Adding Value to Performance Reviews

Rick asked me a question a few days ago, and I promised him an answer. He asked,

Rosa – Question – It is annual performance review time again (our year ends March 31) so I thought I would ask you if you could share some quick wisdom on the matter?



One of the things I often say in my speeches and presentations to groups of managers, is that if I could wave a magic wand and instantly change something for them, I would eliminate two things from their work routine,

a) annual performance reviews and

b) job descriptions.

Every single time I say it, everyone in the room cheers.

Everyone looks at the CEO or COO with the same question in their expression, “Why can’t we?”

The CEO and COO look at the HR Director in turn, wondering, “Why can’t we?”

The HR Director looks at the CFO, wondering, “Why can’t we?”

Everyone in the room agrees they hate the process, and everyone wonders, “Why can’t we?”

And yet, I know they won’t do anything about it. When the next review period rolls around, they will obediently kowtow to the process once again.

So, why don’t they? Why don’t you?


My basic complaint with both of these things is that they are the most prevalent signs of automatic pilot in the workplace, and they fuel mediocrity in work performance.

Job descriptions put a lid on capacity and inhibit possibility. They impose limits instead of opening doors. They box up a persons’ energy and initiative and squash their creativity. Squash it like a bug.

And then there are annual performance reviews. I am not a fan of them for a couple of reasons;

As blatantly demonstrated by those at my speeches, most of the people who own the process don’t even know why they have to continue to support them.

They are done for the wrong reasons (because we have to) and at the wrong times (because the “annual” time is here again) and in the wrong context (next; it’s your turn).

The vast majority of managers have been trained to do them wrong, beating people up for their weaknesses instead of building them up with their strengths.

Thus goal setting gets really screwed up, with people encouraged to “try harder” with their weaknesses, versus concentrating on KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u, and striving to higher levels of achievement and excellence based on innate talent capacity.

In the quest for consistency and objectivity, most of them are designed with rating systems that are completely subjective, or which put a lid on expectations (“Come on now, no one gets all 5’s on these things.”)

Managers cop out in the name of supposed open-mindedness (“Rate yourself, and I’ll tell you if I agree or not.”)

So here’s the deal. You may agree with me, but you still have to do them. You want me to stop whining about what you already know too, and give you some advice on how you make the best of it.

Okay. Go for added value. Just like Dave talks about.

  1. Make it as positive an experience as you can, by talking about and celebrating everything that’s going right.   Even if your rating is an honest 3 or 4, don’t talk about why it’s not a 5, talk about ideas to get it to 5 soon — and note I didn’t say by the time of the next annual review, I said “soon.”
  2. Every single person on the face of the earth has in-born, natural talents that are unique to them; make it your job to discover them in partnership with the person you are reviewing. Don’t make this more difficult than it is; ask them, “What do you feel are the things here at work you’re really great at?”
  3. Resist the urge to fix someone. Even if you feel you want to use the time to correct a problem, don’t. Yes, performance problems must be solved, but trust me, during the traditional annual ‘performance review’ is not the right time. You coach to correct performance at work as you work, not during an annual performance review staring at a form with ratings.
  4. About that form, and those ratings: Do your due diligence, be honest and be consistent with the process so it has integrity, but dispense with it as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. Zip through it; it should be easy to do so when you are following steps 1. through 3 and it’s all good and positive.
  5. Now here’s the added value part: Talk about KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u and Excellence, and how you want to enlist their help in banishing mediocrity forever. Sign them up for your warpath.
  6. Use the rest of the time that’s left to do a first draft of this form, one of my very favorite MWA tools: The Ho‘ohana Mission Worksheet. You’ve done it for yourself in the Jumpstart program, and now it’s time to do it with those who you manage. In doing so, you will help drive actions which create momentum because those actions are about the successful achievement of worthwhile, meaningful goals.

This doesn’t take that long. You can do Steps 1 through 4 in 30 to 45 minutes depending on the form you’re saddled with, and then Steps 5 and 6 will only take you about a half hour more because you are just coming up with a first draft.   Coach your staff to sleep on it, and then come back to you with a finished draft in another week.

I promise you, if management is your calling, you’ll know how to keep going with your coaching of your staff thereafter. Grab a subscription, and keep reading, for we talk about the ins and outs of coaching here all the time!

For more since this article was originally posted, click this index: Annual Appraisals. Articles will be listed in order of my most recent offerings to the older ones tucked in the archives.


  1. says

    Rosa – You know that I am on the same page with you! And that’s good advice for how to optimize the situation.
    It is frustrating that more companies don’t have the courage to follow what their gut is saying and get rid of these counterproductive practices.

  2. Rick Fuqua says

    Rose, I sincerely appreciate the thorough response.
    I will review and attempt to work these new ideas into my process this year.
    In some ways, I’m part of the problem as I am stuck on many of the old way of doing things. I find it hard to not illustrate areas of weakness in a performance review as I attempt to get an employee to “do better next year”. This is old thinking and I will definitely be incorporating kÅ«lia i ka nu`u into my new methods. I could go into a two hour rant on the various performance review, goal setting and compensation processes I have been involved with over the years. Not surprisingly, they all try to boil us down to a number. I’ve seen 10’s and 1’s and 5’s and everything in between, but rarely have I ever focused on an employee’s true potential. Reviews seem to always be about the past not the future.
    PS: Lisa – I just received a copy of HIMM. I look forward to a good read.

  3. Rick Fuqua says

    I hope “Rose” is considered an endearing short form of “Rosa”, kind of like “Rick” is to “Richard”.
    Sorry for the mistype.

  4. says

    Rosa, you certainly catch attention when you say toss out the annual reviews and job descriptions but there must be a better way than to “throw the baby out with the bath water”.
    Your “go for added value” comments are right on. We (as managers) need to focus using the tool to have a healthy and honest discussion regularly (and not just ONCE a year) to ensure that there is progress and accomplishment.

  5. says

    Everyday Performance Reviews

    I have written about and talked about the need to reinvent Annual Performance Reviews pretty often, and I’m not alone in doing so. Still, the discussion rages on, and there continues to be much talk and not enough action when it comes to improving t…

  6. says

    Employee performance reviews have a number of glaring weaknesses, in my opinion. By concentrating on the weak areaa of an employee’s performance, they do several things that are counterproductive.
    Reviews deflate the employee’s ego and self esteem, and only remind them of their shortcomings, which may not even be all that important to their overall job performance. The problem areas are usually inflated all out of proportion to the value they would achieve, even if given the “highest rating”. The strengths of the employee may be more valuable on the job than any loss resulting from the alleged weakness. For example, a great sales rep may never file the paperwork in a timely manner. The person is too busy closing and adding revenue to the company.
    The lack of focus on the strengths also subconsciously demeans the importance of what the staff member does well. After all, if all the evaluator considers important are the negative aspects of the review, then the impression is left that the strong areas are indeed less important. Again, we have a negative impact on the employee.
    Reviews are all about the past tense. They are a snapshot of last year’s newspaper headlines. We all know how outdated and wrong many of those relics can be in the real world. The focus on what has essentially taken place in history disregards the person’s ability to grow and learn on the job. 80% of the job is learned in 20% of the time. That final 20% of the learning curve remains in the future, allowing for personal growth and Rosa’s term of added value. The future, personal and professional growth, and value added for the organization should be the focus.
    The traditional job evaluation format requires some serious reevaluation itself.

  7. says

    Get Responsible about Performance Reviews once and for all

    Preface: This was an article I initially wrote as a guest author on another site, and I am bringing it to MWAC with a new title because it seems to belong with Kuleana: Managers everywhere have got to accept their