Everyone Hates Performance Reviews. Here’s How to Rebrand Them
Boss meeting with employee for performance review

Everyone Hates Performance Reviews. Here's How to Rebrand Them.

Do you ever notice that the amount of vacation requests goes up significantly during and just after performance reviews? Do you feel you have to drag managers and employees kicking and screaming into performance review season? Is your HR department getting sore looks from around the office?

You’re not alone. A recent study conducted by Adobe found that both employees and managers consider performance reviews an unproductive use of their time. In fact, 64% of employees and 62% of managers agree that traditional annual performance reviews are outdated.

HR leaders, managers and their direct reports question the importance of performance reviews.

What’s worse is that most people don’t feel they benefit from appraisals. Research by CEB found that more than 9 in 10 managers are dissatisfied with how their company runs performance reviews. Almost 9 in 10 HR managers don’t even believe they yield accurate information. According to the Adobe study, a full 59% of employees believe performance reviews don’t have any impact at all on their performance and 58% see them as a needless HR requirement.

This is not just the way things are. Performance reviews don’t have to be seen as a loathed but necessary evil. Faced with the same contempt for the annual performance review, more and more companies are rehabilitating and rebranding performance management into a new process. Here we’ll explain how performance reviews got such a bad rap and why it’s necessary to overhaul the process and rebrand it for your workforce.

Why do performance reviews get such a bad rap?

To truly understand the problem, you have to get into the mindset of your people. A survey by TriNet and Wakefield revealed that 15% of employees have actually cried after a review and another 15% have cursed. Adobe’s study put this number at 34%. Not surprisingly, 22% (!) have attempted to avoid the whole thing altogether by calling in sick. You may be wondering what causes such strong emotional reactions to performance reviews.

Stack ranking has had a significant impact. The system, created in the 80s by then CEO of GE Jack Welch, essentially forced managers to rank each of their employees in order from best to worst performer. The idea was that top performers would be considered for bonuses and raises, while lower ranked performers would be let go. The problem was this created a system in which reviews were associated with the potential to lose one’s source of income (and therefore livelihood) triggering feelings of stress. Concern for one’s employment status would therefore take precedence over the desire to learn and develop.

Meanwhile, managers had the difficult task of ranking employees, even if they considered everyone to be valuable members of the team. This, as a result, encouraged favoritism and created competition, rather than unity within teams.

Essentially, stack ranking created the mentality that performance management is first and foremost a tool for companies to decide who gets promoted and who gets fired. Although the negative psychological impact of stack ranking is now widely known, with the number of companies practicing it plummeting from 49% in 2009 to just 14% in 2011, the image it created of performance management still persists. This mentality is the source of your employees’ anxiety and conjures up images of an executioner's block when going in to discuss results with their manager.

Rebranding performance reviews

In the past, we’ve written about strategies that HR can borrow from marketing. Rebranding is another one that can significantly help to change people’s attitudes towards long-hated HR practices and rehabilitate them into processes your people will actually be excited about.

In an article by Former West Coast Editor for Entrepreneur.com, Kim Lachance Shandrow, she highlights one of the key mistakes companies make when rebranding. As she explained, “there’s a lot more to a successful rebrand than merely tweaking your logo and hoping it will go over well.” Rebranding requires a full fledged change in the philosophy and/or products and services being offered.

Rather than dragging your employees and managers kicking and screaming into performance reviews, create a process which they know is meant to benefit them and their personal growth.

Rebrand it into something that:

  • Is aimed at helping people learn and develop
  • Helps managers engage and motivate their teams – propelling them forward
  • HR can use to gain real insights into how they can develop and improve their L&D processes based on the needs of their people

Creating a unique performance management process

Rebranding your performance reviews is not simply about choosing another standard model and applying it to your workplace. To make it truly stick, you have to create a process that addresses the specific needs of your people and the culture of your organization. The best way to start is by including your people in the conversation. Beginning a new policy with a survey gives employees ownership of the process and ensures you’ll get the information you need to make it successful.

For more on how to facilitate communication, provide ongoing coaching and training, and implement employee engagement activities, download Glassdoor’s Complete Guide to Employee Engagement Activities.

Steffen Maier is co-founder of Impraise – a web-based & mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy & engaging process by enabling employees to exchange valuable feedback in real-time & providing insightful analytics to managers & HR.