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The Performance Management Revolution: Moving Away from Traditional Appraisals

The traditional performance appraisal process has been a staple of organizational life for decades, but it has been widely criticized for its limitations and ineffectiveness. In recent years, more than a third of U.S. companies have abandoned traditional performance appraisals in favor of a more modern and development-focused approach.

Today we will explore the reasons behind this shift and the alternative approaches that organizations are adopting.

Evolution of Performance Management

Performance management has undergone significant changes over the years. In the past, the primary focus was on evaluating employee performance to determine compensation and promotions. However, as the labor market has tightened and the business environment has become more rapidly changing, organizations have come to realize that traditional performance appraisals are no longer effective in meeting their needs.

The Limitations of Traditional Performance Appraisals

Traditional performance appraisals have several limitations that have led to their decline in popularity. Firstly, they focus primarily on holding employees accountable for their past performance, rather than improving their future performance. This creates a culture of blame and criticism, rather than one of development and improvement. Secondly, traditional appraisals are often seen as a necessary evil, rather than a valuable tool for employee growth and development. Finally, they can create a sense of competition among employees, rather than fostering a collaborative team environment.

The Benefits of Development-Focused Conversations

In contrast to traditional performance appraisals, development-focused conversations offer several benefits. Firstly, they allow managers and employees to have regular, open conversations about performance, rather than waiting for an annual review. This enables employees to receive feedback and make adjustments in real-time, rather than waiting for a year-end review. Secondly, these conversations focus on improving employee performance, rather than simply evaluating it. This creates a culture of continuous improvement and development, rather than one of criticism and accountability. Finally, development-focused conversations promote teamwork and collaboration, rather than competition among employees.

Hybrid Approaches to Performance Management

Some organizations are hesitant to abandon traditional performance appraisals entirely, and are instead adopting hybrid approaches that combine elements of traditional appraisals with development-focused conversations. For example, some companies are giving employees performance ratings on multiple dimensions, coupled with regular development feedback. This allows employees to receive feedback on their performance, while also having regular conversations about their development and growth.

Addressing Concerns about Goal Alignment, Merit Raises, and Discrimination

One of the concerns about moving away from traditional performance appraisals is that it may be harder to align individual and organizational goals, award merit raises, identify poor performers, and counter claims of discrimination. However, traditional appraisals have not been effective in addressing these issues either. Instead, organizations are finding that development-focused conversations and hybrid approaches can actually help to address these concerns more effectively. For example, by having regular conversations about performance and development, managers can better align employee goals with organizational objectives. Additionally, merit raises can be based on employee performance and development, rather than simply on past performance. Finally, development-focused conversations can help to identify areas where employees may need additional support or training, rather than simply labeling them as poor performers.


The traditional performance appraisal process has been criticized for its limitations and ineffectiveness. In response, organizations are moving towards more development-focused conversations between managers and employees. These conversations promote a culture of continuous improvement and teamwork, rather than criticism and competition. While there are concerns about abandoning traditional appraisals, hybrid approaches and development-focused conversations can actually help to address these concerns more effectively. As the labor market continues to tighten and the business environment continues to change, it is likely that the performance management revolution will continue to gain momentum.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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