"Get Rid of Performance Reviews!" proclaims a UCLA professor in this morning’s edition of the Wall Street Journal:

To my way of thinking, a one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense. It’s a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work. Even the mere knowledge that such an event will take place damages daily communications and teamwork.

The alleged primary purpose of performance reviews is to enlighten subordinates about what they should be doing better or differently. But I see the primary purpose quite differently. I see it as intimidation aimed at preserving the boss’s authority and power advantage. Such intimidation is unnecessary, though: The boss has the power with or without the performance review.

But never fear, he has a substitute: Performance previews.

The alternative to one-side-accountable, boss-administered/subordinate-received performance reviews is two-side, reciprocally accountable, performance previews.

And for those who worry that getting rid of performance reviews will make it more difficult to fire someone, he offers this response:

Some of you may also ask if the performance review goes away, how do we prepare the groundwork if we want to fire somebody? For the better, I’d argue: Take away the performance review, and people will find more direct ways of accomplishing that task.


It is a lengthy piece and worth reading. But at the end of the day, it strikes me as more high-minded theory than practical guidance.  I’m not dismissing the various 360 approaches to performance reviews or the need to provide continual feedback to employees on performance issues through the year, but eliminating performance reviews won’t solve all the problems in the workplace.  Instead, it’ll shift them to another source.

And for lawyers trying to defend against employment discrimination claims, getting rid of performance reviews will eliminate some of the last best hope in providing true written documentation of the employee’s performance.  Reviews, as they stand now, may not be the greatest (since reviews tend to be watered down) but at least they provide some support.  Eliminating that, and companies will be left to argue employment decisions based on bits and pieces elsewhere — if they are even written down.

I’m not sure that finding "more direct ways" of firing someone is realistic too.  Many supervisors and managers either are risk-adverse or do not like confrontation.  It is hard to see how eliminating performance reviews will make their tasks any easier when it comes time for discipline or termination.

Before companies get rid of the performance review, the question that ought to be asked is: Is the system we replace it with better?  And if so, how?  If a company can’t answer these questions, it may just be shifting its problems from one source to another.

(H/T Workplace Prof Blog)