How to Not Waste Time on Performance Reviews

by | Jul 24, 2015

It is likely that your performance review process is a colossal waste of time – for you and your employee. Can your business tolerate a process that is a colossal waste of time? If your answer is no, then here are some tips that with a bit of thought, will improve the impact of performance reviews.

Think for a moment about the intent of the review process. It is likely that you wish to address a job performance issue, and you want something to change. That is where the challenge lies. It takes intention, energy and repetition consciously to change a habit. You have to convince the brain to do something different from what it has always done.

Moreover, there’s another problem. Most performance reviews activate the threat response in the brain. In a threatened state, cognitive functioning is reduced and the ability to self-regulate is decreased. Receptivity to change is reduced. Here are some research facts.

• 30% of performance reviews have impact; 30% have no impact and 40% made things worse, and that’s regardless of whether feedback was positive or negative.
• 71% of managers never follow-up on the feedback process.
• Feedback on personal behavior traits is unlikely to work; but task-focused comments are better received.

It does not have to be this way. If you want performance reviews to be effective, conduct them to activate reward responses in the brain and to support repetition – the key to habit change.

Activate reward responses:

Control: People like to be in control of their situation. Allow the employee to provide input into the review process. Ask them to prepare their list of what went well and what they could do to improve their performance. Ask for input on both tasks and behaviors. What do they see as their growth areas? Allow them to schedule the date/time of the review within defined parameters. Ask them to recommend peers for input into the process. What are their professional goals?
Certainty: The brain does not like uncertainty. Combat the uncertainty through transparency. Tell staff what you will consider in the review and how input will be gathered. Describe general topics to be discussed. Give them time to prepare their thoughts for the meeting.
Status: A loss in status is a major threat in the brain. When you, as the higher status person, listen to their perspective, it communicates respect for their status. Ask for their feedback about how you can support them in their growth area. This one thing communicates that you value their ideas and support their growth.
Fairness: Nothing annoys the brain more than perceived unfairness. Conduct reviews and gather input in a consistent way. Do your best to consider the complete perspective of each person’s performance. Fair isn’t always equal but it is appropriate.

Foster new habits:

Create a new habit: Together, identify the employee’s behavior that gets in their way. Find examples that illustrate current versus preferred behavior. For example, perhaps the employee lets meetings drift off into tangents resulting in wasted time and delayed decisions. Discuss what it looks like to rein in the discussion. Ask them to write implementation statements such as, “If I organize a meeting, I will have an agenda with the discussion topic listed.” Or, “If the discussion gets off topic I will set aside the other topic in a parking lot.” Writing implementation statements is a powerful action that makes the new behavior real. Without a clear statement, the brain will snap back to the old habit behavior.
Commitment: Of course, they need to be committed to making change… and so do you. You are part of the solution. It takes reminders and repetition for your employee to change a behavior. Send periodic reminders to ask about progress or to congratulate on their progress. As a matter of routine, schedule check-ins more frequently than once or twice a year.

Be part of the 29% who follow-up and make an effort. If you do that, and leverage brain rewards, then performance reviews will be worth the time.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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