Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California has this advice about the use of performance evaluations in the workplace:
Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers.
Now, maybe your boss is all-knowing. But I’ve never seen one that was. In a self-interested world, where imperfect people are judging other imperfect people, anybody reviewing somebody else’s performance â€” whether as an actor, a writer, a spouse, a friend or a worker â€” is subjective. It’s why when employees switch bosses, more often than not their evaluation changes as well.
Under such a system, in which one’s livelihood can be destroyed by a self-serving boss trying to meet a budget or please the higher-ups, what employee would ever speak his mind? What employee would ever say that the boss is wrong, and offer an idea on how something might get done better?
Only an employee looking for trouble.
Is there a way out? I believe there is, and it works for both government and business. It’s something I call the performance preview. Instead of top-down reviews, both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results. No longer will only the subordinate be held accountable for the often arbitrary metrics that the boss creates. Instead, bosses are taught how to truly manage, and learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their subordinates to get the results the taxpayer is counting on.
Instead of the bosses merely handing out A’s and C’s, they work to make sure everyone can earn an A. And the word goes out: â€œNo more after-the-fact disappointments. Tell me your problems as they happen; we’re in it together and it’s my job to ensure results.â€
Performance reviews aren’t the only ways to measure effectiveness, to be sure. Workers whose output is tangible and measurable â€” how much garbage is picked up, how many streets are cleared of snow â€” are increasingly evaluated according to numerical goals. I’d argue these measurements are similarly flawed. Workers are almost always better at coming up with metrics that lead to systemwide gains than bosses alone are. The key to systemwide success (as opposed to individual success) is still employees working together under the leadership of good managers.