Performance Appraisal

Most Performance Reviews Are a Big Fat Waste of Time

The annual performance review stinks. It’s one of the most dreaded and inefficient uses of time that I can think of.

The manager has to scrounge up his recollections of specific good and bad things to discuss. The employee – or agency, if it’s a client review – dreads the thought that he’ll be told he did a lousy job and there is a pink slip in his future.

Quantum Workplace, an HR consulting firm, published a post not too long ago suggesting questions to help measure and boost employee performance. But in my view they were still too generic.

There has got to be a better way – and there is.

Give Immediate Feedback

In my entire career working for companies and agencies I had exactly one performance review. And that was with the consumer bank where I was SVP-Marketing and also in charge of training.

The bank’s CEO put training under marketing because he felt that employees who had direct contact with customer were also marketers. He also felt the most important relationship within the organization was between employee and her immediate manager.

Bud (the CEO) had a system he called “the yellow lined page.” He believed in giving an employee immediate feedback about the good and the bad.

If you messed up an assignment, your manager would discuss it with you right away. What went wrong and why and how can we fix it? Then, the manager would pull out his yellow lined pad, after the meeting, and jot down notes to jog his recollections for the annual review.

These meetings weren’t only to discuss what went wrong but to give praise where it was due. How, together, can we replicate your success with other employees?

In this system, the annual performance review simply becomes a discussion based on all the conversations recorded on those yellow lined pages. The focus becomes setting goals for the following year. No surprises for either side.

Today, you would probably jot those notes down in your computer. It’s also a good idea to shoot an email off to HR so the mini-review is recorded in the employee’s record.

What’s My Job?

It might surprise you to learn that many employees don’t know what their job is. A recent Gallup poll Many Employees Don’t Know What’s Expected of Them at Work revealed that only 50% of employees strongly agreed they know what they’re expected to do.

Another Gallup report stated that when employees know what’s expected of them, a company could achieve productivity gains of 5-10%.

If employees don’t know what to do, how can you properly engage them in giving their all to moving the organization forward? How can you appraise them?

That gets to the job description. Most of them are pretty awful, filled with tasks and no overarching statement of what the person is supposed to accomplish.

The CEO’s job description would read something like this: “John Bigshot’s job is to earn a profit for shareholders.” It wouldn’t go into all the details of how he’s going to do that.

As you go further down the org chart, the authority for deciding things gets narrower, and the responsibility for tasks becomes greater. For example, a person in the mailroom doesn’t have much control over the decisions made but does have a long list of tasks, such as sorting and delivering the mail.

About Consultants and Agencies

I’ve worked as an account manager in PR and advertising agencies. A client’s expectations for the consultant or agency may not be well understood. In my experience, the client always expects more than the agency has promised.

Budgets are never big enough and the agency is afraid to tell the client for fear of losing the account. Thus, the agency falls short of the client’s expectations. You know what happens after a while – boom, the agency is gone.

When pitching new business, I would always say, “There is a continuing loop of information flowing between the client and agency. When something goes wrong within that loop, the relationship breaks down. When you hire us, we’ll work together as a team with responsibilities agreed upon for members of the team.”


No, the client can’t just delegate everything to the agency, or consultant. Both sides need to agree on the work to be done for the money being paid. The agency needs to understand the full extent of its responsibilities. Once the consultant has his “job description,” he can implement the plan.

The consultant needs to be asking for continuous feedback — in effect, on ongoing performance review. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch became famous for walking the streets and asking everyone he met, “How am I doing?” People laughed, but it worked.

On a Personal Note

I’ll never forget my first job as a reporter with a Long Island daily business newspaper. After a couple of weeks, I asked the managing editor for feedback. “How am I doing,” I asked.

He replied, “You don’t have to worry about how you’re doing. If you aren’t doing well, you’ll just be fired.” Some performance appraisal! I was never fired – I eventually left for another job.

