Eliminating Traditional Performance Reviews

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I’ll never forget the time one of the highest performing employees I worked with had a complaint about their annual performance review. They had received a rating of ‘4’ out of ‘5’ on their communication skills. Their questions to me were valid:  What did a score of ‘4’ really mean and what could they do to improve their communication skills?  

I later asked the employee’s manager about the rating and what the employee could do to improve their communication. The manager responded that there really wasn’t anything the employee could do to improve. The manager had not wanted to give the employee a perfect score of ‘5’ because, “Well, no one is perfect.” In other words, the rating was somewhat meaningless.

Through 15 years of working in Human Resources (HR), I’ve found traditional performance reviews tend to de-motivate employees and create liability for employers. A strong performance coaching model is a more effective way to motivate employees and create happier, more productive work environments.

Why are companies eliminating traditional performance reviews?

1 – Traditional performance reviews de-motivate employees.  Research shows that in many cases traditional performance reviews, and especially numerical ratings, de-motivate rather than motivate employees. This video, “How Your Brain Responds to Performance Rankings,” from Strategy+Business does a great job explaining this

2 – Performance reviews create liability. For many companies, performance reviews have cost them greatly. When an employee is terminated and litigation ensues, oftentimes the former employee turns to their positive performance review as evidence that their performance was good, and therefore they were fired for an illegal reason. 

3 – Performance coaching is a better investment. Employers who are eliminating performance reviews are investing in performance coaching models because they have found them to be more successful with motivating employees.

What is included in a good performance coaching model?

  • Strengths-based leadership, where managers coach to an employee’s strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. This is a good introductory article on strengths-based leadership.

  • Frequent “check-ins,” where managers meet frequently with employees to ask what the employee is working on and how they can help. Author and thought-leader, Marcus Buckingham, has a great model for “check-in” meetings.

  • Collaborative goal setting, where employees set goals with their managers and as a team. Collaborative goal setting helps employees understand how their performance impacts the department’s and company’s success, creating a deeper sense of purpose for them with their work.

  • Personalized, meaningful recognition. My experience is that all employees like to be recognized for a job well done. Depending on the individual employee’s preferences, recognition could be as simple as the manager acknowledging a recent accomplishment in a team meeting, or with a “thank you note,” or by surprising the employee with their favorite latte (my personal favorite).

This of course is not an exhaustive list of all the effective performance coaching techniques out there. Each performance coaching model is different depending on the company’s mission and values 

How do you implement a performance coaching model?

I work with companies all over the US to eliminate their traditional performance reviews and implement more effective performance coaching models. Together we:

  1. Gather input from employees and managers

  2. Develop a customized coaching policy and program

  3. Train managers

  4. Communicate the program to employees

  5. Evaluate and recalibrate the program as needed


Contact me today to see how I can help your organization eliminate traditional performance reviews in favor of a more effective performance coaching model: skyemercer@gmail.com

Skye Mercer, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

HR Consultant

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Skye Mercer