Everyone who enjoys doing or receiving performance reviews, raise your hand? No one. Really? Really. So why do we do them?

Performance reviews are like driving the road from Chania to Sfakia. It can be a beautiful drive, but take your eyes off the road to answer a phone call and you are more likely to arrive in heaven (or the alternative) than Sfakia.

Why do we need performance reviews? People benefit from knowing how they are doing. The consequences can affect their future pay raises, bonuses and possibilities for promotions or innovative job design-their future with the organization. Research shows us that when people get clear, relatively objective feedback on the results of their work-how it matters- it helps their motivation. Motivation is key to a person’s willingness to use their talents at work instead of using the time to wait for the end of the day. If the job offers the possibility of an information system providing the feedback in a timely manner, then, yes, remove the need for the conversation. In other words, keep the performance review as close to relatively objective output. A person still wants to have some idea as to what his/her boss thinks of how they are doing, but that can be covered over lunch or coffee.

But most performance reviews become annoying requirements to get through rather than meaningful interactions when they drift away from this purpose-like averting your eyes while driving that vertiginous road to Sfakia. Somehow people seem driven to devote the final third or even more of a performance review to a developmental session addressing what the other person should do differently next year. This is where performance reviews confuse their purpose.

A developmental review is another activity most people want. How can I develop, grow, change, and improve? But development reviews require openness to new ideas, seeing possibilities of novel ways to approach situations and change. The dilemma is that these two experiences invoke different parts of our brain.

A performance review is an analytic effort focusing on some form of measurement. It activates the Task Positive Network in the brain which we need to solve problems, focus and make decisions. A development review, if it engages the person thinking about learning, change and new ways to act or approach situations would be best served by activating a different neural network, the Default Mode Network. This network helps us to scan the environment, be open to new ideas, people and moral concerns. The dilemma is that, on the whole, these two networks suppress each other! The more you go nerd, the less you see people or are open to new ideas.

The best practice is to do both the performance review and the developmental review but at different times. My suggestion is to separate them by as much time so the two processes feel different to the person on the receiving end. Separate them by six months. If you do the performance review in your office, do the development review at lunch. The supposed convenience of scheduling both at the same time actually decreases the effectiveness of each of the processes.