Performance reviews, that annual, compulsory meeting between supervisor and supervisee to discuss the individual's accomplishments during the past year , are the bane of all employees. Sam Culbert wrote in the Wall Street Journal that performance reviews are so bad that we should stop doing them altogether. He wrote:
Instead of stimulating corporate effectiveness, they lead to just-in-case and cover-your-behind activities that reduce the amount of time that could be put to productive use. Instead of promoting directness, honesty and candor, they stimulate inauthentic conversations in which people cast self-interested pursuits as essential company activities.
Culbert makes some legitimate points about the failings of performance reviews. However, I don't think the problem is performance reviews, per se; it is that they are often done poorly and in a negative context. Rather than throw out the performance review, we should change the way it is typically done. Sean Murray, in his blog post, Performance Review vs. Performance Preview, offers some good alternatives. Taking the cue from Culbert, Murray highlights two ways to improve the process: 1) supervisor and supervisee should enter the meeting with the same expectations for what will be discussed; and 2) the emphasis should be on setting supervisee goals and deciding what each of them will contribute towards achieving those goals.
When supervisor and supervisee do not have shared expectations and do not set mutually agreed to goals for the following year, all of the problems described by Culbert can occur. But much of that is because supervisors/managers have not learned how to give feedback effectively. Nobody teaches supervisors/managers how to do an effective performance review. They learn from their supervisors, including all of the painful ways in which those supervisors conducted or avoided conducting performance reviews.
Performance feedback is a process, not an event. Supervisors should use every opportunity to give feedback to their supervisees. This feedback should be both positive and negative, although the ratio should be much more positive than negative. This feedback should be given early and often, with the formal performance review meeting occuring as one element of that ongoing process.
One of the major reasons for requiring performance reviews at all is because it ensures that at least once a year supervisors and supervisees talk about performance. Otherwise, many employees would never receive any performance feedback and wouldn't know how they are viewed by their bosses and what they need to do to improve and be successful in the organization. We need to do more to make sure that giving and receiving feedback (and reflecting on that feedback) is a continuous process for everyone.