Managing performance reviews

(MDP Series #6)

In this ‘part 6’ of our series of posts linked to Maximum Performance’s Management Development Programme, we arrive at one of the most fundamental management roles, and possibly the one most people find difficult.

As a manager, one of your core responsibilities is to manage the flow of work. How do you know whether and how well that work is done? Performance management… and by extension, the development of your team’s skills and knowledge to support and improve their performance.

Performance management is not only critical for the organisation (Are our people working as efficiently and effectively as possible?) but also for each individual worker, who is entitled to know how they measure up to the organisation’s standards (As a manager, you set objectives – people need to know if they’ve met them!)

However, too often, the phrase “performance management” gives rise to the clichéd image of a once-a-year sit-down in which managers tell workers what they need to do better/differently next year (even if they have exceeded all expectations this year). Consider this quotation from Rensis Likert (inventor of the Likert scale), over sixty years ago:

“The aim of reviewing the subordinate’s performance is to increase… effectiveness, not to punish… But… performance review interviews, as a rule, are seriously deflating to the employee’s sense of worth.”

Bleak, maybe. But let’s face it, we’ve all had (maybe even conducted) performance reviews like this.

In fact, according to a recent People Management article, 47% of UK staff say the praise they receive at work is, “meaningless and feels like an empty gesture.”

Maybe it’s better not to carry out performance reviews if this is the result… However, as a manager, you still need to manage performance, behaviour, targets, motivate your team, develop their skills, manage career expectations, manage external stakeholders, be accountable, manage income and expenditure, pay people fairly, etc. And understanding employee performance is critical to doing any of this. Performance management is an essential tool – in some form or other. The key is to set up a way to review and manage performance which is not – in Likert’s words – “deflating to the employee”.

One large-scale example of just that is the case of Adobe.

The multinational software company found that its performance review process was using 80,000 hours of management time each year to review 11,000 employees – the equivalent of 40 full-time people doing nothing else. Worse, the results of this unwieldy (but typical!) system were often damaging to employee engagement, motivation and inspiration, according to Adobe’s own internal staff surveys.

The alternative approach adopted involved:

  • Regular, frequent check-ins by managers, to offer coaching and advice.
  • Check-ins include communication of expectations, feedback (two-way), performance improvement and personal development.
  • There are no forms completed, no technology used, and the frequent feedback is much more timely and useful for all concerned.

Managers are fully trained in coaching and feedback skills, putting an emphasis on the communication and connection element of the process, and enabling them to effectively support employees.

As borne out by the Adobe example, the secret to effective performance reviews and management is communication – the focus on the conversation and not the paperwork! The benefits of such a focus is that participants talk about practicalities, priorities, resources, and more effective/efficient ways of getting the work done. Which is how it should be, for both employee and manager.


At Maximum Performance, we believe in the value of management development, and the value of the individual manager. The MDP is one of our core programmes and we focus closely on the impact and consequences of the manager role because it’s a powerful role and what you do matters – one way or the other!

For more information on management development, and how we can use it to address your specific organisational and business needs, check out our MDP page or give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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