Quotes from “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing–and Focus on What Really Matters” by Culbert, Samuel A. & Laurence Rout

Samuel A. Culbert is an award winning author, researcher and full-time, tenured professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. His laboratory is the world of work where he puts conventional managerial assumptions under a microscope to uncover and replace dysfunctional practices. He holds a B.S. in Systems Engineering and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Culbert has developed a blunt yet sensitive way of framing situations that allows for all parties to engage in open, non-judgmental discussions. He believes that only by laying bare ALL the forces that drive people’s opinions and actions — including subjective, self-interested and political biases — is it possible to have an explicit, honest, yet matter-of-fact conversation. He has spent a career perfecting the skills and style that illicit such straight-talk.

Widely recognized as a candid speaking expert and theoretician, he is author of the recently published Beyond Bullsh*t a probing inquiry that reveals how bullsh*t became the etiquette of choice in corporate communications, and how to develop the conditions required for straight-talk. SmartMoney Magazine named this book to its 2008 list of ten top reads. Dr. Culbert is winner of a McKinsey Award for an article published in the Harvard Business Review, is a frequent contributor to management journals and has authored numerous chapters in leading management-related books. More about this and some of the other books he has authored is available at the www.straighttalkatwork.com website. In press is a book titled Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on the Results That Really Matter. This book, written with Larry Rout, builds on his media grabbing Wall Street Journal article of the same name and is awaiting April 2010 publication. His other authored and co-authored books include The Organization Trap, The Invisible War: The Pursuit of Self-Interests at Work, Radical Management, Mind-Set Management and Don’t Kill the Bosses!.

Read more at about the authorhttps://www.amazon.com/Samuel-A.-Culbert/e/B001IXMKY2/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

This summary (selected book quotes) has been prepared for Managers and Supervisors that are too busy giving performance reviews to their employees and not seeing all the harm and disservice they cause to their employees and organizations.

The original book is highly recommended to:

  • First-Level Line Managers – that cause harm to their employees and organizations
  • Employees – that are being harmed but struggle with framing their sentiments
  • Senior Organizational Leaders – that have the power to put a stop to dysfunctions

“…This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus….”

“…In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s immoral to maintain the façade that annual pay and performance reviews lead to corporate improvement. Instead of energizing individuals, they leave workers depressed and cynical. Instead of stimulating corporate productivity and innovation, they lead to cover-your-ass behavior that reduces the amount of time that could be put to productive use.

“…Just think about what it does on a corporate level, the enormous amount of time and energy it wastes, and the way it prevents companies from tapping the innovative, outside-the-box thinking that so many employees are capable of.

“…Getting rid of the performance review is a big step forward in allowing a boss and the boss’s direct reports to communicate candidly about what’s needed for better results on the job. If you’re a boss, and your subordinate isn’t succeeding, something is broken here. …”

“…But take away the performance review and you might actually have straight talk. There’s still spin, but it’s a different kind of spin. With performance reviews, the subordinate’s agenda is ignored….”

“……the performance review is, at its core, a desperately flawed concept, and that it’s time to put the onus on management for the problems they create with performance reviews. If teamwork, esprit de corps, and open, trusting, straight-talk relationships are your criteria, it’s hard to find a single positive that comes out of performance reviews….”

“…In the end you will see what many of you already know in your heart: that mainstream management is embedded in, and relies on, a culture of domination— and that the performance review is the biggest hammer management has. You will see how the review destroys our spirit, as well as our corporate performance. You will see how the same people who created this sorry mess have the power to undo it. And you will see that there is a way to fix it, if only we have the courage….”

“…I put the blame squarely on two culprits. First, a management theory that has pretty much passed, but whose legacy— the performance review— has had much greater staying power. And second, power-grabbing HR executives, who opportunistically use the performance review to elevate their department’s stature. Take away the annual performance review and the HR department is back where it should be: supporting management rather than supplanting it and terrifying it….”

