Getting Rid of Annual Reviews Isn’t the Answer

for Reflektive’s blog, Reinventing HR

Your employees want feedback. You want to improve their performance and help them in their careers. And yet, both giving and receiving feedback appear to be universally loathed.

It’s no longer news that annual reviews are unpopular. The headline of a 2013 Washington Post article summed up the then-new research: “Study finds that basically every single person hates performance reviews.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that only 30 percent of people actually incorporate feedback, making it not only unpleasant but unproductive.

On the other side of the desk, according to a recent Zenger/Folkman survey, 44 percent of managers agreed that giving negative feedback was stressful — so stressful, in fact, 21 percent “admitted they avoid giving negative feedback” altogether.

Moving Away From Annual Reviews

As researchers have identified some of the problems of once-a-year feedback over the last few years, a number of big names — from Adobe to Zappos — made news ditching or supplementing annual reviews. There’s good reason for those moves. Annual reviews make everyone involved anxious, putting a strain on the relationship between those giving and receiving feedback. Employees feel ambushed if they only get feedback once a year. And, in fact, annual reviews are likely to focus solely on recent events. It’s hard for anything that happens in such a fraught and biased context to yield positive results.

Yet, only some of the challenges of feedback are the result of cramming it all into one tension-filled annual ritual. Certainly, more frequent feedback “lowers the stakes in each of the conversations.” But supplementing or replacing the annual review process doesn’t address the emotional challenges of feedback.

In fact, increasing the frequency without creating a real culture of feedback can aggravate the original problems, rather than resulting in more accurate data and happier, more productive teams.

Read more…