Annual Reviews Are Stupid


Get Shift Done: Management

There was a time in my career where I had 12 direct reports — 12 people whose careers I was responsible for, 12 people whom I needed to be available to for questions, guidance and assistance.

And 12 annual reviews to write.

Every year I spent the equivalent of 2 months doing, giving or reviewing, well, reviews.

Every year I spent the equivalent of 2 months doing, giving or reviewing, well, reviews.

And in the end, the number one reason most people looked forward to their review was to find out about their raise.

Yearly evaluations are stupid. They waste time. They’re ineffectual.

Here’s three reasons why they don’t work — and a better way to accomplish each.

#1: Goal setting ends up a lost cause

A hallmark of annual assessments, goal setting and the evaluation of progress against the previous year’s goals, takes up half, or even more, of an employee’s review.

Now, goals are not useless. But annual review goals often are as they’re part of a forced exercise that holds an employee’s career, and salary increase, for ransom.

Typically, annual review goals are lofty ideals tied to the company’s strategy for the coming year as well as the employee’s long-term career goals. These are very different from the shorter-term goals that employees need to get their everyday work done.

Few real-world goals map themselves to a 12-month plan. Some may take 3 months, others 18 or 24. Goals are like gardens — they need to be nurtured and paid attention to, frequently, if they are to bear fruit. Once a year just doesn’t cut it.

#2: Frequency + Relevancy = Results

Very regular check ins, every 4 to 6 weeks, should replace the annual review.


Regular check ins on goals keep people on task. When they have to dust off their goals and look at them on a regular basis, their objectives don’t get lost in the press of deadlines and priority work. Their goals remain top of mind.

They can also be adjusted. Discussing them frequently enables you to adapt them to fast moving business and personal needs. Setting goals once a year means they could be irrelevant by the time you get to them.

Both the employees and the company benefit from regular and candid discussions instead of formalized and delayed ones. If someone is struggling, they need help right then, not a recap of how they failed 8 months later.

And lastly, #3: Annual Reviews Are a Waste of Resources

A regular review is shorter. It’s less stressful. And it takes less time to prep for. It becomes part of the regular cadence of the team’s work cycle.

An annual review is an anomaly. It doesn’t happen frequently enough to be part of the team’s flow. For leaders, work all but stops while they prepare and go over reviews and goals. Annual reviews are a disruption. Disruptions make us humans nervous and stressed out. Being stressed out affects the quality of our work. Right at review time.

Regular reviews become an expected — and sometimes welcome — part of an employee’s regular schedule. Regular check ins, and consistent progress against goals, is a model that actually hits the target that annual reviews swing and miss.

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