Performance Reviews Are Dangerous Dinosaurs

Performance Reviews Are Dangerous Dinosaurs

Australian company culture expert Nancy Hromin is currently at SXSW and asks if marketing is in real time, why aren’t performance conversations?

The title of the session I was attending was Mind Reading for Managers but it was the statement ‘Scrap the annual performance review once and for all’, that catapulted me into awareness after only one day of bolting maniacally between sessions at South By South West (SXSW) in Austin Texas. That and a t-shirt proudly worn by a local that read “FUCK SXSW”

Kim Seeling Smith, best selling author, speaker (aren’t they all at this event) who coincidently spends half the year in Sydney, Australia asserted there is no room in the digital age and modern organisation for a relic such as the annual review.

We have fundamentally changed the way we work as a result of the interaction between technology and the workplace shift (aging population, millennials and so on) and yet organisations and HR departments persevere with this “relic of a bygone era”.

For someone whose history was as an HR Director of that bygone era (me) and who enjoyed rolling out the annual review as much as I would enjoy sticking pins in my eyes, this was indeed music to my ears and something I have long lobbied for unsuccessfully with my own client group.

Granted, my lobbying was not as sophisticated as Seeling Smiths. It went something along the lines of “Just get rid of them, they are stupid, fucked, rubbish, don’t work” and so on every time leaders, HR Directors or CEOs complained about them.

As I am not a best selling author or on the #SBSW speaker circuit, that didn’t hold much gravitas on its own.

However if you are a disruptor organisation, or being disrupted, or investing in these companies, then it is worth taking a leap of faith of what we have all believed for a long time – it’s time to shred the forms, the competency frameworks that bear no reflection on the actual role and the painfully onerous set of questions that managers are forced to endure. Feedback usually takes the form of the following words: patronizing, hierarchical and bureaucratic, or systemically undermines any efforts to progress the company’s culture. This is the good feedback too!

So, finally, here’s the evidence for scrapping it.

Firstly, most performance issues or problems refer to a disconnect between what you think is important and what the other person thinks is important in relation to their job and what they actually do that every day that contributes to the company’s performance. The job description is a linear attempt at representing the dynamic relationship in the modern company of an individuals skills sets, relationships, intellect and EQ with the actual task that requires doing.

To overcome this, Keeling Smith suggests the following in her own words:

1.     Get rid of old style job descriptions

2.     Get rid of the annual performance review

3.     Set outcomes that are real and agree on clear deliverables relevant to what is happening in that moment and time.

4.     Have monthly one-on-one conversations with each direct report to check in.

Some mindsets or beliefs that need to be challenged include our desire to measure everything and our propensity to over value the things that we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot. For example, how do you measure the depth of a relationship that results in winning the pitch year after year over your competitors and the interaction of that relationship?

The answer is through a conversation. And this conversation can occur remotely using technology. It doesn’t have to be face to face. Let’s get with the times. It’s 2015. People are covered in a multitude of smart devices these days and through some creative thinking, a very modern way to engage with staff and measure performance is achievable.

Nancy Hromin is at SXSW and can be reached at

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