Annual performance reviews RIP

by Jini Stolk

Are annual performance reviews headed towards the dustbin of history? Two recent pieces – one written from a non-profit perspective the other from a business p.o.v. – both persuasively argue that annual performance reviews are ineffective, counter-productive and should be laid to rest.

I’m not going to argue. I’ve noted that CEO/ED performance reviews can be unnerving and bad for morale unless they’re carefully structured as positive and productive conversations about mutual goals for the CEO and the board.

Thankfully I’ve never been involved in a system where managers were made to “force-rank (their) people once a year into very rigid performance buckets” offering feedback and (constructive?) criticism months after the fact. That practice seems not to have made its way into the not-for-profit or arts world and it’s no surprise that it’s being scrapped by a growing number of businesses.

Yet, Vu Le of Nonprofit with Balls argues, our own annual performance reviews frequently don’t reflect the challenges and reality of non-profit workplaces (where staff need to be flexible, collaborative, multi-taskers at the same time as they’re hitting every one of their aspirational revenue targets. It’s a lot to ask.

A more forward-looking and (dare I say it) more 2015 approach is to build a “culture of constant, mutual, and holistic feedback based on clear expectations around concrete goals and organizational values.” This feels a lot more like the kind of work place of choice we should all be building.

For the arts and other non-profits, the real challenge remains aligning our behaviour with our values. That’s why it’s essential to articulate our values in our mission statements – so we can keep them alive through behaviour, ongoing constructive feedback, and through organizational policy, procedure and systems, including all our recruitment processes.

Doesn’t it make sense for “adheres to our stated values” to be an important part of how we assess the contribution of staff and board members.


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