The Top 5 Pain Points in Performance Reviews (And How To Solve Them)

Let’s be honest: performance reviews are a pain in the you-know-what.

Employees don’t like them and HR aren’t fans either — 45 percent of HR leaders didn’t think reviews were good gauges of a worker’s performance, compared to last year’s 39 percent, according to a poll by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce. They simply aren’t the kind of feedback the modern worker needs to perform better, particularly in ever changing work environments.

More specifically though, performance reviews don’t do much to help an employee to stop and realize what they are doing right or wrong as they need it. Yes, performance reviews may focus on the “big picture” stuff, but that’s not what employees need in the moment.

Let’s look at a few reasons why performance reviews don’t do this and some alternatives:

1. Infrequent

Most performance reviews are only given once or twice a year. Well, does an employee need the right feedback annually, or, do they need it as a goal is being worked on?

Research from employee survey specialist ETS found that only 42 percent of employees are asked to provide feedback to their manager through 360-degree feedback, and 45 percent of employees think clear, honest communication from managers would improve the quality of management.

To get the best out of your people and become a solid manager, you need to provide positive feedback along the way. Traditional performance reviews just don’t meet the needs of today’s agile workforce.

Instead: Real-time feedback offers employees the direction they need as a goal is being worked on, not a year later. According to Derek Irvine, “Regular, frequent, consistent recognition – from multiple sources (not just the direct manager) – gives the ongoing, real-time feedback employees at all levels need to stay on course.” I couldn’t agree more.

2. Generic

Performance reviews are akin to used college papers with a name change. That is, the benchmarks are usually the same for every person. So, if the scale is generic, it likely means the feedback will be as well. If you don’t want mediocre employees, don’t give them mediocre reviews.

Instead: Feedback becomes easier to give if it is tied to results — real work that happens throughout the workday. Think about it: Is it easier to give feedback on one’s communication skills, or is it easier to give feedback on the latest project they completed or an account meeting that went well?

When you tie feedback to results and objectives, it’s easier for both the receiver and giver. It gives you an opportunity to really mention their strengths, innovative approaches and results. Cater feedback to the candidate by considering their individual behavior, work ethic, goals, and direction — and by using benchmarks that are fair to them.

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3. Not every goal is considered

Employees work on tons of goals throughout the year, yet only a few can possibly be considered in a performance review. Yes, not every goal compares to the other, but if it helped the overall focus then the goal was obviously important. Most performance reviews look at overarching goals and don’t look at the steps it took to achieve the objective.

Instead: In addition to giving frequent feedback, try to look at every goal an employee reached, not just the huge ones. This also helps employers to gain some real insight into their workforce which they may not have been aware of before.

4. Not agile

We live in a world where news, trends, and objectives can change in an instant. Most performance reviews consider the number of goals reached, as opposed to the quality of those goals. If a goal had to be adjusted quite a bit, it may look like the employee wasn’t on task, when in reality they were just adapting to the nature of the new goal.

Instead: Adopt a results-only work environment (ROWE), which focuses on results, as opposed to when the goal was met. Some organizations have found ROWE to increase productivity by 41 percent as well as reduce turnover by as much as 90 percent. This helps your workers focus on the outcome of a goal, instead of rushing to meet deadlines or exerting too much effort on things that do not benefit the end result.

5. Bad for engagement

A recent survey indicated that 63 percent of employees are not engaged and are struggling to cope with work. Performance reviews don’t help with this case or with employee engagement since they are impersonal and irregular.

Instead: Offer feedback to employees in a more personal way. Let them know how they’re doing with their goals by regularly offering critiques, whether it’s good or bad.

This shows employees that you not only care about their performance, but that their performance actually contributes to the well-being of the company. This can boost the engagement levels of employees because it shows they really matter and that the future of the organization can be shifted through their work.

Morgan Norman is the Founder and CEO of Work Simple, putting an end to performance reviews by providing a better way for coworkers and teams to share goals, work together, get and give feedback, and make each other shine. Connect with him and WorkSimple on Twitter at


9 Comments on “The Top 5 Pain Points in Performance Reviews (And How To Solve Them)

  1. Great post Morgan.  I agree its high time to move from performance management to talent development and also, to have an agile, real-time approach to feedback that actually enables leveraging the things that are going well and course correction for the things that aren’t!

  2. Great post..  Its very true..  I think Its high time to move away from our old systems to cater to the needs Gen Y..  I feel that the approach should be more real time, rather than waiting or 6 months or year to give feedback. 

  3. Fantastic article!  Performance reviews are a topic I face daily as an executive career management and recruiting firm.  Countless clients come to me experience job dissatisfaction largely due to the fact that no one gives them feedback about how they are doing or conversely, they are give feedback that is irrelevant or so generic that there is little hope of creating a plan to improve.  Although I do feel annual reviews are important to track long term goals and see an employee on the whole, I agree that a more frequent/project based review is a better litmus test of someone’s skills and progress.  Making time to sit down and look at the accomplishments and challenges of a specific project immediately following its completion allows employees to see where they can make changes and where they should continue to put their focus on future projects and assignments.  In addition, this encourages continual communication and a more “personal” experience when reviewing work performance. 
    Ken Schmitt

  4. Performance reviews as we know it are completely outdated, No one is completely honest at either end of the spectrum and they take far too long to really be effective

  5. During my 20 career I’ve had many excellent annual performance appraisals, yet I’ve dreaded every single one! Thank you for this insightful and tactically helpful article. I can’t wait until we can say annual performance appraisals are a thing of the past!

  6. Great article! BUT — until managers can be converted to such a process —- heck any process then it’s doomed. Training doesn’t seem to work —- HR shouldn’t have to be policemen, etc. I don’t have the answer. All I know is that unless management sees the value then nothing will change.

  7. The problem isn’t the performance review, it is the overall concept of performance management. The PR is just a tool within the entire process.

  8. The obsession to document and register performance reviews in expensive and complex SAP systems in an attempt to comply with internal rules can ruin the true basic objectives such as goal alignment, performance improvement through feedback, performance-based recognition and above all openness and transparency. When organizations care more about managing variable compensation (which often is quite fixed and invariable), rank employees through forced distribution curves, attempt to offer an appearance of objectivity to naturally subjective decisions, and care more about the rate of completion, the original and basic goals of performance management, unfortunately are forgotten.

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