One of my favorite podcasts was recorded back in 2011, with Sam Culbert of UCLA. He speaks insightfully on a topic that Dr. W. Edwards Deming championed – replacing the annual employee appraisal (or performance review) with a more ongoing leadership process… being less of a judge and more of a coach. I believe strongly that the annual review process creates more harm than good, even when they are “done well.” I’ve had this transcript made for those who prefer reading over listening. But, I invite you to listen to the discussion here.
Announcer: Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. Visit our website at www.LeanBlog.org. Now, here’s your host, Mark Graban.
Mark Graban: Hi. This is Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 117 of the podcast for April 5th, 2011. I’m very pleased to be joined today by Samuel Culbert. He’s a professor at the UCLA Anderson School in Management. We’re going to be talking about his most recent book called Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing, and Focus on the Results of What Really Matter.
Professor Culbert’s previous book, Beyond Bullshit, revealed how bullshit became the etiquette of choice in corporate communications and showed how to develop the conditions required for straight talk. Smart Money Magazine named this book to its 2008 list of top ten reads, and it was honored as a finalist for the National Best Book Awards.
Dr. Culbert is the winner of a McKinsey Award for article published in the Harvard Business Review, and he’s a frequent contributor in management journals and has authored numerous chapters in leading management-related books and has also authored really interesting op-ed pieces in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times in the past couple of years, both of which I’ve linked to on the page for this episode at LeanBlog.org/117.
Mark: From reading your articles and a little bit in your book, I certainly agree with you that one of those things that gets in the way of people doing their best is the annual performance review, so I’m curious. First, if you can tell us how you came to deconstruct that or to discover that as a theme, and then tell us some of your thoughts on why that’s such an important issue.
Samuel: I wrote my first published paper on the topic of performance reviews 30 years ago, published it in the now defunct Wharton Management School Magazine. Performance reviews needs are so biased. and they’re presented as being objective. Then more recently, I wrote a book on the topic of bullshit and straight talk at work. Thinking about how the publicized that book, I thought, “What’s the biggest bullshit practice taking place in management today?”
The idea of performance reviews just lift out of me because performance reviews are justified on many grounds but none of the grounds hold water when they’re looked into more deeply.
Performance reviews, in my mind, are a dishonest, fraudulent practice carried out and justified on grounds I have no idea, they never hold any water and they work against everybody. They make bad about the companies, to be exploited by bad managers because nobody wants to talk about the bad behavior of people who have the power and authority to control their careers.
It makes it difficult for good managers to be good because it makes it impossible for people to talk authentically and honestly about what’s going wrong that they see or even their own limitations and difficulties and the additional resources they need in order to be competent.
You’ve got a practice that is bogus at its roots because it pretends to be objective. It’s not objective. It pretends to be the way the company sees you. If you get a different boss, you’re going to be seen differently.
They use metrics that have nothing to do with what people have in mind when they take action in the company. People don’t think along those lines that the same metrics make sense for any human being. People don’t even define the metrics the same way. Is an individual a team player or a conflict avoider?
What does it mean to be a team player? Well, it means one thing if you’ve got a boss who insists on loyalty and it means something else if you’ve got a different kind of boss, a boss who seems to have some kind of ability to talk straight and honest and can’t because you’re not going to speak up and possibly put your own promotion or your pay or just your basic employment at risk.
Anyway, I can’t think of a more bizarre protocol that takes place in companies today and managers doing nothing to change their practices.
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