“…Recognizing such flaws, corporate executives tried to fix things by coming up with measures that would better reflect broader corporate goals. But it was more empty “modernizing.” It was lipstick on the pig, adding criteria like “shows leadership,” “takes initiative,” “communicates effectively,” and “works well in a team” to motivate employees to do what was right for the company. But these criteria— besides sounding like a kindergartner’s report card— were difficult to require and quantify, and more importantly, they did nothing to inspire workers to think outside the box, to step outside the metrics that had been designed for them….”

“…we’re in this mess: the HR department’s insistence on performance reviews to ensure themselves a secret-police-like power base they can use to secure themselves with managers. Because the truth is this: The performance review may not be good for employees. It may not be good for companies. But it sure as hell is good for the HR people.

“…Notice that it’s HR that insists on keeping performance reviews with negative comments in the files for an individual’s total tenure with the company. Why would they do such a thing? More than any other company department, they should appreciate how a performance review is a single-point-in-time perception of an employee, from an evaluator who probably knows very little about this employee and whose opinion is based on his own biases and self-interest. The lame excuse that HR gives is that these reviews are necessary “legal backup” documentation for the faults of poor performers. Oh, please. Contending that the company needs negative performance reviews to defend against a fired employee who wants to sue is sheer pretense. If the guy isn’t doing a good job, you document it. You don’t have to give everybody a performance review. In fact, the people who sue are the ones with the positive comments in their file. It’s common sense. Get rid of needless documentation and a lot of lawyers will go away….”

“…For HR departments, the mission is power retention They will do what it takes to maintain the status quo, including turning a blind eye to anybody who has the temerity to tell them the performance review has no clothes….”

“…It isn’t that HR isn’t constantly innovating when it comes to performance reviews. They are. But the innovations typically enhance the HR department’s power base— and hurt employees. They typically make a bad system even worse….”

“…The performance review, with its hidden agendas and lack of straight talk and active questioning, makes that open career conversation nearly impossible….”

“…With performance reviews, there was an incentive for people to limit themselves to only taking care of their goals, the ratings….”

But remember, this same pathetic scenario is played out every day, in HR departments at companies large and small, where deception and power plays masquerade as progress and straight talk. In so many companies, HR departments, desperate to keep their status intact, impose the performance reviews upon managers, who in turn are desperate to keep their power intact. This is why the performance review lives on, even though it’s hated and does so much damage. The powers have a vested interest in making sure it stays just as it is.

Why would a single date on a calendar be relevant to determining when someone’s performance needs reviewing? For that matter, why would two or three preset dates on a calendar correspond to when someone’s performance needs reviewing? No serious person, especially one responsible for getting the company the greatest degree of excellence possible, would want to wait a year, or even a week, to discuss a problem or a performance-enhancing opportunity that could have an immediate payoff. If there’s a problem, put a stop to it now. If there’s a performance-enhancing opportunity, milk it for all you can get. Give the company every advantage possible. Don’t put improvement off for up to a year….”

“…Instead, I believe discussing performance should be an option available at all times, dictated by circumstance, opportunity, need, and (most important) relationship. And notice that I said “discussing” performance, not issuing pronouncements and rendering categorical judgments. Discussion entails a two-party, give-and-take exchange of viewpoints, with the expectation that both parties are going to see things differently and may or may not converge on a jointly held point of view….”

“…Honest give-and-take is impossible for a basic reason: Each participant is coming into the exchange with a unique mind-set— but only one of the mind-sets “counts.” The problem is that simple, and that profound….”

“…You can see then why bullshit, not straight talk, becomes the etiquette of choice in any corporate relationship where the only opinion that is listened to is the boss’s….”

“……when people switch bosses, they often receive sharply different evaluations from the new bosses. Has the subordinate suddenly gotten dramatically better or worse? Or is objectivity in the eye of the beholder? According to a study by PDI Ninth House, a consulting firm, a majority of employees who report to multiple bosses get inconsistent marks.

“…Put bluntly, I find it illogical to assume that any person’s assessment of another person is independent of that evaluator’s motives in the moment.

“…Maintaining credibility requires that you conceal your personal motives and insist that your actions were taken purely for the benefit of the company….”

