Why Annual Performance Appraisals Are A Cop Out (and some totes cray cray alternatives)

Have you ever been a recipient of the annual ‘Dump Truck’ appraisal?

If so, you’ll join me when I say that most of us look forward to it about as much as a Selenophobiac does a full moon (yes, there is such a thing as a fear of all things lunar).

The annual ‘Dump Truck’ appraisal is a particular favourite of managers who give you absolutely no feedback whatsoever during the course of the year. Or, in other words, what you are doing well, what you need to work on, or pretty much any useful coaching feedback at all.

Rather, they prefer to save it all up and ‘dump’ it on you in an excruciating review meeting, complete with one of those hideous appraisal documents which you both are forced to fill out.

Blah. This is the kind of bureaucracy that makes sticking hot pokers in your eyes seem like a pleasant alternative.

Too often leaders rely on ‘rubber stamping HR processes’, hiding behind forms, columns and acronyms (like PDP or KRA), instead of learning the art of giving and receiving feedback as part of their daily repertoire.

I’m also hopeful the 360 degree review will one day become defunct, but that’s a story for another day.

Even the usual stalwart fan of the APR, the HR Manager, is starting to doubt its worth. In one recent study, forty-five percent of human resources leaders said they don’t think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for employees’ work. *

As an executive coach, I long for the day when the Annual Performance Appraisal is truly redundant in organisations.

This is what we would see instead:

  • Leaders (and followers for that matter) giving and receiving feedback on a daily basis. Comments like, “you rocked it in that meeting”, “I really liked the way you challenged Amy on her idea in a way that didn’t come across as aggressive” or “thanks for working late last night. It made such a difference” and “I’m not sure if you are aware of the impact on yourself and others when you turn up late to meetings….” Conversations like these would be an intrinsic part of the company’s culture  and lingo – “the way we do things around here.”
  • Rather than things being noticed, but not a lot being said about them (leading to the proverbial lump under the carpet), we would see lots of open and supportive conversations around what we sensed in others and in ourselves. For those of you allergic to the “touchy feely”, it wouldn’t have to be all about how everyone is feeelling (although usually that’s what drives behaviour), but we certainly wouldn’t be seeing as many proverbial elephants in rooms.
  • Managers would be coaching more often than they are telling. When leaders noticed performance (good or bad) they would see it as an opportunity to coach others in a positive and compassionate spirit which says, “I want to help you get better,” rather than waiting for the APR – or worse, waiting until they were really pissed off, then shooting out some snarky remark or losing their cool.
  • Creative alternatives to the APR would abound. One of my clients got her team to present their perception of their year’s performance to the rest of the team, along with “what I have learned about myself this year, what am I proud of and what I want to develop further.” Brilliant!  Some great team discussions and connection occurred as a result.

Leaders would be actively, genuinely and regularly seeking feedback as well. They would be asking questions like –

“What can I do to support you more?”

“What am I doing that is not helping?”

“What do you want me to stop doing, start doing or keep doing?”

In my ideal world, people would have as much opportunity for being self-aware as is possible. It’s pretty difficult to change a less than constructive behaviour if I am unaware of it and no one has told me I’m annoying the crap out of everyone by doing it.

In my ideal world, managers wouldn’t be waiting for the Annual Performance Appraisal to raise awareness in their direct reports.

In my ideal world, feedback would be like the daily ebb and flow of the tides.

I’m with John Lennon when he said, “you may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

I’m not giving up hope that one day, annual performance appraisals will be as old school as the CD and Roladex.

What do you think?  Is it time to ditch the APR in favour of a culture of giving and receiving feedback?

* Sourced from HBR article, Crowdsource Your Performance Review


  1. […] Sure, there’s the annual employee engagement survey. But on its own, this formal feedback mechanism is often a case of too little, too late (a bit like the annual “dump truck performance appraisal”). […]

  2. Briggita Baker on March 24, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Couldn’t agree more Suzi – ramp up the feedback and ditch the dinosaur annual review!

    • Suzi McAlpine on March 24, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      ‘Ditch the dinosaur’ – I love it! Thanks for sharing Briggita, great to hear from you. Cheers, Suzi.

  3. Jamie on March 24, 2015 at 2:02 am

    You nailed this post, Suzy. I love your comparison of feedback to the ebb and flow of tides. I’ve written a lot about this topic too and share some specifics on how managers and leaders can provide coaching feedback in my book, Less Stress Business: A Guide for Hiring, Coaching and Leading Great Employees. I wonder if you’ve considered writing a book? After two years of blogging I found I had more than enough…a thought for you…when you’re ready.

    • Suzi McAlpine on March 24, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks for your comments Jamie, great to hear from you – and congrats on your book! Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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