Upside Down Performance Reviews

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


At EllisDon, we try and focus the process on Career Path Planning – for obvious reasons – but it’s still tricky: People sitting down with their ‘bosses’ to hear about how they are ‘perceived’ to be doing; the good, the bad, sometimes the ugly, and what they need to do to improve.

Everybody needs and wants the feedback, but it’s still difficult. The ‘senior’ person is usually uncomfortable and not necessarily skilled in this kind of conversation. The ‘reviewee’ is often on edge, a bit defensive, and often comes away much less than satisfied with the whole experience.

Which is bad, since the process is supposed to be entirely, completely, 100% for their benefit. Not the company’s. Theirs. If the company benefits, it’s because it’s now being driven by people who have received that significant benefit.

So: Instead of having the company control the process, why don’t we turn it over to the employees, individually? Let’s give each person the tools to conduct their own ‘performance review’ – to ask the questions to find out what they need to know to build their career and their success. We can tell them generally going in the kinds of topics we think they might want to cover. But they would have the opportunity, freedom and individual responsibility to do it themselves.

And instead of training the ‘bosses’ how to run a review, we can coach them in ‘tactful candor’, and how to not get defensive when they themselves get challenged – good leadership lessons for everyone. Coach the employees how to get the most benefit out of it, and leave it to them. There’s no way the good ones would shirk (and who wants the bad ones anyway?); it’s their career and their future. I bet they would come out of it with more relevant knowledge, and greater satisfaction and purpose.

We tell everyone at EllisDon that they must lead; maybe we should let them lead their careers. We might come out of it with more effective leadership and greater skills at every level.

Whose life is it, anyway? I think it’s worth a discussion, maybe a ‘test run’ with some confident and determined people.