Annual Employee Reviews: So 20th Century

December 4th 2017

Remember when correspondence took a couple of weeks? Now it happens in seconds. Remember the glory days of printed newsletters: the writing, the printing, the stuffing, the stamping, the mailing? Pretty much gone. And how about returning phone calls or emails “as soon as possible”? Now, it’s within a specific number of hours (if you’re savvy). 

Yet companies that practice business at 21st century speed are still doing annual employee evaluations. You really have to wonder why. The data on young employees show that their strong preference is to receive regular and rapid feedback on their performance. So why are managers waiting a year? How is this a good business practice?

The Millenials have it right on this issue: annual employee reviews are worthless. Baby Boomers like me can tell war stories all day about enduring  employee evaluations from both sides of the desk. As employees, here’s what we were thinking during the evaluations:

  1. I hate this. 
  2. Why didn’t my supervisor tell me I screwed up on that project six months ago?
  3. I wonder if that mistake is going to cost me a raise.
  4. How much raise will I get, anyway?
  5. I hate this.

As managers and executives, here’s our thought process:

  1. I hate this. 
  2. I can’t remember anything this employee did all year.
  3. This evaluation form is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. How can I assign a number to someone’s work for a whole year? Should I use decimals?
  4. What if I give him a bad evaluation? Will he quit? 
  5. Seriously. I’m going to speak to our HR director as soon as this evaluation is over.
  6. I hate this.

None of this is productive. It’s a much better use of time to evaluate employees by project or task. Debrief after every major effort. Tell the employee straight up what you think they did well and what might have gone better. And if you’re really brave (and, again, savvy), you’ll ask them what they think of your performance. Then, together, line up your mutual expectations for the next project. 

If you think you don’t have time to evaluate employees after a project or task, think how much time it takes to recruit, hire, and train a new one after the old one quits because she wasn’t getting the right feedback at the right time.

leadership, coaching, communication, management


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