"Get rid of the performance review, get rid of that checklist, get rid of the absurd idea of what the perfect employee should be like, and people are free to keep their eye on the prize—the corporate results—and not the arbitrary path that somebody has prescribed ahead of time."
Samuel A. Culbert is an award winning author, researcher and full-time, tenured professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. His laboratory is the world of work where he puts conventional managerial assumptions under a microscope to uncover and replace dysfunctional practices. He holds a B.S. in Systems Engineering and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Lawrence Rout began his career as a reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s Chicago bureau, covering banking and law. He went on to become the paper’s first real-estate columnist, opened its Mexico City bureau and wrote about international debt from New York. He has held a number of editing positions on the paper, and is currently a Senior Editor in New York.
I’ll never forget Oct 20th, 2008. That’s when the Wall Street Journal printed my exposé of performance reviews. It was a high-visibility article – and the response was electric. The article was the top-viewed piece on the Journal’s online site for days, produced a thousand letters to the editor, a heated debate on the site (with plenty of name-calling), was referenced on more than another hundred websites, generated scores of requests to reprint the article in its entirety and provoked a large number of requests for radio and TV interviews. View it for yourself. Overnight I became a rock star.
I also couldn’t have designed a better experiment to gauge how people feel about performance reviews. It was as if I had enlisted a giant focus group on a topic that everyone feels strongly about and few see much to gain by speaking up. More than 80 percent were supportive – and many of them reacted as if the article had been therapeutic, giving voice to the anger and fear they had long felt. About 15 percent sounded defensive. They seemed to react to my exposé as a threat -- to their livelihood and perhaps their internal needs for personal control and social order. And, almost everyone who weighed-in wrote polemically. There were few “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”
Included in the responses was an offer to write a book. My initial response was skeptical. I had just published a very good, award-winning book and wanted a breather. That book, Beyond Bullsh*t: Straight-Talk at Work, alleged that, in the corporate world, bullshit is the communication etiquette of choice. I argued that such bullshit does untold damage to corporations. By contrast, I wrote, trusting relationships are the most efficient and effective management tool for high-performance and organization results. How do you get trusting relationships? Straight talk. But straight talk is impossible with performance reviews. Performance reviews sow the seeds of boss/subordinate distrust.
The Wall Street Journal article didn’t just tear down performance reviews, though. It also prescribed an alternative: Performance previews. I saw the book deal as an opportunity to get my ideas out in their entirety and an opportunity to join up with Larry Rout, the gifted writer who had edited my article for the Journal, to put my points across in an even more compelling format.
The resulting book -- Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on What Really Matters -- has the Full Monte thesis. It will resonate with anybody who has ever received, or written, a performance review. And it will equip any reader with the irrefutable logic to find holes in any corporate reasoning used to justify reviews. It also contains simple steps to an alternative form of feedback and exchange that hold the potential to accomplish the manager/subordinate synergy that performance reviews undermine.
The end result: Employees who are happier at work, more honest with their bosses and themselves and corporations that get results they need.
But I have something even bigger in mind with this book. I see the attack on the performance review as an ideal opportunity to rethink management theory in general, to offer a truly progressive – dare I say enlightened – approach to the relationship between bosses and subordinates. I want it to gradually seep into readers’ minds, as they ponder and reflect on the havoc wreaked by the way things are, by the damage done by the current corporate environment. I want them to think about their own experiences, on how they treat others and how others treat them, and see that there is a better way. In other words, I believe this book holds the potential for helping people catapult themselves into a whole new way of thinking. And we’ll all be better off for it.
Thus I see Get Rid of the Performance Review! as much more than a diatribe about a most pretentious, company-defeating corporate practice (although it is certainly that as well). I see it as a major book on how to manage effectively, and that exposes the bullshit that everyone smells without being able to identify the source well enough to get it cleaned up and thrown out. It’s a book that corrects widely held misassumptions, folklore and fallacies. It’s a book that offers readers a path to do right what they have for so long done wrong.