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Sonar6’s Mike Carden, in defense of performance reviews

3 min read


One of my favorite sessions at last month’s HRevolution in Atlanta was a face-off between William Tincup and Mike Carden regarding the value of performance reviews. I followed up with Carden, CEO of performance-management software company Sonar6, after the conference for a quick question-and-answer session.

What’s your case for keeping performance reviews, in 25 words or fewer?

Good people like having their performance reviewed. Take your 10 best people out to play golf; how many of them don’t want to keep score?

One of the participants in the session, a vice president at a fairly large company, pointed out that it has been years since he was subjected to a performance review. Do you think reviews still have value at the higher end of a corporate hierarchy?

Yes. Everyone has business and personal goals regardless of level in an organization, and a performance review reinforces that. Moreover, if you want to create a culture in which people are accountable for their performance — well, that has to start at the top.

Do you get a performance review? If so, who does it?

My performance review is owned by our chairman, and it’s done using Sonar6, of course! This year, we are adding 360 feedback to the process, so effectively I’ll get feedback from the board but also from my team.

What do you think is the biggest mistake CEOs and other executives make when it comes to performance reviews?

I think the biggest mistake that people make is that they feel that the purpose of a performance review is to find something wrong with an employee and then try to fix it — which is really only ever the case with a company’s poorest performers. Sure, if you have a salesperson who is call-reluctant, fix it. If you have a star performer, you should spend your effort, and your performance review, working out ways to stretch them and leverage their strengths.

The example I often use is that if you gave a 12-year-old LeBron James to anyone in his right mind, that person would focus on making him a great basketball player. However, if you gave him to your average people manager, that person would ignore the basketball and try to fix his swimming.

Also, you should never write “LOLs” in a performance review.

Many (most?) people dread performance reviews. What is your best piece of advice for turning that around?

I think the reason that people don’t like them is twofold. Firstly, they don’t see the value to themselves in the process, and secondly, they don’t know what happens to the information collected. So you need to be transparent on the process so people know exactly how information collected is used, and most importantly, you need to show that reviews are useful to the individual. Make reviews a way of understanding how an individual’s goals support the company’s strategy and show how the person can plan and develop his career.