“…Performance reviews are wrapped in self-serving, circular logic that people who think they can get away with dominating subordinates find conclusive….”

“…How can reviews be objective when they are constrained by a bell-shaped curve, as many companies require? (“ You can’t give everybody top marks,” the HR department tells managers. “That isn’t objective.”) If you have to satisfy the bell curve, and some people have to do better or worse than others, you’re starting at a point that demands you throw objectivity out the window. It also requires the boss to spend a year searching for negatives to use next year, to prove that he or she isn’t positively biased….”

“…My company adopted the forced ranking system, which, when added to the usual performance review, turned the process into pure terror. The process involved closed-door meetings in which several managers (some of whom hardly knew the people being ranked) would force rank a group of employees into three categories: (1) 20 percent most effective, (2) 70 percent effective, and (3) 10 percent least effective. The meeting could not conclude until the group was placed into these three rankings. Then the performance review was rationalized to make the ranking appear as if warranted. The damage done to the workers by forced ranking is incomprehensible….”

“…In an organization, personal and subjective factors influence and determine one’s view of what is objective. They influence and determine how each event and problem gets portrayed, and they influence and determine the actions that people push for….”

“…The company I worked for required a manager to rate 10 percent of employees as a 3 category (unsatisfactory). Then all managers within a department would negotiate to rank the workers from best to worst. In many cases the people who ended up on top worked for managers whose communication skills and forcefulness were the determining factor in where people ended up in the ranking. Those on the bottom who had a 3 ranking were given no salary increase and were first on the list for the axe. The company also allocated a pool of money that was divided up between those with satisfactory and above ratings. As a manager I could not justify the mandatory 10 percent requirement, but that’s the way it had to be. After I retired, I could finally sleep at night. IHOPE IT’S CLEAR by now that the “objective” performance review is an exercise in self-delusion, a fantasy created by bosses who are convinced that they can somehow rise above the biases that make us all human. But that self-delusion isn’t the only reason that performance reviews aren’t the straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is tell-it-like-it-is interactions that the HR department would like you to believe….”

“…Companies like to maintain the myth that pay and the performance review are linked; it’s why they call it the “annual pay and performance review.” But the idea that pay might be linked to your performance rests on the assumption that the world of work is a meritocracy, which it isn’t, and that department budgets aren’t constrained, which they are. No, the sad fact is that pay and performance don’t really have much to do with each other, and pretending to lump them together is a needlessly stupid, alienating ritual that produces phony posturing, inhibits straight talk, and makes it hard for bosses to be genuinely appreciative of what subordinates contribute. With praise linked to pay, bosses have to hold back their kind words, for fear they’ll be expected to back up that appreciation with money the company doesn’t have. And for employees, authentic appreciation ends up feeling like so many empty words, because the boss doesn’t put the company’s wallet where his or her mouth is….”

“…Once the pay is set, I believe the driving force for any subsequent raise is a combination of three factors: whether the boss wants to retain the employee; the amount of raise that the boss thinks is necessary for doing so; and the department’s budget….”

“…If you still need proof that pay raises are primarily based on the amount needed to get an employee to stay, think about what happens when a valued employee decides to leave. The boss’s immediate reaction: “What will it take to get you to stay?” No game-playing there. No pretense. There’s only time for the raw truth….”

“…My point is that there is too much stuff going on to suggest that pay is simply about merit and performance. It’s about interpersonal politics and loyalty, about what’s important at any particular moment to any particular boss, about the department’s budget. It’s about ninety different variables— none of which any two bosses will see exactly the same way. So to say that pay is somehow based solely on an evaluation of performance is laughable. And to lump them together in one discussion is confusing, misleading, and potentially ego-crushing….”

“……a performance review that says pay is a function of performance is also suggesting that performance is a function of pay— that is, the more you pay somebody, the better somebody will perform. That’s not only not true, it’s also insulting. As long as someone’s pay is marketplace-competitive, most people will knock themselves out trying to perform their best. No one can do better than they are able, even if you pay them more….”

