Jessica And Mike: One Steps Into Performance Review Hell
A Tale of Two Performance Reviews: One Fails, One Succeeds
Jessica is a middle manager at the Aquatec company, a manufacturing
and retail chain that sells bathroom and pool supplies
She’s dedicated and smart and wants to do the best job she
can. Mike is also a middle manager, at another company in the
same sector—Waterworks. He’s also dedicated, smart, and committed. Neither is cursed with negative attitudes about
employees and both share a common belief that most employees really want to do well.
Every year the managers in both companies are expected to conduct performance reviews with their staff. Jessica and Mike both schedule performance review meetings at least once a year, since that’s what their companies require.
With respect to performance reviews, that’s about all these two managers have in common. that they do, how they do what they do, and their experiences with performance reviews are very different. Different though they may be, both use the term “performance review” to describe that they do.
Let’s start by looking at these managers’ feelings about the performance review process. Managers’ perceptions of performance reviews are often excellent indicators of how the performance review systems are working for them. Strong dislikes also affect how managers conduct performance reviews, and they make reviews less effective.
Jessica hates them. When I asked her if she looked forward to these meetings, she said, “Lord, no. I’d rather crawl over broken glass than have to conduct these meetings. There are always a few employees that get really upset during the meetings and after, and quite frankly, "I’m tired of having to grade staff as if they are kindergarten children.”
In response to the same question, Mike provided a completely different answer. “Well, I find the discussions so valuable that I can’t imagine not doing them. I see my job as working with staff so we all get better and keep learning, and I think my staff understands that. While there are some disagreements during review meetings, they are rarely unpleasant.”
How very strange that two people, equally bright, educated, and dedicated have such completely different views about the performance reviews. It’s a puzzle. Maybe their employees can shed some light on the mystery. Jessica’s employees have somewhat different opinions, but there are some common threads in their responses to questions about their performance reviews. Generally, they don’t quite understand the point, feel the meetings are unpleasant, and walk out feeling no better (and often much worse) than when they went into the meetings.
Mike’s employees generally feel they accomplish things during the performance review meetings with Mike. For example, one of Mike’s employees said it this way: “I’m always a bit nervous before the meeting, but you know what? By the end of the meeting I feel like Mike is working with me to help me, and not to club me over the head. And I feel better able to get my job done as a result of the meetings. In fact, I think the meetings have helped me improve at my job to the point that I will probably be promoted.”
Things get curiouser and curiouser. We know now that Mike and Jessica differ in their perceptions of performance reviews and that their staffs differ in their perceptions as well. Let’s take a quick look at the bigger picture. Are there differences in how the two companies see performance reviews?
We can look at this by talking to the human resources (HR) people in each company, since it’s usually the HR people who are responsible for compiling the performance review paperwork as part of personnel records.
John, an HR specialist at Aquatech, didn’t mince words when he was asked about performance reviews. “It drives me nuts. I can’t get the managers to do the reviews or the paperwork each year. Some employees haven’t had reviews for more than five years, and I’m darned tired of nagging managers who should know better. It’s not too much to ask, is it, to just fill in some simple forms once a year?”
Mary, in HR at Waterworks, seemed to be talking about something completely different. “Overall our managers seem to spend the time to get the reviews done, but then again we’ve worked with them so they understand why it’s important to do them and helped them learn to do the reviews so that everyone involved sees the advantages of doing them properly. Our position is that we care less about getting forms completed than about managers sitting down with their employees regularly to talk about how things have gone and how to make things better.”
If we had access to each company’s bigger picture, we’d also find differences. A cost-benefit analysis would show that the performance review program at Aquatech is “overhead,”
that is, the cost of doing performance reviews outweighs any return that Aquatech receives from them. For Waterworks, it’s different. Its performance reviews actually contribute to the company’s bottom line. Their employees improve more quickly, contribute more to the company’s goals, tend to be more satisfied with how they are treated, and tend to stay longer with the
Their employees improve more quickly, contribute more to the company’s goals, tend to be more satisfied with how they are treated, and tend to stay longer with the