supervisor and employee be held accountable for setting goals and achieving results rather than continuing the top-down model with its arbitrary measures.

Tell Us What You Think

Should annual performance reviews be eliminated? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Ivan Luke 16 May

    While the idea is valid performance reviews are often tied to salary reviews and if you dont do them at least once in year it can to often be easy for companies to skip those as well.  If this can be done independently then i am all for it.

  2. 1 Steffen Maier 01 May

    There are good reasons to say "bye" to the static and complex performance reviews that only happen once or twice a year and are built with the wrong intention namely to control the people rather to empower them to learn and improve. 

    Feedback is the crucial source for all learning though. As stated, to make it relevant and meaningful it needs to be timely and continuous. 

    To be focused on the future performance Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a proven methodology used by Google. Yet, the big impact of objectives doesn’t come from the setting the objectives, but from consistently working towards them. Research shows that people who regularly revisit their objectives see more than a 30% greater impact from objective-setting processes than companies who only review them annually.
    Actually, objectives should be reviewed each week. 

    Today’s companies which are affected by a fast changing, competitive environment need to meet modern
    standards of social performance management to empower employees towards development and innovation with the best tools available.

    Check www.impraise.com if you want to do feedback right in your organization.

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