Are Once-a-year Reviews



“When the puppy pees on the carpet,

you say something right then…”

             Everyone knows about, and just about everyone uses, the annual performance appraisal.   But occasionally one encounters a human resources culture in which managers either do no formal appraisal at all, or perform appraisals on an ongoing basis. 

             A recent interview in the New York Times Sunday business section questioned the efficacy of taking an entire year to sit down with a subordinate and let her know how she is coming along and whether she is cutting it.  Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, used the words in the second headline above as an analogy.  If you wait to later, the young dog learns nothing from a scolding.  Bartz champions “immediate feedback” and deems annual evaluations “antiquated.”

             Legally, her viewpoint makes a lot of sense.  Too often managers shy away from confrontation and prefer compliance with their reports, or managers simply can’t stand the drudgery of gearing up and executing what is too often a overly comprehensive process.

             Juries and judges would warm to the story of an employer who, instead of waiting months to sit down and lay out the facts of the employee’s performance problems, addressed them directly and promptly.  A juror might wonder of the employer who did wait:  if the plaintiff was such an idiot, why was there no tangible corrective action taken until the annual review date rolled around? 

            Of course, the Bartz approach would not entail the disposal of all formalities and systematic tracking of performance.  Ongoing feedback needs to be in writing, unless relatively unimportant.   And the anniversary mindset means that once a year, something significant is going to happen.  Most organizations administer compensation changes (when the economy allows) on a periodic basis, and this period is almost always a year-to-year cycle.

             But perhaps deferred feedback, in a kind of slavery to the annual review schedule, needs to be phased out of corporate culture.   An employer can’t afford to bring up the wetted carpet nine months after the dog did the deed.