Do Performance Reviews Really Measure Performance?

by Sandra Gauvin

After watching an episode of Undercover Boss last week, I was reminded of how ineffective employee performance reviews really were.

The show is about high-ranking officials that go undercover to see the inner workings of their company by pretending to be an employee.  The undercover boss usually finds a few standout employees that are hardworking with a positive attitude…and yes, there’s the occasional bad apple.

At the end of the show when the boss reveals their true identify, s/he usually rewards the good employees with money and a promotion, and the bad ones are reprimanded and given the opportunity to redeem themselves (at least that’s on camera).

Here’s the question that I have…after working several years for a company, how is it possible that a standout employee not get noticed, while bad apples remain employed?  Why didn’t the performance reviews weed out the good employees from the bad, especially since feedback from others are incorporated into the reviews?

From my own experience, your performance is always jaded by your bosses perception of you.  If your boss doesn’t like you, then even if you cure cancer and world hunger, you’re probably not going to get a great review.  But there are ways that you can protect yourself so you can get at least a decent review…think of it as personal risk management.

  • Make sure your goals are measurable and aren’t vague concepts, such as ‘just get over the finish line.’
  • If your goals change throughout the year, document the changes.
  • If your goals are unattainable because of forces outside of your control, let your boss know immediately.  For example, if you’re required to attend a training class as one of your goals, but it’s been canceled due to low enrollment, talk to your boss about an alternative course…and document the approved change.
  • If your boss keeps piling on the goals throughout the year, have a discussion around which goal(s) can be eliminated or transferred…at the very least, get your boss to prioritize your goals
  • Whenever you have a satisfied internal or external customer, encourage them to send an email to your boss praising you.

If you arm yourself with enough data, you can protect yourself against a poor review or even worse, a layoff or firing.  Also, with a good review you have a better chance of transferring to another department with a manager that has a reputation of being fair.

Getting back to the show, it was nice to see people recognized for their hard work and positive attitude.  Thanks to CBS the good guys won and the bad guy ultimately quit after the show aired.  Once the glitz and glamour of Hollywood fade, the boss still needs to investigate the underlying problem of detecting good vs. bad employees within their organization.  But they should also question the value of the performance review process or at the very least improve it.

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