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Mixed Reviews

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
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If a recent survey conducted by Melville, N.Y.-based Adecco Staffing North America is any indication, the annual performance review's worth, at least in the eyes of employees, is debatable.

In Adecco's survey of 2,024 employed adults, almost half -- 49 percent -- said they felt managers take performance reviews seriously. Forty-four percent said they receive constructive feedback during their reviews and 47 percent said they would feel better if the procedure was more of a "two-way street," with more give and take between supervisor and subordinate.

Making performance appraisal an ongoing effort rather than a once-a-year, obligatory meeting would go a long way toward improving the value of such reviews, says Bernadette Kenny, senior vice president of human resources at Adecco.

"Many managers are not apt during the year to say, 'Great job,' or, 'Let's sit down on Friday and review the outcomes of [a given] project,' " she says.

In some companies, performance discussions are "perfunctory" meetings, she says, in which "the manager says, 'You've had a great year; here's your 2 percent raise,' " without adequately addressing how individuals can build on their skills; how they can perform better.

Preparing throughout the year, she says, is vital to making those meetings more beneficial for all involved. But, a lack of communication between employees and their bosses hinders pre-review preparation at many organizations.

"Employees think managers should be doing this preparation [work]," says Kenny, "and managers think employees should be doing it."

The reality, she says, is that both managers and employees play key roles.

"A manager has to prepare for a performance discussion," says Kenny, "writing down specific examples of where [the employee] excelled and where the employee struggled."

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Likewise, employees must look objectively at themselves to identify their strengths and weaknesses, determine why they succeeded or failed at certain tasks and establish what tools and skills they feel they need to continue their development.

When both parties set expectations in advance, allot time for in-depth discussions and prepare specific examples of successes and failures, there should be "no surprises" come review time, Kenny says.

All told, the performance review has the potential to be a learning experience for both parties. But, says Kenny, responsibility ultimately lies with the manager to take ownership of the process and ensure its success.

"If you want to be a manager," she says, "that's part of the deal."

Mark McGraw can be e-mailed at

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