I’m Still Standing Up for the Performance Review. You With Me?

Is Samuel Culbert out of touch with the mainstream business landscape? Seriously… In an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week, he pushed for getting rid of performance reviews:

“the alleged primary purpose of performance reviews is to enlighten subordinates aboutPerformance Review what they should be doing better or differently but I see the primary purpose quite differently. I see it as intimidation aimed at preserving the boss’s authority and power advantage.”

There’s more of that where it came from. Before you read the rest of his article though, let’s first clarify – Samuel Culbert isn’t an HR pro. He has NEVER practiced HR. He’s taught, he’s written, and he’s “consulted.” And just so you know where I stand, I have a really hard time with someone preaching from the pulpit who has never walked a mile in the shoes of… me, or you.

If you have done tons of research, okay, I’m going to cut you some slack, because you’ve done your homework and analyzed the masses… but this article is fraught with conjecture. “Raises are then determined by the boss, and the boss’s boss, largely as a result of the marketplace or the budget,” Culbert writes at one point. Says who? Says a survey? Says in-depth interviews he’s conducted? Where is the research? How about a case study? Just one case study – please! Because, I know that in all the organizations I’ve done HR in, that wasn’t how we did business. Honestly, the article reads like he has an axe to grind. And others are jumping on the bandwagon too.


I can give Culbert credit as he presents the alternative – a concept called the preview, “problem-solving, not problem-creating, discussions about how we , as teammates, are going to work together even more effectively and efficiently than we’ve done in the past… descriptive conversations about how each person is inclined to operate, using past events for illustrative purposes, and how we worked well or did not work well individually and together.” I think that’s awesome. He goes on to also recommend that the “preview” not happen just annually, but whenever a manager or employee feels like they aren’t working well together. That sounds good to me, too.


But let me ask you something… doesn’t it feel like Culbert is writing from a place where he assumes ongoing conversations about performance aren’t ever taking place? As if in most organizations, a date is set for the performance review and then, both the manager and employee show up for the one and only time in which they talk with each other about performance, and of course, it’s all about what the employee is doing wrong? What happened to the review being… a review? A reflection on the past year and what’s gone RIGHT, and what could have been different? What happened to goal setting? What happened to career pathing?


I know there are HR pros out there who get it. You know what I mean when I say “it” – they are performance management focused rather than disciplinary action oriented. They are the ones who focus on hiring the right people for the right jobs, making sure the motivational fit is there and as a result, the performance review has a much different dynamic. So where exactly is Culbert coming from?


Now isn’t the time to ditch the performance review. Rethink it? Perhaps. Rejigger it? Okay. Maybe we can even call it something else… but with Millenials running around trying to conquer the world, and one of the hallmark traits of that group being the need for constant interaction and feedback, and some would argue the need for structure, how can you just ditch it? Now’s not the time folks…

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Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Frank Roche at Know HR also appears to have jumped on the bandwagon: http://tinyurl.com/6ye2jj
    Clear, consistent communication – that’s really the goal here. There are lot’s of ways to get there, depending on the boss and the employee. The formal performance review is just one tool, out of many, in the arsenal of a well-armed boss (metaphorically speaking).

  2. Jessica Lee says:

    totally consumed… i agree 100%. clear, consistent communication is key and a formal performance review is just a tool to help that. we all know there are some people managers out there who can do this well without tools, but there are many who can’t… thanks for swinging by.

  3. Dan Murray says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I’m sad to say that your description of Culbert’s assumptions is an absolute dead-on accurate portrayal of too many places I have worked (yes, in HR). I’m speaking of this…
    “As if in most organizations, a date is set for the performance review and then, both the manager and employee show up for the one and only time in which they talk with each other about performance, and of course, it’s all about what the employee is doing wrong?”
    Of course, that’s just my experience – obviously Culbert’s too.

  4. Gopal Shenoy says:

    I totally agree with you. Without communication and coaching by managers, whether performance reviews exists or not is not going to help the organization. So let us look at the symptoms and treat the disease. Performance reviews the way Culbert describes is just a symptom of bigger organization problem.

  5. Jessica Lee says:

    oh… dan. you’re breaking my heart right now. so i guess the question then is what as an HR pro are you doing about it? how can i help you evangelize?
    gopal – thanks for your thoughts. you’re spot on with symptoms/disease analogy… i think in organizations that culbert describes, or that dan murray in the comment above you describes, there’s probably a cultural problem across the board where some kind of larger transformational change is needed… and the lack of dialog on performance is probably just one small itty-bitty issue that needs fixing.

  6. Jessica:
    I just finished doing a training session for a client on performance management, coaching and counseling. I made the point to them, that when you get to the “date” there should be NO surprises. If you are doing your management or supervisory job right all the way along then people know what they are going to hear. But that takes training and it takes practice. And it takes a plan and management accountability for doing it. There are organizations where Culbert’s vision is reality, but I am happy to say there are others where your vision is as well. And then there is a big, fertile, but unturned field out there in the rest.

  7. JR says:

    I’ll bet he’s tenured and performance is irrelevant.

  8. kstake says:

    I totally agree with you regarding this article. It makes some broad, sweeping generalizations that do not apply universally. Frankly, I am surprised that this was published in such a respected publication.
    Yes, the review process can be as bad as he described, but in the hands of a trained, experienced, and competent manager, the process can be an incredibly effective and succesful way to provide real developmental feedback to a manager and employee on an ongoing basis. I have been a manager for a long time, and if I do my job, this process works and works extremely well.
    While I like the concept of his “preview” solution, it just does not scale. Some managers may be good at doing that, but try getting consistency across an organization of any size and his method would create the exact kind of inconsistencies and unfairness that he is complaining about. It also encourages “fiefdoms”, “silos” and other conditions that are detrimental to the organization and the people in it.

  9. Jessica Lee says:

    haberman… that vast unturned field is going to keep you in business. but it sounds like you’d be just the kind of person i’d like to see advising organizations on performance management. the ‘no surprises’ mentality is something we ingrain in the managers at my firm… it is after all just a review meaning we should have already discussed everything we’re going to talk about, this is just the culmination.
    JR. good point. having worked in higher ed, i can’t believe i actually didn’t think too much about the fact that he is tenured… and how performance is evaluated in that realm… completely different. that could be another post in and of itself.
    kstake – good points! totally on the same page as the lack of “process” or “tools” or “systems” is where inconsistencies happen… and that’s when people begin crying about inequity and unfairness. thank you for being a diligent manager, and thanks for stopping by to comment! 🙂

  10. Dan Murray says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I wanted to follow up your follow up questions… and apologize for your causing your coronary discomfort. To answer the question of what I’m doing about the environment in which I work (one that is nearly identical to the one Culbert assumes most of us work in), the answer is that there is very little I can do. Essentially, I am up against a very rigid, hierarchical, paternalistic culture and those at the top have profited from it quite handsomely! There’s no incentive or even perceived need to change. Basically I pushing up on a rope with this one. I appreciate your offer to help but at this point the only help I’m looking for is in finding a different employer!

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