Three years ago, Samuel Culbert, a UCLA professor and management consultant, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” The piece got a huge response from readers, and he went on to write a book with the same title, which came out last year.
The performance review “destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line,” Culbert wrot in the Journal. “A one-side-accountable, boss-administered review is little more than a dysfunctional pretense.” A Ph.D. in clinical psychology, he hates performance reviews, if anything, even more today. “It’s all b******t anyway,” he says.
Given that the performance review is a fact of life for most workers at big companies, does Culbert have any suggestions for getting through the process with maximum gain and minimum pain? “You’ve got to be calculating,” he says. “Don’t get emotional.” Remember that subjective forces are at play.
Paul Falcone, vice president of human resources at Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles and author of "2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews," has more concrete advice to offer. First, Falcone says, you must take the initiative. Do your own self-examination in advance, he advises. Some companies ask their employees to fill out self-review forms. If yours doesn’t, put yourself through the paces anyway. “Otherwise it’s like being a turkey on Thanksgiving,” Falcone says. “You put your head down on the block and wait for your boss to lower the ax.”
He recommends starting the process two months before your review. Write a memo detailing your achievements. What have you done to increase revenues, to decrease expenses, to save time, to reinvent your department in light of the company’s changing needs? Make sure you track the entire year since your last review. “Bosses don’t remember what you did 11 months ago,” Falcone points out.
Additionally, Falcone recommends you spell out what support you need from your boss. Also, detail your goals for the next year. What sort of measurable outcomes are you shooting for? This will help you in your review a year from now.
In your self-review, and in the performance review itself, speak plainly. “Talk English, for Pete’s sake,” Falcone says. Do not say anything like, “We leveraged strategic resources.” Speak in specifics, not generalities.
If you can, Falcone advises, frame the discussion yourself, casting your boss in the role of gentle coach and mentor rather than disciplinarian. “A lot of people go into the review asking, ‘How did I do, boss?’” he observes. “If you do it right, you’ve done the boss’ job for her, with respect and humility.”
What if the boss levels some unexpected criticism? Handle it calmly and openly, Falcone recommends. Apologize, but try not to take it personally. He suggests saying something that includes the word perception, as in, “If your perception is that I’m not doing this as well as you expected, then I take responsibility for that, and I’m sorry.” He calls such a response “business maturity.”
Own up to mistakes when you make them, he advises. Then thank your boss for the feedback.
Note: I wrote a short piece recently about a New York Times op ed by Culbert that linked union-bashing to performance reviews. Culbert says anti-union advocates should realize that collective bargaining works better than the dreaded performance review. Read my post here.
© 2012 Forbes.com