Get Rid of the Performance Review

Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters (Samuel Culbert; ©2010 by Business Plus)

Culbert begins this work with a brief but fairly convincing description of why performance reviews actually decrease the productivity of an organization. He then repeats himself for 85% 0f the book ("Just shut up. You had me at hello.") I suppose there are those who received this book as assigned reading from a coworker who hoped to change their minds, but I needed no convincing, so 85% of the book was a waste of time for me.

At any rate, once he finally arrives at his briefly described alternative, he calls it "performance preview" and describes a scenario where the boss asks, "What do I need to do to help you become more successful?" and the employee asks, "What changes in this situation could make me more productive?"

He envisions a workplace where the boss and the subordinate are able to engage in "straight-talk" about what is taking place and how it can be improved, operating on the assumption that those who are closer to the work often have helpful insights that management rarely hears about when companies are committed to annual performance reviews. Culbert writes:

If you want to understand what is going on at work, you’d better ask the people involved how they see the situation and how what they are doing relates to what they have seen. And it isn’t just about asking. Anybody can ask a question. But they have to create an environment where people feel comfortable to say what they really think. (page 62).

And later:

In a straight-talk relationship, both boss and subordinate have the opportunity to learn. Subordinates learn what they need to do differently to achieve desired results, and bosses learn what type of oversight, support, and guidance the subordinate needed but did not receive. Then both can look forward to what must be done in the future to achieve a better outcome. (page 140)

Clearly, this book is addressed to situations where management uses intimidation to keep employees in line, and where there is little trust between supervisor and supervised. In such a situation, much goes unsaid out of fear that suggestions and insights will eventually be used against the person who offered them.

The goal should be to create an environment in which all parties feel safe enough to be honest with one another and do everything they can to accomplish the primary goal of improving company results and providing a supportive environment for people to self-reflect and grow.  (pages 145-146)

The author offers a four-step process to begin functioning in this way.

  1. Do away with performance reviews
  2. Create performance measures that evaluate both the boss and the subordinate as a unit.
  3. If the boss has a supervisor, that person's responsibility is to measure the relationship between the boss and the subordinate.
  4. Create an ongoing dialog where, in Culbert's words, each person asks, "What can I do to make us work together better and get the results we’re both on the hook for?" (page 147)

In other words, the boss doesn't evaluate "how" the employee works. Methods and habits are not the issue. The issue is whether or not the relationship between boss and subordinate improves the subordinate's performance. There may well be situations where the subordinate is ill-suited for the work, and in those cases dismissal or reassignment would be preferred. But Culbert suggests that in many cases a more supportive relationship between the two can dramatically improve performance and results.

His focus is on making "straight-talk" between the boss and the subordinate a possibility. There must be enough trust between the two, that they can discover together the best way to proceed.

I believe the structure and logic of performance previews can be summarized in three profoundly simple questions that a boss and each of his or her subordinates might ask and answer for one another:

  1. What are you getting from me that you like and find helpful? If relevant, comment on the bigger picture: how we are organized and how people and units interact.
  2. What are you getting from me (and/or the system) that impedes your effectiveness and would like to have stopped?
  3. What are you not getting from me (and/or the system) that you think would enhance your effectiveness, and tell me, specific to you, why do you need it at this time? (page 180)

The kind of relationship that Culbert imagines between boss and subordinate is probably more likely to exist in a church than in a for-profit corporation. Regardless, it seems that churches and other non-profits could benefit from creating opportunities for bosses and subordinates to reflect on the work that is being asked of them, and how they might be more effective.

Questions for Saint Peter Lutheran Church

  1. There seems to be very little institutional mistrust at Saint Peter. Still, how might we encourage more "straight-talk" about what we are doing, and how we do it, in order to do a better job of discovering the most effective ways to be involved in ministry?
  2. Could a movement away from periodic reviews, and towards ongoing review and reflection on ministries (and ministers) be helpful for us?
  3. How might we more thoughtfully consider the hurdles and opportunities that exist in our church today? What makes ministry easier? What makes ministry harder? Which of these could we / should we change?
  4. How might we include volunteer leaders (not just staff) in this process?