Why Don’t Leaders Love Annual Performance Reviews?

By Heather Campbell

“Never turn your back on a boomerang.”

I was going through the ordeal of my Annual Performance Review and this phrase on my boss’s coffee mug struck me as tremendously funny.

I still find it quite amusing but on that particular day I laughed hard. And my boss laughed hard at me laughing.

This was my first ever ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW. It really felt like something that should be written in CAPITAL LETTERS. In those days, the ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW was a BIG THING.

I wasn’t involved in HR or L&D then – I began my career as a trainee underwriter – and ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEWS were an ordeal to be endured.

That’s why my boss and I both laughed so hard at a mildly amusing phrase. We were both feeling awkward and a bit embarrassed in this false situation – humour was a welcome relief.

The thing is, my boss and I got on so well in everyday conversations. The barrier here was…you guessed it, the formality of THE ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW (okay, I’ll stop it now).

I’m a good few years older now and I’ve worked in HR in one context or another for the last 27 years. And throughout all of those years, the Annual Performance Review has continued to be high on the agenda of conversations that just don’t quite work.

I don’t mean for me, specifically. I mean across teams and organisations and whole industries.

And it continues to be a tough nut that HR just haven’t managed to crack – getting those annual reviews to really work. They still seem so clunky in so many organisations.

But why? What is it about these reviews that makes them such a headache?

In most organisations there’s a dreaded time of year when HR goes crazy trying to get leaders to fill in and return ‘the paperwork’; when leaders go crazy trying to get through – or better still, avoid – the ordeal that is the APR, and when far too many people walk away from these conversations wondering what on earth was the point.

So again, the question must be: But why?

  • But why isn’t this conversation looked forward to?
  • But why don’t people feel it really adds value?
  • But why does the APR cycle still ‘belong’ to HR?

But why?

We’ve been asking these questions of leaders, of HR teams and of people on the ‘receiving end’ since the beginning of this year.

In my next post I’ll share the responses we’ve had in the hope that, between us, we can finally crack this nut.

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