Subjective Performance Reviews
The author states “Most performance reviews are staged as ‘objective’ commentary, as if any two supervisors would reach the same conclusions about the merits and faults of the subordinate... the closest one can get to ‘objective’ feedback is making an evaluator's personal preferences, emotional biases, personal agendas and situational motives for giving feedback sufficiently explicit, so that recipients can determine what to take to heart for themselves....worse, bosses apply the same rating scale to people with different functions.”
The subjectivity the author refers to is largely driven by a lack of clear expectations linked to the role in question, and communication and monitoring of the expectations throughout the performance year. Subjective expectations and a lack of transparency results in subjective performance reviews. If a software developer is not aware that PowerPoint presentations are part of their performance evaluation criteria, and furthermore that they need to be an expert, it will become an unexpected surprise when the performance discussion occurs
CTK refers to these expectations/criteria as competencies, which span both cross-functional (e.g., communication, leardership and technical (e.g., software development, recruiting strategy) areas. Creating and communicating role-based competency models (a.k.a. job profiles, job descriptions) based on these competencies, clearly outlining the criteria for the role, minimizing the subjectivity of the expectations and reducing personal agendas and biases. Furthermore, conducting frequent employee assessments based on these criteria increases transparency and employee morale.
The author states “Another bogus element is the idea that pay is a function of performance, and that the words being spoken in a performance review will affect pay. But usually they don't. I believe pay is primarily determined by market forces, with most jobs placed in a pay range prior to an employee's hiring.”
“Pay for Performance” is relatively easy to achieve in a small number of positions (e.g. sales, piecework in manufacturing, and in other roles where outputs can be easily quantified) but it is much more difficult for many other roles. Also, individual performance doesn’t always translate into successful company performance; the staff may be performing very well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their organization is profitable and capable of increasing compensation. Further, linking performance reviews to pay increases (salary increases and/or bonuses) has often subverted the rating process in that supervisors decide what increase they want to give and select the rating that will provide that increase.
Tying pay to competency development may offer an opportunity to improve the link. While competency-based pay hasn’t been widely embraced because a more skilled employee doesn’t directly translate into more revenue, more competencies do qualify individuals to take on more significant roles that drive greater revenue. To the extent that an individual is able to assume new roles, organizations may be quite willing to increase their pay.
360 Multi-rater Feedback
The author states “this illogic is highlighted in the contemporary performance-reviewing fad called ‘360-degree feedback.’ Hate mail, I suppose, is similarly ‘objective.’’
We believe (and research on the validity of multiple raters supports the contention) that input from multiple raters does add value if managed properly. It is important to select feedback sources that are knowledgeable about the work of an individual, and to not ask them to comment in areas where they have less exposure. Further, this is treated as an additional input for the supervisor to consider; 360-degree ratings typically are not calculated directly into a performance review score. Further, the subjectivity the author refers to with 360 multi-rater assessments can also be reduced by creating more clear criteria for evaluation. Behavioral indicators that are incorporated into competencies provide one of the best ways to clarify expectations.
The author states “that's because the performance review is so one-sided, giving the boss all the power. The boss in the performance review thinks of himself or herself as the evaluator, and doesn't engage in teamwork with the subordinate.”
CTK agrees on the importance of reviewers being held accountable for the performance of their reviewees. This can be aided by instilling competencies such as teamwork, coaching, employee development, etc. within the competency models, assessments and performance reviews and evaluation for leadership and management. When holding performance and assessment discussions, both the reviewer and reviewee can share how they believe they (themselves and one another) are performing relative to their competencies.
The author states “No wonder the developmental discussions the boss wants to inject at the time of a performance review so often get categorized by subordinates as gun-to-the-head intimidation requiring false acquiescence, lip-service agreement and insincere, appearance-correcting actions.”
When performance plans are competency-based, performance reviews inherently become competency-based. A reviewee will be able to gather, review and understand their competency strengths and weaknesses throughout the performance reviews, and plan their learning and development accordingly. For example, if a sales analyst is rated below level for relationship development, both the reviewee and reviewer (as they are accountable as well) can identify development resources to improve their skills and move them up the scale. Furthermore, the learning and development function can identify development areas required across the organization to optimize training.
The author states “the mind-sets held by the two participants in a performance review work at cross-purposes. The boss wants to discuss where performance needs to be improved, while the subordinate is focused on such small issues as compensation, job progression and career advancement... a subordinate who objects to a characterization of faults runs the risk of adding another to the boss's list: ‘defensiveness and resistance to critique.’”
Open dialogue between reviewee and reviewer(s), discussing performance and how best they can assist one another is critical to performance management, and it needs to happen repeatedly throughout the year, not just at performance review time. There should be frequent dialogue to increase continued growth and effectiveness of all parties, and to ensure transparency and alignment during the performance review process.
The author states “Previews are problem-solving, not problem-creating, discussions about how we, as teammates, are going to work together even more effectively and efficiently than we've done in the past. They feature descriptive conversations about how each person is inclined to operate, using past events for illustrative purposes, and how we worked well or did not work well individually and together.”
The author’s suggested approach addresses many of the points raised (e.g., transparency, two-way dialog, accountability) but it does not eliminate (or significantly reduce) subjectivity. CTK believes that a competency-based performance process accomplishes this task, and the benefits are not only recognized through increased employee morale and productivity, but also by other talent management functions (e.g., employee development, succession planning, compensation).