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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.

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.

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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.

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Tavia Tindall
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