“…For straight talk about pay, the corporate world requires a shift in which compensation is recognized as the marketplace-dependent variable it is. Don’t mix apples and oranges by bringing up pay during a performance review. Don’t send mixed messages to subordinates, telling them one minute their performance is top-notch and then in the next minute that their pay isn’t going up….”

“…Once the compensation package is determined, it should be communicated impersonally— perhaps written down and handed to the subordinate in a sealed envelope. At this point it’s up to the subordinate either to agree or to negotiate. If the choice is to negotiate, the ensuing “conversation” should be exclusively about pay. It shouldn’t be about performance quality or perceived “faults.” If the boss doesn’t like the quality of the subordinate’s performance and can get someone more to his or her liking, the boss should do so. But it serves no constructive purpose for the boss to attack a subordinate’s self-concept or to argue that the subordinate lacks the skills required for better performance. Those discussions should be reserved for another day….”

“…So why is this more the exception than the rule? Why do most companies insist on linking performance reviews to pay? Frankly, I believe it’s a red herring tactic used mostly to intimidate and control. If subordinates believe that their pay is determined by performance, and that performance is determined solely by the bosses, it’s obvious that the only words that count in the annual pay and performance review are those spoken by the bosses. There’s not a prayer of give-and-take here, no conversation, no straight talk….”

“…(Warning: When you hear the words “modern management,” take cover. It’s only modern in the eighteenth-century sense of the word.)…”

“…So how do managers cope with all these lies, all this bullshit, all this doublespeak? With one more big lie— the lie of hard numbers. Managers hold up the metrics they use to measure employees to “prove” they are working off hard data that doesn’t allow them much flexibility. Look, this is what the numbers show, they say. That’s why pay is what it is. That’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. It’s all there in black and white. This is the framework, and we have to work within this framework….”

“…Metrics provide managers, who don’t know beans about how to guide and improve an individual’s performance, an angle for scoring an individual’s efforts and contributions, in a manner that casts the illusion of credibility….”

“…Even worse, companies typically apply the same rating scale to people with different functions. They don’t redo the checklist for every different activity. As a result, bosses have to reduce their global sentiments to a set of metrics that captures the unique qualities of neither the person nor the job….”

“…The lesson here is simple. Using metrics implies that the words on a scale communicate the same meaning to anyone reading it. They don’t. Realistic assessment of someone’s positive qualities requires replacing scores on standardized metrics with inquiry. You need to ask the performer how he or she saw some critical situation and why he or she took action the way they did. I often tell managers that if you want to know what you just said, you better ask the guy what he heard.

“…Now here’s a shocker: The performance review does exactly the opposite of this intended purpose. Help people grow? Hardly. It actually prevents workers from improving. It is a dehumanizing process that leaves workers demoralized, unwilling and unable to address weaknesses. It makes them hate coming to work, let alone inspire them to turn themselves into better employees….”

“…“The basic issue with the performance review,” one worker wrote me, “is that the outcome is predetermined. The review is either a blunt weapon to move the employee to the door, or to reward ‘star’ employees. The worst part is the self-evaluation, where you are required to read the manager’s mind and ‘sign up’ to their issues.

“…Most managers use the performance reviews as the time to give employees “the answer”— that is, their answer….”

“…Performance reviews lead managers on a path of self-defeating domination when it comes to getting a subordinate to change and grow….”

“…When you’re trying to get employees to change their ways, it’s critical to recognize that people are not comparable. While you can compare people when they are runners in a 100-yard dash, you can’t compare them when it’s the 4-by-100-meter relay. In the latter, people with different performance attributes have different roles to play, and this determines the order in which they should run for optimal team results….”

