I dread linking to anything posted on Medium, but Performance Reviews Are A Waste of Time by Xavier Shay echoes much of my feelings about how useless they are.
I enjoyed Jamie Thingelstad’s article write-up:
Formal feedback mechanisms in companies are hard. I’ve come to think of performance reviews as an organizational insurance policy. The process and mechanism for them insures that a bare minimum of dialog is happening. I really don’t know of anybody that feels that they are an effective way of leading and managing teams. I think that is summarized in the common refrain that there should be nothing new learned in a performance review.
Back when I was a manager and my direct reports were local-ish (I rotated weekly between the three cities in two countries where they were) I had to do the annual review and instituted formal quarterly reviews.
They sucked. They were one of the many mistakes I made as a manager.
However, I found more value – and I am told my team did as well – in the concept of “Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around”. This was hugely informal and unintentional. I didn’t want to be holed up in my office all day. My team was doing the kinds of technical work I enjoyed but from which I had to step away. And I valued their input and ideas in an ersatz Socratic Method to help with the bigger picture stuff.
I liked, trusted, and valued my team, so why wouldn’t I want to be closer to them than my offices offered?
Many modern workplaces with remote workers don’t necessarily have that benefit. Tools like Slack can’t really make up the gap, especially if your team is global. The formal performance review still fits poorly.
I should have seen the performance review as a company insurance policy back in the day.
Interestingly, I was contacted not too long ago by a colleague who felt “railroaded” by a sudden bad performance review. I advised challenging it with the formal HR process with plenty of CYA (Cover Your Ass). Turns out the supervisor involved had nothing to back up their position but my colleague had plenty to refute.
The bottom line is as always: protect yourself; document everything; use the HR system to your advantage; and don’t accept the premise.