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Not Your Grandparents’ Performance Review Model


Wed Aug 21 2019

Not Your Grandparents’ Performance Review Model

“Why Performance Reviews Don’t Work and What to Do About It.” “Eliminate Performance Review Mistakes With Talent Management Systems.” “How to Handle a Boss Who Gives You Vague Feedback.” Those are just a few recent headlines relating to performance feedback. Not exactly auspicious, are they?

Why is performance feedback so difficult? Is there any way to remedy it?


In the August 2019 installment of TD at Work,A Modern Approach to Performance Feedback,” Ben Locwin writes that organizations often base their performance review process on boilerplate, cookie-cutter feedback. This is done in part to appear unbiased. It’s also, quite frankly, easier. But it’s not effective. Locwin emphasizes that, “Within different functions in an organization, employees are undertaking different types of work, and each person within a function has disparate needs.”

To provide valuable feedback, managers need to understand their employees’ roles and contributions. That is, what is the value-added work that their people provide, and is each individual more social or analytical (or do they have a strong propensity to both)? The employees need to know this information, too.

Providing Better Feedback

To give better feedback, managers would be wise to keep several things in mind.

Tailor discussions to your employee. Simply having great talent on one’s team doesn’t guarantee great work or high performance. Managers need to coax top performance out of employees. Theycan ensure this happens by carefully assessing what they say as well as how their employee receives it.

Trust is key. Managers help build trust every time they invest their time and energy in their direct reports, which includes making time to fully prepare for performance feedback conversations. Doing so helps the employee feel valued and think the manager cares enough to spend her time considering the development, behavior, and future of the direct report.


Appreciation. As Locwin perceptively notes, “The negative feedback is always an emergency, but the positive feedback moments apparently never are.” It’s important that managers praise stellar performance but know how each employee wants to be acknowledged. Not every person wants to be called out in a large town hall meeting. Instead, they may prefer a personal note from a manager or having a manager stop by their office to note their contribution to a project or an idea raised during a team meeting.

Missed goals shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Priorities shift and business changes. Not every goal is going to be met. A missed goal may be out of the hands of the employee or may point to a greater development need. Rather than pretending missed goals don’t happen, use them instead as opportunities to discuss and plan future work.

What Performance Should Be Evaluated?

We’ve talked about how addressing goals—specifically, SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—is an important part of performance, but they’re certainly not the whole story.

The employee should be working toward goals that benefit the organization and move them toward self-improvement and career progression. Performance discussions should be an opportunity for discussions around organization direction and the employee’s role in that picture as well.

Locwin writes, “Organizations don’t exist for the sole purpose of creating activity and generating feedback. Feedback should be thought of as a supportive tool that helps the organization be more effective at realizing its mission statement and returning value for its customers and stakeholders.”


Bottom line: the way organizations conduct business and how employees perform their day-to-day work is changing. To keep pace with this evolution, how leaders give performance feedback must also change. Don’t get left behind.

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