Why Performance Evaluations Don’t Work

It’s time for Performance Evaluations!

It’s your job to make sure that those who you oversee are doing good work. You have to make sure that resources are being invested wisely. And you would also like to get feedback on how you are doing as a leader. Performance evaluations are the way forward, right? Get ready to be disappointed. For the most part, Performance Evaluations are a broken management process. Really? Yep.

Here are Two Problems with performance evaluations AND Two processes that are much more effective!

Performance Eval

Problem 1: Delaying Praise or Criticism for Months doesn’t make any sense.

Many leaders allow issues with a team member or direct report to build over 3 months, 6 months, or in some cases even a year. Then BAM! You smack a person in the face with their performance evaluation! But this is seldom a productive process for feedback. Who even remembers what they did months ago? Delaying positive or negative feedback makes it almost useless. Along with this, many leaders have no process for regular dialogue concerning how well they are leading.

Solution: Instead of relying on performance evaluations, embrace feedback in real-time.

Ken Blanchard in his book, the One Minute Manager, argues for what he calls One Minute Praise and One Minute Reprimands. When someone does something well, let them know right away. Consistently notice and recognize a job well done. When someone fails at something, tell the person what they did wrong quickly. Make sure to focus on the behavior of the person and not on the person himself.

Blanchard suggests this process: (With my edits)

Positive Feedback

  • Tell the person in advance that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  • Praise the person immediately.
  • Tell the person what they did right – be specific.
  • Tell the person how their contribution has helped the organization and the other people who work in it.
  • Encourage the person to do more of the same.

Corrective Feedback

  • Tell a person in advance that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  • Correct a person immediately. [correct the behavior, not the person or their worth]
  • Tell the person specifically what they did wrong.
  • Remind the person how much you value them.
  • Realize that when the reprimand is over, it’s over.

A commitment to regular, ongoing dialogue takes work but is well worth the investment.

Performance evaluations can be a helpful tool when they are not an isolated event but are instead built on the foundation of real-time feedback. 

Problem 2: Performance Evaluations Divorce Feedback from Community.

There is little more miserable than being told how badly you are doing at something by someone anonymous. Performance evaluations, especially those offered by a lot of different people, often separate feedback from community. The person who receives the performance evaluation has no real way to ask questions or dialogue about areas of improvement. There is no process of knowing if the feedback is fair or who has given it. This ambiguity creates tension and undermines trust.

Solution: Create a Culture of Honest, Open Communication.

Instead of relying on anonymous performance evaluations, look to create an organizational culture where ongoing, honest dialogue occurs. The best kind of feedback is given in an environment of trust, where team members care about one another. In the book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes about two major issues that will undermine the health of any organization or team:  lack of trust and lack of healthy conflict. Anonymous, ambiguous, general performance evaluations are unhelpful. A culture of trust, healthy conflict, communication, and honesty is far more valuable.

BTW, This all starts with you, the leader. Are you approachable? Correctable? Vulnerable? Honest? Willing to admit mistakes? Healthy organizations are led by leaders who commit to these disciplines.

Performance evaluations can be a helpful tool when they are built on a foundation of an ongoing dialogue where there are trust and teachability.

To rely primarily on performance evaluations is to procrastinate conflict, correction and praise, and divorce feedback from community. Consider instead building an atmosphere of trust, where open dialogue can take place, and where healthy conflict occurs.

Feel Free to Comment and Continue the Conversation!

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. Good stuff, especially the process Blanchard suggests for immediate feedback. I would throw in that church and ministry leaders should not just remind the person that you value them, but that God values them.

    Helpful blog entry. Thanks!


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