HR probably hates review time too

April 19, 2012 at 7:39 AM ET

It’s no secret that many employees dread performance reviews. What is surprising, however, is that the very people who help promote them in companies dislike them too.

Nearly half of human resources managers don’t think annual performance reviews are accurate appraisals of employee performance, according to a recently released survey by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce, an employee recognition company. 

The poll found that 45 percent of HR leaders thought reviews weren’t good gauges of a worker’s performance, compared to 39 percent last year. The increase points to “a more heightened concern from HR leaders about the shortfalls of traditional performance management,” said Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley. The email survey, taken from December 2011 through January 2012, polled 770 HR professionals who work for companies with 500 or more employees.

“Annual performance reviews continue to be the lightning rod for what’s wrong with traditional performance management,” he added.

The benefits versus the pitfalls of such reviews are part of an ongoing debate in American corporations. But there is no real movement to reassess this often-flawed management tool because it’s been around for years and is so ingrained in the workplace.

Samuel Culbert, author of “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing--and Focus on What Really Matters,” is calling for the demise of performance reviews.

Culbert, a management professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, is against performance reviews because they can be demoralizing to workers, are not accurate or objective, and they use meaningless metrics.

“If it were God giving me a review that would be fair. But anyone short of God, I don’t think so,” he quipped.

When asked why employers keep administering reviews even though the recent data shows many HR managers aren’t on board, he had a list of reasons.

“Even though they hate getting and giving reviews and know they are bogus, they are comfortable with it,” he explained. “It’s the enemy they know.”

He also believes managers “love the sense of power they get from performance reviews. They like the fact that under the performance review, they are all-knowing. What they say is all that counts. Who doesn’t like that kind of power?”

And in the end, he maintained, it’s the human resources department that gets “much of its power from championing, running and having access to all the reviews. They have a lot of self-interest in preserving this ridiculous, morale-busting and results-damaging practice.”

Globoforce’s Mosley thinks it’s just a matter of habit for most employers, but he said some organizations are looking for alternatives, including “crowdsourcing feedback.”

It’s basically peer-to-peer reviews in real time, he explained. His company provides a web-based solution whereby employees and managers can nominate each other for rewards for a host of things they do at work, everything from helping out on a project to coming up with a new innovation. All that information is documented in a database, and managers can use the data to assess worker performance over a whole year, without forgetting the many contributions employees made, he said.

If crowdsourcing in the review process does catch on, employees will have more than just their boss’ opinion to worry about come review and raise season. It might be time to start playing some office politics.