“…I’M READY to put the final nail in the performance review coffin. The nail: teamwork. Go into pretty much any company these days, whatever the business, whatever the size, and it won’t be long before somebody mentions the importance of teamwork in today’s hypercompetitive global economy. Without teamwork, you’ll be told, a company can never be fast or agile enough to get things done in a world where employees, suppliers, facilities, and customers are spread across the globe, where new situations demand innovative solutions. Companies need employees to walk together, talk together, act together. They need leaders to foster collaboration and an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude. A company divided against itself cannot stand. Give ’em an A for worthy goals. Give ’em an A for lofty rhetoric. But give ’em an F for not having the vaguest idea how to get where they want to go. Because if these same corporate leaders looked at what they were doing, they could see that one of the primary ways they think they promote teamwork— by using performance reviews— is one of the primary ways they undermine it. The performance review pits colleague versus colleague. It pits department versus department. And, most important, it pits boss versus subordinate….”

“…I consulted once for a company that, in an effort to create teamwork, divided a fixed bonus pool among departments based on certain performance review metrics. Guess what happened? It set each department against the others, as everybody had an incentive to reduce the number of departments that drank from the overall pool….”

“…The core mistake, as I see it, is that people tend to misapply the notion of hierarchy. Most see no difference between a hierarchical approach to organizational structure and a hierarchical approach to relationships. But there’s a big difference. Hierarchical structure, in the form of an organization chart, serves many constructive purposes. By showing the chain of command, it allows everyone to see who is responsible for what, how organization units are being deployed, and, most importantly, who should be accountable for bottom-line results. In contrast, I can’t think of a single constructive purpose served by hierarchical relationships— that is, those in which the boss gets to dominate all conversations….”

“…Let’s be straight about this: There’s no question that there should be consequences when an employee fails to produce what’s expected. It’s the only way to create accountability. But here’s where most managers typically go astray. To them, consequences mean one thing: punishment. This is particularly regrettable, because fear of punishment is the chief obstacle to people owning up to the problems they cause. Who admits error in the face of out-of-proportion punishment for owning up? When stopped for speeding, how many people tell the officer the truth if they can invent an excuse that might spare them a citation? And when stopped, how many go on to explain with integrity, “Officer, perhaps I was speeding, but it was because I was in a hurry to get home from an office celebration where the drinking got a little out of hand.”…”

“…Valid evaluation requires that companies not only do away with the performance review, but also demolish the whole thinking that allows it to exist, the flawed foundation upon which it rests. Change means fighting practiced and entrenched incompetency. But without a fundamental shift in the way we think, nothing will ever change. We’ll never get to the place where everybody— bosses, subordinates, shareholders, everybody— claims they want to go…..Instead, the goal should be to create an environment in which all parties feel safe enough to be honest with one another and do everything they can to accomplish the primary goal of improving company results and providing a supportive environment for people to self-reflect and grow….”

“…We have to replace the one-side-accountable, boss-administered/ subordinate-received performance review with a two-sided, reciprocally accountable performance preview. We need a dialogue, not a monologue….”

-First, get rid of the performance review! No longer is the boss on a fault-finding mission. No longer is the boss scoring employees on a checklist of predetermined attributes. It simply doesn’t happen anymore. (You have no idea how good it feels just to write those words.)
-Second, create performance measures that are linked to desired corporate results, and against which both the boss and subordinate will now be evaluated as a unit.
-Third, get the big boss involved. The big boss will now be more actively monitoring the boss/ subordinate team, making sure it’s achieving the results it has pledged to achieve. If it isn’t, the big boss has to step in and actively inquire as to why.
-Fourth, replace the reviews with the previews— an ongoing dialogue between boss and subordinate, where each of them is responsible for asking the other: What can I do to make us work together better and get the results we’re both on the hook for? The focus isn’t on the past and how one person screwed up, but on making the system work better in the future.

“…Performance previews are about two individuals combining forces. With performance reviews, it’s individual against individual, department against department. With performance previews, departments are on the same team, and everyone has more to gain and less to fear by abandoning their silos and doing what’s best for the whole enterprise.





“…Substituting performance previews for performance reviews welds fates together because the discussion will no longer be about the boss finding fault in the subordinate….”


“…With performance previews, the boss and subordinates instead have conversations, and in those conversations there are always four key variables: you including your imperfections; me including mine; our ability to complement and support one another (better known as chemistry); and the context, challenges, and situation being faced….”




