Why I’ll Never Conduct An Employee Review Again

Official employee reviews, whether yearly, bi-annually, even quarterly are marred in cognitive bias. We’re all subject to cognitive bias, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. A cognitive bias is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).

You can’t possibly rate someone’s performance over a previous year or a period of many months, without heavily weighting your opinions on the last few weeks. So, the first thing to acknowledge about this pre-historic process is recency bias. You will rate someone on their most recent performance, likely the last few weeks.

Observational Selection Bias is that effect of suddenly noticing things we didn’t notice that much before — but we wrongly assume that the frequency has increased. Someone has been late a lot lately or unengaged recently and our bias tells us this has been happening all year. Yearly reviews fail because of this bias.

At its best, formulating feedback for an annual review is done during a planned preparation session that has been set aside in your calendar. For an entire year’s performance the average manager spends an hour preparing, scratching together some notes or using a company template. The results will be very dependent on how one feels that day. Did they argue with their kid that morning? Are they under the weather? Hungry? Yes, an employee’s review is going to be influenced by your hunger. Let’s call this hunger bias, which can lead to hangry bias.

Let’s not forget the most important reason the yearly review should die a quick death. The time at which the traditional official employee review takes place coincides with it being too late. Too late to impact performance and results. If you want something to change you need to manage it weekly. If you want praise to have a meaningful impact you need to do it weekly.

I won’t belabour the point further. But trust me, I will never conduct an annual or semi annual employee review again. Instead, every employee has a 30 minute weekly meeting with their manager. Here’s how it works:

Weekly – Consistently meet the same day and time every week.

Two-way – Listen more than you speak. This is not a review. Reviews are dead in your organization. This is your chance to listen, learn and coach. Gone are the days of brow beating someone and using power and position to get results. Every week you should be getting feedback as well. The most important question you can ask each time you meet is, “How can I help you this week?”

Documented – Use google docs and take notes, one document for the lifetime of the employee.

Location – Neutral, don’t sit behind your desk, meet in a common area.

Time – No more than 30 minutes.

Simplified Agenda – Good news, what’s on this week, what’s most important this week, metrics from last week and commentary on them, how can I help you this week? This is just an example, create something simple and appropriate for you and your particular employee. But remember, your job is to listen, learn, and coach.

There is absolutely no reason for an annual review. It’s prehistoric, it’s like having an annual two week vacation policy. Oh wait…you don’t give your employees only two weeks vacation do you?