I learned over the course of my career that responsibility and authority aren’t conferred — they’re assumed. If you don’t have an accurate job description, then you’ll need to figure out what your job is and then do your best. Keep track of your successes because chances are your boss won’t remember them all when it’s annual review time.

How do you give and receive feedback?


Leave a Reply


  1. Hey Jeannette,

    In the life, people take and leave their jobs. But you have done many jobs in your life. Most of the people just stick to one job whether they like it or not. They just go for it.

    It’s obvious not to forget the first job. You shouldn’t. It’s because that job made you realize of the value of work and earning money.

    Sometimes we don’t take the right decision for us. The time may get wasted. So it’s good if we think for a while.

    Hope you are doing good now.

    • Ravi — I think that in the past people stayed in one job “cradle to grave.” But in the new world we live in, jobs change even within the same company, and companies have a shorter life. But it’s always important to do the best you can wherever you work.

  2. Another great post Jeannette.

    I subscribe to the theory that we do our best when we capitalize on our gifts. Many performance reviews are designed to make team members into something they are not. I’m not suggesting opportunities for learning and growth be eliminated or overlooked. Instead, the performance review is a great tool to help individuals be reminded or made aware of their gifts.

    Another significant flaw is the performance review is often used as a tool for political maneuvers or as a vendetta. In my work with clients, I often suggest “problem employees” be moved to another area or the same job with a different manager. More often than not, the performance of the employee improves immediately. Could the “problem” have been the manager rather than the employee?

    A note of interest. I am aware of one situation where the “problem employee” was moved to a different manager and different area. The former manager then sabotaged the new situation.

    Poor performance reviews may point to poor performance on the part of the manager, rather than the employee being reviewed.

    • Jeff — totally agree about the misuse of performance reviews. Corporate politics can be ugly and, as you point out, the performance review can be used by an unscrupulous manager to sabotage a person’s career in a company. My husband had that happen to him, when after a dozen years of glowing reviews he got a new manager. He was given a list of dozens of projects to be completed within a short period — impossible. It was obvious they wanted to get rid of him. He was angry and, after being fired, he sued for age discrimination. It took 10 years, but he won.

  3. I SO agree with you, Jeannette! One of the best supervisors I ever had was the one who called me a “sh*t disturber!” But I appreciated the fact that she challenged me on something I said right on the spot, instead of festering about it and bringing it up months later at evaluation time. Conversely, one of the worst supervisors I ever had was exactly like that. She didn’t say much about your performance during the year, but then at evaluation time, she would bring up a bunch of petty stuff that she obviously had made note of, but hadn’t had the consideration to discuss them with me at the time. She really had poor communication skills.

    • Doreen — that’s the worst, when your supervisor springs all those petty things on you at review time. I’m sure a lot of them were pretty spurious. Communication skills are so important when you’re providing feedback on someone’s performance. You don’t to totally demoralize someone but creating a negative atmosphere and being overly critical.

  4. I think you hit a good point about employees often not having a grasp on their job description. And that in itself can lead to disappointment from both sides as well as being overworked and expected to do things out of one’s purview. Lack of clarity in the workplace is a real money loser, so while reviews may be a time waster, perhaps defining the role,and expectations would be a better way to spend the time. Haven’t visited for a while, and wanted to say how great your site looks!

    • A.K. — so good to have you back. You can’t appraise someone’s performance if they don’t know they’re supposed to do, but it happens all the time. Thanks for you nice comment about my site!

  5. I’ve had good experiences with reviews, but it is true that most offer little in the way of meaningful feedback. Frankly, I tend to chalk that up to the individual rather than condemn the entire review process. The worst manager I ever worked for was a woman who commented to me one day how much she loved having power over people and getting them to do what she wanted – seriously, those were her words, and I never forgot them, but I surely learned from them.

