My teenage son will pour himself a bowl of cereal and bring it up to his room to eat while he does his homework. He’ll finish his cereal and then forget to bring the bowl back down to the kitchen. His dirty dish will sit in his room until we ask him to put it in the dishwasher (I’m sure none of your teenagers do things like this). So what do we do? Do we punish him? Do we ask him to put his dish away? Do we take care of the dish for him? Do we take the time to teach him the value of courtesy? Do we ignore it? Or do we just accept him for what he is?

This is the age-old question: how do you change or improve behavior? Which brings me to my topic: performance reviews. The purpose of performance reviews is to improve behavior. But how effective are performance reviews? Here’s my experience. They’re sporadic. People don’t say what they feel because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (that’s not a bad thing). The review merely washes over the person who is reviewed. The supervisor typically files the review away without any follow up. And the review takes a lot of time. Overall, I think reviews are just busy work. I don’t think they have much of an affect on behavior. If anything they might create resentment or bad feelings if done wrong.

So why do we do reviews? I think it’s because lawyers tell you to do reviews to protect you if an employee sues you. That’s a lot of work in order to give you a tiny bit of protection. I think most people know that this is the real reason for reviews.

What then is the best way to improve behavior? I think that you get back what you give out. If you’re fair with people, they will generally be fair with you. If you treat people with kindness and respect, they will treat you with kindness and respect. You get good for good and merciful for merciful. I think this will go much further in protecting you from a lawsuit than performance reviews. Plus it’s much easier to change your own behavior than the behavior of others.