Professor: Ditch Reviews for Shared Goal-setting

Susan Hall

Samuel A. Culbert writes in a New York Times op-ed piece that the move to curtail collective bargaining for state employees would appear to make it easier to reward top performers. But he says that's not true.


Fellow blogger Don Tennant has written about the pitfalls of failing to adequately recognize top performers and I've written about companies' attempts to get recognition right.


Culbert is a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California-Los Angeles and author of the book "Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing-and Focus on What Really Matters."


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Culbert writes:

In my years studying such reviews, I've learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how "comfortable" a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations. They almost guarantee that the owners-whether they be taxpayers or shareholders-will get less bang for their buck.

Our Ann All interviewed him last year about why companies still cling to performance evaluations. Companies have tried various means to improve the performance review process, including adding anonymous input from coworkers, though Culbert disses that idea, too. He told Ann:

I've never been in an organization where people were anything but self-interested.

The research of Iwan Barankay, a management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, also shoots down the idea of comparing workers with their peers. He writes:

Many managers think that giving workers feedback about their performance relative to their peers inspires them to become more competitive-to work harder to catch up, or excel even more. But in fact, the opposite happens. Workers can become complacent and de-motivated. People who rank highly think, 'I am already number one, so why try harder?' And people who are far behind can become depressed about their work and give up.

Culbert advocates a system in which boss and employee are both held accountable for results. They sit down together to draft goals and a plan to reach them using metrics that make sense. (He says workers generally are better able to come up with those than bosses.) And the boss sends out the word:

No more after-the-fact disappointments. Tell me your problems as they happen; we're in it together and it's my job to ensure results.

He says the police department in Madison, Wis., has successfully used such a system since the late '80s, with supervisors acting as mentors and coaches, and officers, who are unionized, encouraged to offer feedback on their bosses.


He says both bosses and workers should be in it to win it together and there should be good ways to weed out those who aren't.

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