  6. I had to write my first employee evaluations my third summer working in Yellowstone for the group of room attendants I was in charge of as an area manager in Canyon Village. Needless to say, the main housekeeping manager for the location sent many of mine back for being too honest. Haha. I learned a lot about critical wording from that experience. I generally found my teaching evaluation when I was in the classroom less than helpful, but did my best to apply my own reflective practice to my yearly goals. I totally lost faith when my next door neighbor’s evaluation was written in detail by an administrator who never set foot in her classroom the entire year. She called him on it too, and he said he’d observed from the window when her door was closed. That’s even worse than just admitting he didn’t do this job. Ugh.

    • Jeri — It’s awful when someone does a performance review of someone he’s never worked with directly. It’s not uncommon. A nephew once worked for a Big Four firm that did a survey of its staff and learned that over half didn’t know who their boss was. So who would be able to do their performance reviews?

  7. Have personally never had a performance review even though I have worked in a conglomerate with 10,000 employees. Do believe it’s more common in the United States. In Europe there is more of a dialogue between management and employees.

    If an employee doesn’t know what their job is how can they have a meaningful performance review? Honestly think the European way of having a constant dialogue is the best way forward and agree with you that performance reviews are a waste of time.

    • Catarina — totally agree with you.Continuous dialogue between manager and employee is the way to go. Fix problems and give praise when it’s due and not wait for six months.

  8. As a manager, I am responsible for giving the officers I manage, constructive feedback. I deliver this at the end of our meeting.

    I have learnt to acknowledge constructive criticism and view it as a way of improving my weaknesses and correcting my attitude.

    Excellent article.

    • Phoenicia — Great that you give immediate feedback. I dislike the using the term “weaknesses.” It’s just as instructive, I think, and kinder to use the term “areas that could be improved.”

  9. The type of performance reviews which I find most despicable are those that translate everything into numbers or rankings. This is intended to create a numerical index of performance that enables you to compare employees or compare year over year. Some even use these numbers to make salary review decisions. But it is mostly nonsense. It is based on the idea that you can take subjective information and suddenly make it objective and measurable by expressing it in numbers. Data for the sake of data.

    • Ken — I agree. Grading or evaluating “on the curve” is a specious activity. GE, under Jack Walsh, famously did that and automatically fired the people on the lower end of the curve.

  10. Boy howdy does this hit home. I’ve been on the receiving and giving end of the dreadful annual reviews and must say both ends stink. I agree, humongous waste of time. Firm believer in continous, immediate feedback …good and bad. Who wants to wait until annual review and then hear whatever their boss has kept bottled up all year as they messed up again and again. Jeez. Tell them so they can fix it. 🙂

    • Susan — agree. That’s why continuous feedback is good for the employee, the manager — and the company. Fix problems right away. Give praise to an employee who deserves it and try to replicate that success with other employees. It makes so much sense. Why don’t more companies do it? Beats me.

  11. It’s not a surprise to me that many employees don’t know their job! Many leaders no matter how many levels removed or close, are unclear themselves what they want employees to do. Often there are job descriptions and often there are not. Having been in sales most of my life, sales revenue always let both my manager and me how I was doing! No performance review needed! ?

    • Patricia — I was in staff positions in my career within corporations and always had to justify myself as an expense and not a revenue generator. That’s one reason why I went back into the agency business, so that I could be measured by the business I brought in and managed.

  12. You are correct about performance being a waste of time. Working in the government sector, we have them periodically. The problem is that if you give someone a bad one, or even less than high marks, they want you to remove these people. This means even though, they are competent, but not excelling, you have to get rid of them (tons of paperwork), go through the process of hiring someone else (even more paperwork) and then train them in this job.

    As for me, I fill them out as good, letting the employee do their job. I then give “work on” evaluations to them. We go over items which they need help, and then I re-train them on how to do it.

  13. Great post! very interesting
    I absolutely agree with you here: that the performance reviews are super not optimized in the majority of the companies. They look only at the situation at one point of time instead of looking during the time period.

    Check out this article

    • Kristina — that’s the problem with most annual performance reviews — they often represent the most recent performance and not the broader view over time.