Annual Reviews, an Annual Blunder?


A consultant I’ve known for a number of years reached out to me recently for my input on a new Performance Appraisal (PA) form he was creating for his clients. 

We did the back-and-forth feedback exchange and wrapped it up and went on our way. This topic of Performance Appraisals, or Annual Reviews, has always left a bad taste in my mouth, for a wide variety of reasons. I’ve always wondered why we further complicate that process by adding either poorly devised PAs or poorly executed PAs? In so many organizations they are perfunctory, and they don’t truly move us to where we are meant to be with them – typically because the process doesn’t align with the context or strategy. So, here is my proposal – in all organizations that don’t truly have performance funding or really any means to give raises beyond Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), let’s just do away with the PA altogether!

The reasons why organizations struggle with performance are numerous, such as there is no strategy, leaders lack the skills needed to be effective, an absence of urgency, etc.

What’s the logic here? My logic stems from the fact that we continue to drop the ball with PAs. Instead, let’s retain that time for less negative experiences by not creating an uncomfortable or adversarial dynamic in the workplace, or worse, a feeling where the subordinates clearly recognize that their leadership’s level of competence is very low in this area (undermines/erodes confidence-LEADERS, you need to stop cutting your feet out from under you!). Now, how do we address or handle poor performers? We talk to them. We need to be purposeful with more frequent supervisor-subordinate interactions. Typically, even when done well these interactions require less time and can be far more impactful when they are timely. These 1-on-1s are the more appropriate time for feedback, coaching, discussion of goals, etc. This isn’t a new concept. Many organizations attempt to do this and PAs, but also fall short on both. Simplify, reduce, and improve

Here is the premise, the annual COLA is tied to satisfactory annual performance, without ever completing a PA. Should it be determined that Jane shouldn’t receive her annual COLA, because “she didn’t meet the expectations of the position” the focus is on having the conversations with her, or the removal of her as you would within your own current work parameters.

I suspect that this won’t be a popular idea; however, I believe it is an idea worth considering. I strongly believe that it could help streamline and improve the relationships among employees as well as put pressure on organizations to take more specific steps to ensure regular, valuable 1-on-1s between supervisors and subordinates.

About the author: Dr. Rob Lion is a professor, researcher, and consultant that focuses on improving work experiences through the use of evidence-based practices. Rob and his wife, Angie, own Black River Performance Management ( where they provide a broad range of services ranging from corporate consulting and cultural growth to hiring, training, and managing change. Rob may be reached at