Going Extinct: It’s Time to Update Your Performance Review Process

by Leslie Brown, CLFP Vol. 48 No. 1 2021
Although ensuring your employees are producing at a high level is important, the standard methods of evaluating progress, namely the manager-led performance review, is going the way of the dinosaurs. Leslie Brown argues that employees need to take a more active role in the evaluation process and management must support them in doing so.

Leslie Brown, CLFP,
Mak Global Corporation

Businesses should never utilize performance reviews. They are the defunct dinosaurs of business strategy plodding around in the 21st century. Accountability is fostered through self-initiated review processes whereby an employee considers their own failures and accomplishments. It should be incumbent upon each individual to improve and perform according to company standards via their own self-direction. An employee’s direct report in management should take a back seat to this process. Instead of dictating, a mentor should observe and provide helpful feedback to their mentee’s self-analysis and maturation goals.

One would think we’d understand what motivates humans by now, but nothing could be farther from the truth. We are creatures of habit and unconscious, reactive tendencies that blind us from our own destructive behaviors. We still act as though incentives, bonuses and plaques with our names inscribed on them motivate us. They don’t.

Think of the most successful person you know. Now think of their personality. Are they the type to jump for joy over a plaque or a few incentives? I can think of several very successful people in the finance realm and none of them mention a reward, bonus, plaque or recognition when they speak of their career. What they do talk about is “programs” and “how to double the company’s revenue in a year” and “how to create a growth dynamic where there wasn’t one before.” They get downright giddy over that stuff.

Self-starters and achievers fill their conversations with their ideas as if the business were their own. Then they take it a step further. I can always tell a top tier professional when I hear them ask, “What do you think?” or “What can I do to improve the process for you?” Often, they’ll be speaking to another and ask, “What are the challenges you’re facing right now?”

They ask others to identify not just challenges but to give ideas on how to overcome them. They are genuinely interested in the answers to these questions. That’s how productive individuals like to be treated. They recognize each individual’s ability, including their own, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a process and work out a solution.

A performance review implies that the only way to analyze performance objectively is to have someone else do the analysis and then tell someone how things are going. This is inaccurate. This mentality also snuffs out the self-accountability that each employee needs to become a leader.

“But not everyone is self-motivated or a self-starter,” you might say. Many times, we ignore the current business practices that stifle many from staying motivated, concluding it is safer to resist taking chances on someone who can contribute to the success of the company.

Individuals identified as unmotivated must be taught how to be self-starters through the expectation that they be a self-starter. Rather than accepting they are not, demand that they are. If they are going to stay gainfully employed with your company, isn’t it preferred that they learn? We must expect people to be self-motivated and then allow them to be so.

Few businesses understand the potential they have to not just turn their employees into better businesspeople but better citizens overall. The top-down approach of a few individuals at the very top of a business organization creating a structure that all employees must fit in to without question is flawed and outdated. This, coupled with the structure of reviews in which managers identify all problems and solutions, is naïve and egotistical.

Upper management shouldn’t do all the thinking for their employees. This old system is destined to fail. It will never create immeasurable success, and it even fails something much larger: It cannot support a community of citizen leaders. This is important because every business exists inside a community of people and is affected by that community. Businesses grow more than just revenue. Businesses have the monumental role of growing our country, one citizen at a time.

Since these “dinosaurs” have been plodding around for quite some time, many ask, “How do I implement this grand plan of motivating and growing an individual and the business?” At least, that is what motivated self-starters and leaders should ask. I’ve always found that leading into improvement works best with small steps.

Perhaps performance reviews would work better if managers didn’t write up a sheet of notes and read them aloud to their employee, but if the employee wrote out their notes and reported back to their manager. The manager could suggest that the employee consider including answers to questions like: What new projects do you think deserve attention and time? How could I (the employee) most improve? How could managers most improve?

Allow others to be in the leadership role if you want them to act like a leader. Allow them all the opportunities the role provides, both the positive and negative. “No one likes to take orders,” Dale Carnegie wrote in his acclaimed book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie’s story of dining with Ida Tarbell gives a very important strategy for how to change current processes and support the growth of leaders: We can leave room for associates to learn from their mistakes. He explained that such a technique makes it easy for a person to maintain their pride while contributing to the end goal and “encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.” It makes someone be aware of problems, sometimes even before they reach fruition, and to look to themselves for answers. When I took my first position as a collection manager in equipment leasing, I was more than prepared to act as a collector, but I was way out of my depth in equipment leasing. What could have become a very disabling situation was empowering when my manager said, “There’s nothing you can break that we can’t fix.” He knew the perfect measure of freedom to provide to allow room to run without leading to chaos. When I messed up, I had to fix it, but there was never anything that couldn’t be fixed.

The idea of developing people to grow a business, instead of developing a business to grow people, is a regenerative business idea. Carol Sanford, a published author, consultant and international speaker, brings these ideas to the forefront of business strategy.

In Sanford’s book, The Regenerative Business, she discusses the things that keep businesses in the trenches of old and degenerative business practices. Cost is one inhibitor she discusses and although some higher-level regenerative practices can be costly, we can implement many with no additional cost at all. For example, replacing the practice of top-down performance reviews with regenerative self-review processes.

What far-reaching effects would there be if businesses’ employees were reaching peak performance through creative processes instead of through hierarchal structures stifling self-accountability? The businesses themselves could adjust faster to changes in their industry, avoiding the death stroke of failing to keeping up since society changes faster than they do. The people within the business would lead, not just in their careers, but at home and in their communities. They would have the confidence to assess themselves rather than waiting for feedback from someone else, which sometimes never comes. People would work together with less conflict and make more progress. Morale would be higher. Passion for improvement would stay at the forefront of people’s agenda because passion is fun. More people would like each other, plain and simple.

Now it’s up to you. Will you consider taking an active part in the no cost solution of building strong and smart leaders by reinventing the process of performance reviews? Do you think considering all the ways a business can grow itself and its community is a worthy task? Do you think it’s possible that businesses could be one of the best avenues for growing strong communities?

If this were a top-down performance review, I’d assess all these ideas for you. Since it’s not, I’ll leave these questions up to you, a leader in one of the most important and flexible industries in the world. I encourage you to form your own opinions. I even encourage you to take actions on some of your bright ideas and don’t worry about the mistakes — there’s nothing you can’t fix.

Leslie Brown, CLFP, is the owner of Mak Global Corporation and an 18-year equipment finance professional. She has served as an elected member of the CLFP Foundation board for two years. She is also an active member of the AACFB and has served as a staff writer for the official publication of the AACFB. Brown has become equipment vendors’ “go-to” finance professional while consistently maintaining and growing a strong book of referral business with vendors and borrowers.

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