The Wall Street Journal reported this week that performance reviews are back after a period of "benign neglect' that featured management's focus on other things (like a worldwide pandemic, an overnight distributed workforce, and hiring in the time of the Great Resignation). But the upshot of this article was the focus on performance reviews as a method to winnow out poor performers to shore up the corporate bottom line. It is time to do a performance review for the performance review. What performance reviews are done exceedingly well? Those performed by managers who take the time and make the effort to create balance, calling out concrete examples of work done well, work that is just good enough, and work that falls short of expectations (and why). What reviews are acceptable? Those appraisals that are delivered in a professional, but rote and unthoughtful manner, using programmatic language and lacking real insight into or discussion about goals that were set, why they were set - and how employees could have met them. Where do performance reviews fall short? The bad name given to reviews for starters - even the concept of a performance evaluation creates an aura of negativity (take note Wall Street Journal in perpetuating this myth by using the word "dreaded" in the article's title). Evaluations suggest a premise on which bad things rest (identifying underperformers as a means to exit them from the workforce), combined with untrained managers who might know how to produce widgets, but not how to coach their employees about making widgets faster, more creatively and more efficiently. To that we should add a dose of how to help managers guide employees in not only bettering how they do their jobs, but how to take pride in their work and build out (and plan) their careers in a thoughtful way. Perhaps the best starting point is to give managers thoughtful performance reviews about how they have delivered performance reviews and what they can do to improve them.

Without performance reviews, workers have little insight into how managers are making decisions about promotions, equity and pay, says Kim Scott, a former Google executive who taught on the faculty of Apple University and whose book “Radical Candor” advocates for direct communication at work.

But tying individual performance to a potential layoff is a mistake, Ms. Scott cautions. If the goal of tough talk from executives is to cut costs through natural attrition, it may backfire by lowering overall employee morale and pushing top performers to look elsewhere.