May 27, 2018

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How to Make Performance Reviews More Useful

Only one out of two employees believes performance reviews are useful.


More than half of all employees believes that performance reviews have not been useful in helping them to improve their job performance. Employees complain that:

  1. Reviews are not conducted regularly;

  2. Performance is not evaluated fairly;

  3. They don't receive feedback on an ongoing basis;

  4. Good performance is not reflected in pay increases; and

  5. Performance reviews are irrelevant because poor performers are often treated the same as good performers.

In short, employees have become cynical about the performance management process. This makes it very difficult for supervisors to have meaningful discussions with their employees about job performance. It also makes it very difficult for the organization to improve the performance of employees.


  1. Reinforce Positive Behaviors Ongoing feedback is much more effective than annual feedback. One of the simplest, best-known, and least used principles of psychology is the Skinnerian principle of reinforcement: "Reinforcing positive behavior will increase the probability of that behavior." Supervisors need to catch employees in the act of performing positively and immediately reinforce them. Acknowledgment, recognition, and a simple pat on the back are powerful reinforcements. Using them appropriately will lead to sure-fire results.

  2. Uncouple Employee Development and Compensation Discussions Unfortunately, the performance review and the salary review have become one and the same in many organizations. There is nothing worse for employee morale than to have to tell an employee that their performance is great but that there is no or very little money available for raises. Employee performance reviews should take place quarterly, monthly or on an ongoing basis. Their goal should be to help employees develop and grow. Salary reviews should occur separately on an annual basis

  3. Make Certain that the Performance Standards are Clear and Achievable Our research has shown that only one of two employees actually understands the measures used to evaluate their job performance. Performance measures must be made crystal clear. Use quantitative rather than qualitative measures whenever possible. Employees should also participate in formulating the performance objectives. Research has shown that these objectives work best when they are clear, hard, and specific.

  4. Make Sure the Performance Measures are Relevant Each performance measure should be relevant to each particular employee. For example, the quantitative measure of "billable hours" may be relevant for project workers within a professional service firm but not for those whose sole responsibility is sales.

  5. Provide Team and Customer Feedback Performance feedback from team members and customers is often much more useful than supervisory feedback. Conducted properly, "360 degree" performance management systems that include these measures can be very useful to employees.

In summary, most employees find their performance reviews useless, but there are many steps that management can take to make them much more meaningful.

- Bruce L. Katcher

Bruce Katcher, PhD is President of Discovery Surveys, Inc. His firm conducts customized employee opinion and customer satisfaction surveys. Learn more at He can be reached at or 888-784-4367.