Stressing Out Over Performance Reviews? Here’s a Way to Fix That

Sometimes when I am thinking about writing a blog post, my thought process can be all over the place. Often times, my thoughts run to what either someone said or something I recently read.

Over the past few weeks, I reached out to a friend to ask her to intercede with another friend (and executive) who was looking to make a career transition into her domain. She readily agreed and I connected them. (On a side note, I believe we all should reach out to folks that are suffering from what I call careeer-itis. There, but for the grace of God, go I, as my mother always taught me).

My mission was accomplished, or at least I thought it was, until the day of their proposed conversation. Then I received a call from my friend that this executive never called or e-mailed. That sounded strange, so I sent her a quick note and never heard back. After a few days, I called her and left a message.

When she got back to me she apologized and suggested they talk this week. I immediately forwarded the e-mail over to my friend. As would happen, the day of the meeting she never called.

That is when I knew something was out of character and entirely wrong. I sent her a note and basically said, “What can I do to help you? I know you need help with something, and I as your friend, am here to help. Call me.”

When she did call she said that she is simply overwhelmed with her job, working with reduced staff, and just can’t seem to catch up. But more importantly, she was facing performance reviews and was just stressed out by that. She was trying to review all of her direct reports, and, stressing out on her own performance review. I thought, “Here is a star performer and she is stressing out over performance reviews?”

Why you shouldn’t dread performance reviews

After thinking about this, I remembered that this is the time of the year for the dreaded performance review. Everyone is scurrying around and dreading just going through this process.

That is something I never understood. I always looked forward to the performance review process. That’s because this was the time for me to pull out my success list for the year and put it all down for everyone to see.

This was the time, if I had any lawyer in me, to make my case. This was the time for me negotiate a new title, an increased bonus, or maybe an above average raise. I had worked hard all year and methodically chronicled all my achievements and challenges of the past year. My diary — which I called a success list — was a recap of the year. Why would I not want to go through this?

When I got the opportunity at one of the companies that I was employed at to take charge of this process, I designed it with that in mind. It was built working in conjunction with our IT department, had a simple interface, and a mini 360 component. It was competency based. The main factor that we wanted to brand this process as was “Career Review Process.”

Something to consider: a “Career Review Process”

We held in house seminars to not only train everyone the on how the process worked, but more importantly, to also re-brand the entire concept. This new “Career Review Process” was a 180 degree switch. And you know what? It worked.

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Employees began keeping track of their successes, and managers also began keeping notes throughout the year. Performance management was now being talked about in meetings. Everyone was engaged and talking about their careers. Our career development seminars were packed. Lunch-and-Learn sessions were spirited discussion centered around the topics of leadership, managing people, and performance-based on relevant news articles.

The formal Career Review Process was still once a year, but there were now quarterly reviews as well, and performance was a topic now discussed throughout the year.

So many times, especially with so much technology around us, we gravitate toward a technological solution to a problem. But one thing to keep in mind is that the review process involves people, and it is your people who will either prove it to be a success — or a failure.

The annual review process is crying out for help, and there have been interesting articles recently talking about doing away with performance reviews, but that’s something I do not agree with. What if during college, they decided to do away with finals and quizzes? I would have surely been on that bandwagon, But not on this one.

What do reviews have to do with an employee’s career?

Performance reviews, as some of us have known them, will surely have to be re-examined and redesigned with the “new workforce” in mind. The process has to be more relevant and realistic. It also needs to answer this question: what does it have to do with your employee’s career?

So as we close out the year and near the time for performance reviews, now is the time to think a year out and do your company and employees a favor by rethinking your own organization’s “Career Review Process.”

You might just “de-stress” your executives as well as your employees, and by next year, they will look forward to having this discussion around their careers instead of just around their performance.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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