Recent research suggests that even top performers and those motivated to learn for the sake of learning hate performance reviews. Given that managers tend to dislike giving criticism as much (if not more) than workers dislike receiving it, is there any point in having a formal review process to begin with?
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Reviews would still make sense, despite the discomfort, if criticism motivated workers to do better. (As other research has indicated.) But the researchers found that this wasn’t the case.
Researchers Satoris Culbertson of Kansas State University, Jaime Henning of Eastern Kentucky University, and Stephanie Payne of Texas A&M University hypothesized that subjects who enjoyed learning for its own sake would respond positively to constructive criticism. After asking 234 university employees how they felt about their performance evaluations three months prior, and comparing their answers with those evaluations, they determined that both workers who cared about what others thought of their work and workers who cared about getting better at their jobs disliked performance evaluations.
In other words: no one likes them.
“While the findings might seem obvious (who likes to be reminded of their weaknesses?), they emphasize why so much of the effort and energy spent on the performance review process is often wasted,” writes Jena McGregor at The Washington Post. “What’s meant to be a constructive and helpful discussion quickly gets lost once someone — even those who are sincerely interested in developing their talents and skills — hears critical feedback.”
Part of the problem might be the rating system that many organizations use to categorize performance. Culbertson tells The Washington Post that a four out of five rating, for example, might read as criticism to a high performer, even when that person’s manager meant to indicate excellence.
The answer, therefore, might not be dispensing with performance reviews, but redesigning them so that they’re easier for employees to understand in a way that encourages better performance — or at least, taking into account individual differences in employees when giving feedback.
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