Tired of Poor Performance Appraisals? Survey Shows Most Workers Are, Too

You probably know about the current state of employee engagement today. Just about every survey you see says it’s pretty bad.

We also see findings in those same surveys that claim that a great many employees plan to make the jump to a new job whenever they get a good chance, but when is that exactly? Trouble is, the current job market isn’t cooperating with the desire of so many workers to hit the door.

So, that’s why my eyes perked up when I saw this new survey that said that 21 million Americans will change jobs next year — until I also saw that although 21 million is a big number, it only represents a 15 percent churn rate. And a lot of businesses would be happy with a 15 percent churn rate.

Why the performance review process is broken

The survey I’m talking about is the Cornerstone OnDemand/Harris 2012 U.S. Employee Report (Employee Performance Management Study) that was just conducted in late September, and beyond the 21 million departures number that caught my eye, there is a lot in it about performance appraisals and how employees feel about the review process in today’s workplace.

Not surprisingly, they aren’t very happy about it.

For example, of U.S. workers who have experienced their employer’s performance review process:

  • Less than half (45 percent) said the feedback they receive is a fair and accurate representation of their performance;
  • Only a third (33 percent) said the feedback they receive is not a surprise and is feedback they have gotten prior to the formal review; and,
  • Only a fourth (25 percent) indicated they are given specific examples of their work to support the feedback they receive.

Those are pretty terrible numbers, especially when you turn them around and consider that 55 percent are saying that their review is NOT a fair and accurate representation of their performance, that 67 percent say they found the feedback in the review to be a surprise, and 75 percent indicate that they aren’t given specific examples of their work to support the feedback they receive.

No wonder people hate the performance review process. Is there any wonder why I (and a lot of others as well) believe that performance appraisals in most organizations are a complete and total waste of time? Aren’t they a contributing factor to the crappy state of employee engagement in many organizations?

More bad findings on performance appraisals

Need more evidence to support my opinion? Well, here are three more findings from the Cornerstone OnDemand/Harris survey:

  • Only 21 percent of employees said their organization uses online or software-based forms (e.g. via an intranet portal) to submit formal performance review;
  • The rest say their employers use other review methods such as handwritten, paper-based forms (38 percent) or electronic-based forms (e.g. MS Word or Excel docs) (31 percent); and,
  • Another 21 percent do not use review forms because they receive their formal review verbally.

Still not convinced? Well, when describing their job in the past six months:

  • Only 37 percent said they’ve been given useful feedback from their manager/employer;
  • Only 34 percent indicated that they’ve received training and development to help them better perform their job;
  • Only 32 percent said that their performance goals are aligned with their company’s business objectives; and
  • Only 20 percent have established career goals with their manager/employer.

It’s all about developing employees

“Managers who simply go through the motions with performance appraisals not only risk employee retention, but also limit the success of the business. Performance management should be about developing employees to help them succeed and stay aligned with the goals of the organization,” said Adam Miller, CEO and founder of Cornerstone OnDemand, in a press release about this survey.

He added: “Especially now, at a time when companies are challenged with finding skilled workers, it is important to invest in the training and development of people in order to build strong pools of talent and recruit from within. Employees who have access to training, resources and tools to improve their performance and reach their career goals are happier, more engaged and more empowered to become champions for their company.”

Article Continues Below

I agree with all of that, but it doesn’t get around the issue that no one is really benefiting much from performance reviews — not the employer and certainly not the employee. The only hope for performance reviews, in my book, is to totally automate and streamline the process. It’s a good idea, but how many businesses are willing to invest in the software to get it done? We need a lot more than the 20 percent who have such systems today to really make performance reviews meaningful again.

“If you think about traditional performance management processes, they’re very transactional. But performance management should no longer be just one time events or annualized cycles. Social tools can help to make these processes more interactional, ongoing, transparent and feedback-based,” said Cornerstone OnDemand’s Miller.

Yes, those tools are the answer, but unless organizations start spending money on performance management systems, we’re still going to see a lot of employees and their managers struggling with those out of date and insufficient review forms for many more years to come.

Harris fielded the 2012 U.S. Employee Report study on behalf of Cornerstone from September 20-22, 2011 via its QuickQuery online omnibus service, interviewing 2,141 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older, of whom 1,143 were employed full/part time. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity and propensity to be online.

How to fix a broken system

I’m on the record that the current performance review process as it is currently conducted by most companies — annually (mostly), with out-of-date and out-of-touch paper forms, with little real thought, insight, or actual feedback — is broken and hardly worth anyone’s time. Automated solutions and systems are the answer, but how many companies are making those kind of big money investments today? That’s why we get a wing, a prayer, and inflexible paper forms used once a year.

There’s more analysis of the Harris/Cornerstone survey here on this Cornerstone blog, and I have included their graphic that you can click on here to enlarge and get more details.

Although I agree with a lot of what Steven Hunt wrote recently here on TLNT in defense of performance reviews, until organizations invest the money in systems to handle the process properly, we’re still going to get a bunch of surveys like this saying how terrible the state of performance appraisals are — and how they continue to really do more harm than good.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


3 Comments on “Tired of Poor Performance Appraisals? Survey Shows Most Workers Are, Too

  1. John, great article.  I draw three conclusions from this
    a. Effective performance appraisals are a key component of a high performance organization, but are difficult to do well.
    b. Very few companies invest adequate resources into creating clear, consistent, accurate, and effective performance appraisal processes. (although there is a lot of data showing that the ones that do invest in these processes tend to outperform the ones that don’t)
    c.  Most employees dislike their company’s performance appraisal process – not because performance appraisals are inherently unpleasant, but because the process their company uses is lousy. 
    To concluded with an analogy, saying most people don’t like performance appraisals is like saying most people don’t like air travel.  The reality is people really like the speed of air travel, but we don’t like a lot of elements associated with the standard, commercial air travel process.

    Steve (BTW – the picture attached to my TLNT profile still isn’t me – and I can’t seem to get rid of it!)

  2. John this is an interesting article with lots of good points about the prevalence of poor management practices. However I wonder if It is all too easy to blame the performance review as being the problem when the issues described above are typically due to ineffective leadership by managers on a day to day basis. If an employee receives a surprise in their performance review it does not mean the performance review is flawed but it does indicate that there has been poor performance management practices throughout the year i.e. Lack of regular feedback, poorly articulated performance expectations and lack of coaching. Performance management software will not fix these issues but does have other benefits such as more visible performance objectives and the ability to record feedback regularly to facilitate more accurate performance reviews.
    See this link for further discussion. http://everydaymanager.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/dont-hate-the-performance-review/

  3. It’s sad to see that the feedback given by the employees are not acted upon. Reviews conducted verbally are not an effective way for employee engagement either. Yes, tools indeed are an answer, especially those that offer ready to use templates with carefully crafted questions and an anonymity feature. My fellow colleague considers SoGoSurvey as a decent tool for this purpose and recommends people in the HR to try it too.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *