The controversial performance review

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Are performance reviews passé? At the very least, they are a hot discussion topic — judging from reactions to the lead story in this week’s edition of Business Insight, which we at SMR produce in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal.  The article’s author, UCLA management professor Samuel Culbert, opines that performance reviews are  “little more than a dysfunctional pretense,” with bosses out to justify predetermined compensation ranges. Meanwhile, Culbert argues, subordinates become unwilling to admit vulnerabilities because they know such admissions may come back to haunt them at future performance reviews.

Culbert’s article garnered dozens of comments. Many readers agreed with Culbert that performance reviews need improvement. Wrote one: “As a knowledge worker, performance reviews feel like some anachronistic, industrial-era tool designed to assert dominance in employee relationships… It is hard for me to imagine a motivated professional who benefits from this type of defined periodic review instead of ongoing trusted communication.”  Others disagreed, with some noting that formal performance reviews help managers avoid litigation if they need to later fire a poor performer.

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