The Worst Performance Review

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Annual, semi-annual, quarterly, 360…no matter what form they take, performance reviews can be anxiety-inducing workplace rituals. In today’s episode of the Rework podcast, we talk to the head of HR at an HR software company (meta!) and a Basecamp designer about why helpful feedback is so difficult to give and receive — and what can be done to improve the process.

Feedback: Just-in-time may well be just-too-much, just-too-often

Few management techniques have fallen further from grace than the yearly or bi-yearly employee reviews. The new way is just-in-time feedback. Don’t hold anything back, let it all out, and the sooner the better. The more transparency, the greater frequency, the better!

So drip, drip, drip comes the feedback. Every interaction, every project, every presentation a test to be judged and graded. Did I do well? Does hearing nothing this time when I heard something last time mean it was better or worse?

I’m not sure the new way is better. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. Maybe transparency, honesty, and feedback aren’t all just dials that make the music better if they’re all turned up to 11 at the same time.

Perhaps not every reservation needs to be aired, perhaps not every doubt needs to be discussed. Yes, it will be a longer loop, but one that’s also likely to sift out the one-off bad days, the infrequent misunderstandings, the few missed opportunities. Leftover, the lingering concerns that have shown themselves serious enough to persist as a trend.

We’re all noisy data points. Very few individual incidents matter so much that they single-handedly alter the trajectory of the trend. That’s not a bug, but a feature.