Why a Formal Performance Review is Unnecessary

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

What should employees do when the company isn't even performing regular performance reviews in the first place? Note that we're in an industry which is largely sheltered by the recession, we're growing and we've recently received some huge new clients. Performance reviews are not necessary for a company to be successful. Now, I admit it pains me to say that because my impulse is to have stacks of paper that I can put in your personnel file so that I can categorize everyone. I like my categories and rankings because it saves my behind (and the company's behind, if such a thing exists) when someone claims discrimination. A performance review is nice documentation that helps me fight it.

But, a performance review isn't necessary for good performance.

I suspect that what you really want is a raise. Many companies tie their raises to the formal performance review process. Your review categorizes you and then your boss looks at a grid that says, "This person was rated a 2 and is at a compa-ratio of 90% so the raise should be 3.5%."

And while what you want is a raise, what you need is a raise and feedback. Yes, yes, yes, you need feedback. Why? Because otherwise you don't know when you are doing a fantastic job, a good job, a bad job, an okay job, or an abysmally awful job. You don't know what you need to do more of and what you need to never do again.

Often times managers store up all of the information about you and then deliver it to you once a year at your formal performance review. This is so unhelpful I want to scream.

Once at my own performance review my boss said I "didn't place a high priority on deadlines." My job was very deadline oriented and that was flat out false. I met deadlines. I worked nights and weekends and on my days off (I was part time) to meet deadlines. So I said, "Can you give me an example?"

She had a solid example to give me. I had been asked to provide some historical data to an in house client as part of one of my co-worker's projects. This was out of my normal scope of activities, but I was doing it because I had the most experience with the data set. I told my co-worker I could do it but it would be late, due to other more pressing projects. I told the client I would be a day late. Client and I had a long business relationship, and he was totally fine about this. He confessed that he'd given my co-worker an earlier due date then he actually needed so he'd have some extra time. I had provided the data when I told everyone I was going to, one day later than the original deadline.

Now, my boss didn't know I'd talked to the client. She didn't know I'd told my co-worker about the delay. My co-worker had come to her, complaining that I was late, but didn't bother to tell her that I had spoken to all concerned and that the client was okay with it. My boss didn't ask me about it at the time, when it would have been relevant. She just kept it to herself for months and sprung it on me at the performance review. Not effective. I had no idea that her knickers were twisted over this, as the client was clearly happy.

Now, let's assume that I really did have a problem with deadlines. By waiting for months to say anything I would have assumed it was okay to miss deadlines, when it wasn't. Feedback should occur as close to the incident (positive or negative) as possible.

That is what you need to do a good job. Your manager should say, "Hey great job on that presentation today. I really liked X and Y. Did you notice everyone's eyes glaze over, though, when you talked about Z? We need to figure out a way to make that piece of this more clear." Your manager should not write down these thoughts and deliver them to you in a performance reviews.

So, start asking for regular feedback. Ask your boss if she has any suggestions for improving your performance on a specific project or presentation. If you're not sure which path to take, ask for help. If your boss won't voluntarily give you feedback, seek it out.

Now, as for the raise part, it's okay to ask about that. "So, boss, is there a time line for the next merit increase?" Your company may not believe in giving out annual raises. They may only give them when people are promoted. So, ask. Ask what you need to do to be considered for an increase. Don't whine, but do ask.

You'll get the feedback you need to help you in your career, rather than a box checked off that you've had your performance review. And, hopefully, you'll even get a raise.