Among the hundreds of reasons to hate performance reviews, here’s another: They dull certain parts of our brains. Temporarily, at least.
Brain research shows that when a person’s status is threatened-something that often happens when we’re told in a performance review how we need to improve-activity diminishes in certain regions of the brain. When that occurs, says David Rock, the author of “Your Brain at Work” and the director of an institute aimed at applying neuroscience to leadership issues, “people’s fields of view actually constrict, they can take in a narrower stream of data, and there’s a restriction in creativity.”
Not exactly a state of mind anyone wants to have. But we don’t need neuroscience to tell us why the annual performance review song-and-dance is so universally reviled. We have our own reasons: the endless paperwork, the evaluation criteria so utterly unrelated to our jobs, and the simplistic and quota-driven ratings used to label the performance of otherwise complex, educated human beings.
And then there’s the buggy software and tedious online tools that make what should be a simple process-sitting down for a cup of coffee to talk about how things are going-downright exasperating. Just ask Pete Juratovic, an Air Force National Guard executive officer who is also the founder of Web design and marketing firm Clikzy Creative in Alexandria, Va. “It’s like a bad homework project,” he says of the “antiquated” software the Guard uses, which requires him to describe his team members’ performance using data-entry fields hardly large enough for a bullet point description. “I call it the Twitter effect. …My job as a leader is to rewrite this so it fits and looks professional within 150 characters?”
What makes this annual rite of corporate kabuki so baffling is that those of us getting and giving reviews aren’t the only ones who hate them. The corporate leaders who force them upon us apparently aren’t big fans, either. In surveys of managers and human resource professionals, leadership advisory firm CEB found that performance reviews, well, get pretty bad reviews themselves.
They’re wildly inaccurate, for one: CEB’s research finds that two-thirds of employees who receive the highest scores in a typical performance management system are not actually the organization’s highest performers. Go figure. The reviews are ineffective, too: Managers told CEB that conventional reviews only generate a 3- to 5-percent improvement in employee performance. They’re also surprisingly inadequate: Just 23 percent of HR folks surveyed by the firm say they’re satisfied with their organizations’ performance evaluations, down from more than 50 percent a decade ago. Eighty-five percent have either made changes in the past year in hopes of improvement or plan to do so in the next year.
Our collective distaste of the process has worsened in recent years as the economy has stagnated, workplace dynamics have changed and a new generation of workers has different expectations. Managers are supervising more people — CEB estimates that over the past five years, managers’ average number of direct reports has nearly doubled, from five to nine — and spending less time interacting with each. Making matters worse, raises are so paltry that the difference between getting a “4” or a “5” on your review might mean little more than being able to take the kids out for pizza every couple of weeks. As a result, that once all-important rating has started to become practically irrelevant.