Performance reviews: there is a better way

June 14, 2010
Tim Goodheart, DDS, FAGD, explains how getting rid of performance reviews fosters honest relationships between dentists and dental staff, and ultimately helps them work together better.

By Tim Goodheart, DDS, FAGD

The world is changing faster than ever before. Gen X, Gen Y, Tweeners. One thing that hasn’t changed, as indicated in the May 2010 Dental Economics article, “Performance Evaluations: A Must Do!,” is the old standard performance review (PR). As Samuel Culbert stated in his book, “Get Rid of the Performance Review,” that’s a sorry state for us all. Performance reviews are dinosaurs. Their time has not only passed; it never was. Performance reviews never accomplished what people hoped they would, and in fact — as described by Culbert — they are a damaging and vestigial human resources tool.

The supposed purpose of the PR is to “enlighten” employees about what they should be doing better, with the idea being that the boss is “objective.” Oh, please. Is there any real belief that a boss can simply collect metrics, garner a few opinions, and give a score free of emotion, bias, or other sentiment? To think that is possible is just not being honest.

To prove my point, a study by PDI Ninth House looked at 6,000 employees who reported to two bosses in one of seven categories, with scores ranging from outstanding to average to very weak. Of those employees rated as outstanding by the first boss, 62% received a lower score from the second boss. If there is no hope of agreement for what would seem to be “outstanding” work, how far off might the scale be on the other end? Objectivity, while nice in theory, is simply a myth.

Secondly, the metrics used to score a PR have little to do with performance or what the employee should be focusing on. These checklists are just assumptions or, worse, guesses about what competent people do, and it becomes a game of the employee to “please” the boss, which becomes more important than getting the job done well. The absolute worst is when these exact same scores and scales are applied to different jobs so that they capture neither the person nor the job!

Think of the typical PR lingo and metrics to which we’ve probably all been subjected — communication, motivation, problem-solving skills, conflict resolution, patient relations, job knowledge. Could any two people agree on how to even define these things, let alone how to clearly use them to measure someone? Who among us possess the skills to accurately assess even one of these? What does a 2.5 or a 3.0 in “patient relations” mean?

The third major issue is that a PR creates distrust. An actual PR is simply a dance, not honest give-and-take. There is almost always a one-sided “discussion,” with the boss making his or her “objective” judgments and trying to convince the employee to think like him or her. There are nods and looks of concern and supposed agreements. The boss knows this dance is happening, the employee knows this is happening, BOTH know the other knows this is happening, but neither admit that this tap-dance is playing out. That’s the start of the distrust. This isn’t an honest conversation — it’s BS.

Wouldn’t a real conversation, an honest one, go like this? “Given my own opinions and ideas and my own subjectivity, here’s how I see it. Given yours, how do you see it? How are WE going to become a team to get good work accomplished?” That type of conversation is rooted in honesty. It may not be agreement, it may not be simple, there may even be conflict, but it is honest!

Finally, the May article was based on the concept of “legal protection.” As Culbert states, “That’s lame.” If a person isn’t doing a good job, document it! Period. End of story. The people who sue are the ones who have positive comments in their files. That’s far more of a concern.

Ending performance reviews is NOT about having no accountability, standards, expectations, or letting employees off the hook. It’s NOT about letting employees run rampant and do whatever they please. It is about the fact that PRs do not solve the problem of how to build an honest, no BS relationship with employees and staff, which ultimately leads to what we’re after — working together to make for excellent work. There is a better way. It’s not an easier way, but it’s a better one. So I agree with Culbert when he states, “Get rid of the performance review and focus on what really matters.”

Author bio
Tim Goodheart, DDS, FAGD, graduated from University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry and completed a General Practice Residency at Kansas City VA Medical Center. He has been in solo private practice in Raytown, Mo., ever since. Dr. Goodheart is a member of the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry, and is a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry.