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Honk if you love Performance Reviews


“How many of us are the person we are today because of our performance appraisal?”  asks Ken Miller.


In his book “We Don’t Make Widgets” he also comments that “Evaluations are moldy because they concentrate on the employee. As managers, many of us have spent long hours filling out these report cards, fully aware that our good employees would come in and be rock stars and our bad employees are going to come in and be marginally adequate no matter how we scored either group.”


His answer is to:

Abolish the performance appraisal now. Get rid of them if you can. Toss them aside. Tell your rock stars you appreciate them, and deal with your marginally adequate employees like a manager should

  1. Quit thinking that the root causes of your performance problems are the employees. All the best employees in the world cannot compensate for twisted-up work processes

  2. Find a way to gauge the performance of your work as a whole and not individually

  3. Focus on the work and the outcomes first, and people’s role in that work second. 

Ken can demonstrate that everything we do can be thought of as (a) a factory (b) making widgets (c) to deliver outcomes (d) for customers.  And he works almost exclusively in the public sector!


Let’s apply Ken’s logic to the performance appraisal.

  1. The factory is the Line Managers and their direct reports.

  2. The widget is the performance appraisal 

  3. The outcome is a completed form or record

  4. The customer is ….??  I’d argue the customer is actually the Executive Management Team because they use the information from the outcome to deal with other widgets such as considering pay rises and developing staff training budgets

So taking Ken’s advice, how can we improve the quality while reducing the time and cost of the performance appraisal widget?


If you accept the customer is the Executive Management Team, I’d advocate two changes:

Like Ken, I agree that if the employee is not performing satisfactorily, the performance appraisal widget does not work.  We need a separate widget to deal with them.  What works best for me is when the line manager and HR (the factory) develop a pre-scripted ‘difficult conversation’ focusing on the management problem rather than the employee’s ‘poor performance’ (the widget) where the outcome is the employee turns around or terminates for the customer (the lawyers).  Yes you read this correctly in my view the customer is the lawyer.


Now with the ‘poor performers’ out of the way, for everyone else (the factory) replace the performance appraisal with a simple and meaningful way of supporting a conversation based on continuous improvement (the widget) that captures the necessary data (the outcome) for the Executive Management Team (the customer).


While I am not sure we’ll ever honk if we love performance appraisals, for almost 20 years I know from personal experience that having a separate widget for poor performance and also making changes to the performance appraisal widget will make both processes far simpler, time and cost effective and deliver more meaningful outcomes for customers.

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Mark Shaw

HR Business and Systems Improvement

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