This is our system today, the performance review system. It is not geared toward getting the desired results. It’s geared toward not rocking the boat. It’s not a place where anybody has an incentive to change the system. It’s not about teamwork. It’s every subordinate and boss for him- or herself.
Solitaire is the perfect metaphor. …”


“…Climbing into the spacecraft, the HR guy finds himself paired with a chimpanzee. The spacecraft shoots off with the chimp at the wheel. Easing into orbit, the phone rings and the HR guy picks it up. The mission control flight director says, “Let me speak to the chimp.” Dutifully the HR guy passes the phone to the chimp, who listens attentively, hangs up the phone, and starts twisting dials and making orbital adjustments. After a couple of hours the phone rings again. Once again the HR guy grabs it up quickly, and once again it’s the mission control flight director asking to have the phone passed to the chimp. Again the chimp listens attentively, hangs up the phone, and starts turning more dials and making adjustments. Three more hours and the phone rings again. This time the disgruntled HR guy passes the phone over to the chimp to answer for himself. The chimp answers, dutifully nods, and gestures to the HR guy that the call is for him. Anxious to play a role, the HR guy picks up the phone, saying, “Yes, what would you like me to do?” Mission control: “Feed the chimp.”…”


“…Replacing performance reviews with previews eliminates this self-defeating element in management’s approach to ensuring control, accountability, and on-the-job development. It removes major sources of intimidation, coercion, and fear, and it sets the stage for more trusting relationships and straight talk. It allows a level playing field where bosses and subordinates can openly and honestly admit to what they need and jointly combine their talents to create instant gains for the company….”


“…I believe the structure and logic of performance previews can be summarized in three profoundly simple questions that a boss and each of his or her subordinates might ask and answer for one another:
1- What are you getting from me that you like and find helpful? If relevant, comment on the bigger picture: how we are organized and how people and units interact.
2-What are you getting from me (and/ or the system) that impedes your effectiveness and would like to have stopped?
3-What are you not getting from me (and/ or the system) that you think would enhance your effectiveness, and tell me, specific to you, why do you need it at this time?

“…You affirm the positive, you own your annoyance, and you tell the person what you lack that you believe would be useful….”

“…Again, performance reviews typically come up with a measure against which employees are evaluated. In contrast, previews come up with a measure against which results, not employees, are measured. Reviews measure after production. Previews do the measuring before and during production when practical adjustments can be made. Reviews bring the cops. Previews bring the cavalry riding….”

“…But decades of researching managerial effectiveness have convinced me that personal respect, and perhaps the possibility of friendship, is an essential ingredient of having the kind of straight-talking, trusting relationships that previews demand. With straight talk, mistakes can be acknowledged, learned from, and rectified. Straight talk enables imperfect managers and subordinates to combine resources to accomplish what needs to be achieved….”

“…But it isn’t. As I’ve made clear, no matter how you slice it, no matter what you call it, the performance review is inherently a flawed beast. It can’t be patched up and sent on its way. It can only be scrapped….”

“…There’s plenty of research to support the idea that doing away with performance reviews has a profoundly positive impact on an organization. Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins wrote Abolishing Performance Appraisals in 2000, describing twenty-six organizations that got rid of reviews, chronicling the positive results they experienced in terms of morale, effectiveness, and profitability….”

“…The question of pay and previews is complicated, but the easiest way to understand it is to reiterate what I said in chapter 4: It’s ridiculous to think that pay is primarily— or even largely— a function of performance. That’s true with the previews as well as reviews. I believe it’s a combination of market factors, transaction costs avoided by having to replace the person, and share-the-wealth values….”

“…A further note about bonuses: Paying different people a different level of bonus only makes sense if you have people doing identical, strictly definable jobs operating in similar situations. That’s rarely the case, especially as people move into higher-level jobs where what they do daily is more sophisticated and nuanced. Bonuses pit peers in competition and create unfair comparisons. Give everybody the same bonus and you encourage employees to share their competencies, rather than cover them over for tactical gain….”

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