'Performance' reviews all about development

by Rose Sneyd26 Feb 2013

The performance review process is too often a shallow, ‘box ticking’ exercise according to prominent HR blogger Jessica Miller-Merrell.

“Far too often supervisors avoid the crucial, honest, sincere, developmental one-to-one discussions between their employees,” she wrote in a recent blog post, The Performance Review. Formal or informal?

To transform it into a more meaningful process, Miller-Merrell advocated the use of informal performance reviews. “The informal review process takes stress off the back of the employee and gives the manager the ability to connect with them on a level that is less daunting,” she wrote.

However, the problem may lie more with a lack of effort on the manager’s part to effectively prepare for the performance review, rather than with its formality. Richard Westney, head of HR Australasia – FNZ (and the blogger behind “Up the Down Escalator), said that the formal/informal distinction is ‘largely irrelevant’. “It’s the effort and preparation you put into the review that’s more important,” he said.

Westney suggested that performance reviews should be spent regarding the future – in fact, they should be more about ‘development’, than ‘performance’. “Acknowledge the past obviously, correct any issues, but spend the time looking forward,” he said. This means identifying challenges in the coming year and what each – manager and employee – wants the latter to accomplish, and specifying what sort of learning and development needs to happen to achieve these goals.

In order to be able to hold such development-focused, forward looking performance reviews, it’s essential that regular feedback takes place throughout the year, according to Westney.

While developments around online, social media style performance review options with real time feedback were exciting, Westney argued that these could not stand alone. “It’s just another way of gathering feedback, and should never really replace the one-to-one discussion in my view,” he said.

Key HR takeaways:

  • As with boy scouting, ‘be prepared!’
  • Use the performance review to consider an employee’s future development, rather than becoming bogged down in backward-looking performance evaluation
  • Consider future challenges, what the manager and employee want the latter to achieve, and what learning and development needs to take place to accomplish this
  • Don’t dispense with one-to-one discussion


  • by Dr Tim Baker 26/02/2013 8:24:05 PM

    Well said Rose. I have a book out later this year that reinforces everything you have said so well. The End of the Performance Review is the title.

    At ant rate, I believe you are spot on.

  • by Richard Rudman 27/03/2013 12:40:08 PM

    Of course, it's very difficult to plan future performance -- whether formally or informally -- without knowing what's happened in the past! That's why there needs to be a performance "review" -- how well did the employee perform in terms of the previously agreed goals and standards? The challenge is to make those reviews more positive and constructive, not to give managers an excuse to avoid that important aspect of their role completely!

    Do both -- review performance, and plan for the future. See my book, "Performance Planning and Review". Published in Australia by Allen and Unwin.

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