Book Review: Get Rid of the Performance Review!


Samuel A. Culbert has written another useful book in the pantheon to demolish the Performance Review (hereinafter PR): Get Rid of the Performance Review!

This is an excellent companion to Tom Coens’ and Mary Jenkins’ book, Abolishing Performance Appraisals.

Culbert is a full-time, tenured professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, who often describes his professional goal as “making the world of work fit for human consumption.”

What’s the purpose of PRs? Help improve skills, growth and development, and to improve the company’s performance.

Does this rhetoric match the reality? Culbert certainly doesn’t think so, and he lays out a cogent, lucid, and logical argument for why not.

In bullet point summary, here are some of his arguments against the PR:

  • PRs Create fear;
  • A PR should be based on need, not an arbitrary date on a calendar;
  • The real purpose of PR is to preserve authority and domination in the boss/employee relationship;
  • Most managers don’t have a clue how to hold people accountable;
  • There’s no built-in incentive with the PR to make the whole work place better;
  • It’s not a “legal backup” to avoid being sued. The ones who sue are the ones who get positive comments in their files. Get rid of needless documents and you’ll get rid of a lot of lawyers;
  • PRs endow HR department with keeper-of-dirty-little secrets/KGB-like authority. They do this to get and keep respect they believe they don’t deserve (they’re right about that, which might be the only area where Michael Scott, the boss from The Office, is right: he has overt disdain for HR);
  • PRs are not objective, since when people get new bosses they get very different evaluations;
  • The fad of 360-degree feedback is supposedly objective because it’s anonymous. So is hate mail;
  • Any acknowledged weakness by the employee is a club that can be used against them;
  • It’s all about deficiencies, which drown out everything else (including the positive), much like adding even a little dog poop to your favorite ice cream;
  • Team members are starved for feedback, but not PRs;
  • Self-obtained feedback is the most effective.

What about pay for merit? It’s an illusion. Culbert believes three factors, ultimately, determine pay:

  1. Want to retain the employee?
  2. Is a raise necessary to do it?
  3. Company’s budget.

He cites the Law of Compensation: A PR will always support the recommended pay action (how true is this?).

Culbert is no fan of Jack Welch/GE’s “rank and yank”—get rid of the bottom 10%, since the workplace is not a bell curve to be created by rankings.

Since leaders don’t know how to hold people accountable for results—like in a ROWE—they focus on inputs, like PRs.

The book contains an entire chapter “Still Have Doubts” that answers the many objections readers are bound to have who remain stuck in the PR mindset.

Culbert’s substitute to the PR is what he calls the Performance Preview, a two-sided conversation where both boss/subordinate are accountable.

I believe Peter Drucker’s Manager’s Letter and After Action Reviews are even better substitutes, but there are elements of Culbert’s idea that should be incorporated.

The only major disagreement I have with Culbert is his history of the PR. He claims it’s a post-World War II creation, derived from Management By Objectives.

But it’s not. It actually dates back to psychiatric reviews where the patient always presents with some problem (Drucker points this origin out in several of his books, which is one of the reasons he developed MBO in the first place).

But no matter where it came from, it’s past time for this relic to exit. Culbert ends by writing:

It is time that you put the performance review out of its misery.

I would say our misery.


  1. Amen, amen, I say to you.

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