• 02.21.13

Performance Anxiety: Why Reviews Hurt Everybody

Performance reviews majorly demotivate. Here’s how to do appraisals that actually help people get better.

Performance Anxiety: Why Reviews Hurt Everybody

Reviewing your employees like they’re some new restaurant isn’t such a great idea, because if you’re trying to motivate people, judging them doesn’t quite work.


“People simply think they perform better than other people,” HR consultant Mary Jenkins tells the Washington Post. “Unless you rate someone in the highest category, the conversation shifts away from feedback and development to justification.”

Post reporter Jena McGregor observes that performance reviews feel central to managers’ jobs, to that point that “doing away with reviews might make supervisors seem superfluous,” which might be a good fit if you want to be an ultra-iterative, experiment-centric company.

Still, the deshackling of performance reviews is in its embryonic stages: 3% of companies dropped the annual evaluation in 2012, up from 1% in 2011. At this point, dropping the review–where you might grade employees on a scale–is for early adopters, like Medtronic, the $16.2 billion medical technology company.

“Ratings detract from the conversation,” former chief talent officer Caroline Stockdale tells the Post. “If an employee is sitting there waiting for the number to drop, they’re not engaged in the conversation, at best. At worst, it can actually make them angry and disaffected for a period of up to a year.”

Close Fast Company readers will recall that performance reviews trigger psychological reactance–the rebellious teenager inside of us that doesn’t do well with authoritarianism.

Instead of the resentment-stoking reviews, Stockdale’s put a quarterly “performance acceleration” process in place. Rather than looking backward, the acceleration faces forward, with future goals, no ratings, and a one page summary–a perfect tool for debugging bad habits.

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.


[Image: Flickr user Giovanni Orlando]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.