Performance reviews…it shouldn’t be that hard!

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about performance reviews. In fact, many of my colleagues have written books on the subject; such as Dr Tim Baker’s, The End of the Performance Review. Yet, it seems that we are still struggling with the notion of what good performance looks like and how to define it in a practical way for a performance review; or on a daily basis.

Let’s consider the idea of success (because ultimately a performance review is about quantifying success.. isn’t it?)

As an athlete, success can be defined by a millisecond change in speed, a parent may define success as teaching a child to turn the lights of when they leave a room, or to do their homework without being asked. As an entrepreneur, success may be defined by growth; in their brand, their clients, their revenue; or the generation of an idea.

While these situations seem entirely different, they do in fact have two key similarities. Firstly, they each had a baseline level from which changes in behaviour, success, and growth could be measured; be it a time, a behaviour, or the number of clients your secure. Secondly, success happened over time.

Setting a baseline.

Before we can review performance, growth or even define success, there must first be a baseline. For many, ZERO is your baseline, so ANY CHANGE is success right?  

Let’s take exercise as an example. My goal may be to run consistently for 5 minutes. However, when I speak to others who can run for 10 or 20 minutes – 5 minutes may seem like a failure and for them, be a reflection of poor performance or a lack of commitment. However, as my baseline is zero minutes, 5 minutes is a MASSIVE increase! So, I would say that is an improvement in performance; success!

The only limitation to your success or your measure of performance, is how you choose to define it. Consider the actions you are doing today? How do these compare with what you were doing 2, 6, or even 12 months ago? Or, think about where you were, and where you are now? What was your baseline?


Growth, by definition, is incremental and happens over time; yet may people in a rush to make it happen now. Here’s a quick tip…it won’t. But that’s OK!  It is time that we need most to be reminded of.

There is beauty in the journey, in taking the time to smell the roses, or watch the sunrise. It is IN the journey where experience, wisdom and joy are cultivated. Where the challenges are overcome and behaviour is changed. Whether you are learning to become the best sales person; retailer; web designer or mum – time is your best friend, not your enemy!

Your journey and definition of success may be different to mine; however, no matter how long you take to get there..forward progress, is still progress.

If reviewing performance is just about baselines and time – why is it so hard?

The challenge, I see, that organisations have, is that performance reviews have become a team sport, rather than an individual pursuit.

We have created environments where our success is compared with others, rather than focusing on our growth, and performance reviews have become a way to rank staff. While individuals’ strive to improve their performance and reach their potential, they are led down a never-ending spiral of comparison. And while the business focuses on comparative results as proof of success or failure, individuals become disengaged as they fail to live up to expectations. This is particularly true of new starters – who are constantly compared to other team members with greater experience and time in the role; and whose baseline is different, but are expected to perform at this level.

While potential is defined as the ability to develop skills through effort and coaching over time, most performance reviews systems and measures of potential focus use comparative benchmarks and require instant improvements. Imagine the difference in engagement if performance reviews focused on individual growth and change compared against the individual’s baseline (within a team context of course), and where success was defined by this change?

Performance reviews, like personal growth, should be an individual sport. They are about understanding the baseline (where you are now) and over time, where you will be (your growth). Of course, businesses still need to define performance goals and individuals’ (and teams) should strive to meet these; however it’s how the baselines are established that perhaps needs to change.

What is the baseline you are using to measure your success from? Are you measuring your growth and performance or the growth of someone else?

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