Annual performance reviews at work can inspire equal measures of dread and renewed dedication to the job. Many employees and managers appreciate having a process for establishing goals and providing and receiving feedback. But others find the exercise cumbersome, emotionally fraught and ineffective. We consider best practices for giving and receiving feedback in the workplace.


  • Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
  • Satoris 'Tori' Culbertson Assistant Professor, Department of Management at Kansas State University


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. A collective groan might rumble through your workplace when the email from H.R. hits everyone's inbox. Time for annual performance reviews. Whether the process is formal and multi-layered with employee and manager alike contributing to a dialogue about goals, competencies and quotas, or it's a quick informal chat with the boss that allows everyone to check the box and move on.

  • 13:07:23

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIMany find it a fraught process. Feedback, it turns out, is difficult to give and to receive. Here to give us some insight into why it's so challenging and how to navigate the process in a way that benefits everyone is Howard Ross, Diversity Consultant and Principle at Cook Ross. Author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance. Hi, Howard.

  • 13:07:47

    MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Kojo. Good to see you, as always.

  • 13:07:49

    NNAMDIAlways a pleasure. Joining us from studios at KSU in Manhattan, Kansas is Satoris Culbertson. She's a Professor in the Department of Management at Kansas State University. Tori Culbertson, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:08:03


  • 13:08:04

    NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. 800-433-8850 is our number. How does the annual performance review process work in your office or wherever you work? 800-433-8850. You can send email to or you can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Howard, the performance review process is considered imperfect by many, but important, nonetheless. In an ideal situation, what's in it for boss and employee alike?

  • 13:08:37

    ROSSWell, I think most people want to know how they're doing at work. And certainly, it's important, from the standpoint of running an organization, or running a department in an organization, to be able to tell people whether they're on track or not on track. And like so many other things in life, I think one of the challenges we have is not so much the notion of performance review. The notion of getting feedback, but all of the misunderstandings we have about our reactions to it on one hand, and then secondarily, the processes that we put in place for it, which sometimes get in the way of it being really valuable.

  • 13:09:12

    ROSSI mean, in the ideal situation, anytime anybody sits down for a performance review, they should simply be hearing stuff that they've been told on a daily basis all year long, so it should be simply knowing, well, as we've talked about all along, I'm writing this down. But, very rarely does that happen.

  • 13:09:27

    NNAMDITori, a study you and a group of colleagues recently authored on feedback in performance reviews generated the following headline in The Washington Post. "Study Finds That Basically Every Single Person Hates Performance Reviews." Tori, I'm guessing there's a little more to it than that, so tell us what aspect of reviews you looked into and what you found.

  • 13:09:49

    CULBERTSONYeah. Absolutely. There is a little bit more to it. We were interested in looking at peoples' satisfaction with the performance review that they received, and we had looked at how people approach their goals. So, looking at some people tend to approach goals as being more learning oriented, so they want to get as much as possible out of the feedback. Some people will approach goals where they want to prove something to others, so we consider those to be performance prove individuals.

  • 13:10:18

    CULBERTSONAnd some people just want to avoid looking foolish in front of others. So, those would be performance avoid. And we were interested to see whether people who received positive or negative feedback, if they might be more or less satisfied with the appraisal, depending on how they approach goals in general. And we had, not surprisingly, we had predicted that people who want to prove something to others, or just avoid looking foolish, that they would really like good performance feedback, so the positive feedback.

  • 13:10:45

    CULBERTSONAnd they would really not like negative feedback. But what we thought was that maybe the individuals who are really out to learn something, they just wanted to be better and receive feedback for the sake of receiving feedback, would be OK with receiving negative feedback and still be satisfied with the appraisal. And what we found was this was not actually the case. Even those people who just want to learn as much as possible aren't happy when they receive negative feedback.

  • 13:11:08

    CULBERTSONSo that's where the idea of nobody likes feedback was coming from.

  • 13:11:11

    NNAMDICould you talk about the distinction between negative feedback and constructive feedback?

  • 13:11:19

    CULBERTSONAbsolutely. So, negative feedback, when we think about it, negative feedback would just be feedback that's telling you what you're doing wrong. Or feedback that doesn't have this element of getting better, and there is this really important distinction between that and constructive feedback. Whereas constructive feedback would not only tell you, maybe, what you didn't do very well, but tell you how to improve. And if you don't have constructive feedback, it's not telling you where you should focus your attention.

  • 13:11:45

    CULBERTSONAnd instead, it's just telling you what you did wrong. And so, we wouldn't really expect that to be very -- have very good effects later on.

  • 13:11:52

    NNAMDIHow are biases, conscious or unconscious, subconscious are bound to play into the process. What can people do to avoid falling into that trap?

  • 13:12:00

    ROSSWell, there are a number of things. I think, first of all, we have to understand that there's a whole psychology of giving and receiving feedback on the part of all of us receiving feedback. I mean, there are very few people think about it -- somebody comes up and says, you know, Kojo, I've got some feedback for you. I mean, most people, when they hear that, they immediately tense up.

  • 13:12:15

    NNAMDII don't need this aggravation.

  • 13:12:16

    ROSSExactly right. That's first what comes up. And we go back to being kids getting our report cards and being scolded by our parents and all that stuff gets triggered. And unless we've had a tremendous amount of experience of it being positive, then that generally shows up. So the people who are giving the feedback might have similar challenges. For example, you know, I don't want people to be upset with me. I want to be a nice guy. I want to, you know -- or, in trying to, you know, having to do my job and going the other extreme, I get very harsh or very clipped.

  • 13:12:50

    ROSSAnd very few people seem to find a great balance between being inter-relational in the feedback they give and being able to also give the information in a way that's really helpful. So bias shows up a lot in the process in lots of different ways. We know, for example, that when we study the way men and women receive feedback, that research shows that women generally tend to receive feedback more for their interactional styles, the way of being with people.

  • 13:13:16

    ROSSMen tend to receive feedback more for their behaviors. We know that women tend to get feedback more for their performance and men tend to get feedback a lot more for their potential. And that shows up, of course, in the behavioral decisions we make. There's some -- the recent research, some neural leadership research that shows particularly, that feedback processes, that performance review processes where we put numerical quality, quantities on things -- you know, we give somebody a four on a scale of one to five, for example, versus a three on the scale of one to five are particularly susceptible to bias.

  • 13:13:47

    ROSSAnd that makes sense, if you think about it, for a couple of different reasons. There's the bias -- there's what we might call the rater bias, and that is that the person whose rating may have a different standard for that number, very much like, Kojo, when we were in college. And one professor, you could do the same level of work and get an A minus, and that same level of work would get a B plus in another professor's class. So, you know, the standard that the rater sets.

  • 13:14:09

    ROSSAnd then there's the rated bias, the bias towards a particular person and whether or not I see that person as a high performer, based on any number of factors. It could be race, it could be gender, it could be ethnicity or sexual orientation or anything like that. But it could also be things like, is this person working on a project that's very important to me? And therefore, say a B plus level performance on a project that's very important to me might be rated very differently than an A plus performance on a project that I'm not even aware of.

  • 13:14:39

    ROSSAnd so the recency of it, how recent it happened, how important the project was, how much I've been involved in the project. You know, we can begin to see it, and I could keep going, but we could begin to see there's a huge complex web of dynamics that makes these things hard to compare apples to apples.

  • 13:14:55

    NNAMDITori Culbertson, I'd like to get back to the issue of constructive criticism, because just looking at it on the face, one tends to assume that most people would approve of constructive criticism, especially if it tells the employee what he or she could be doing about whatever the problem is, but did your study show that even in cases of constructive criticism, there are people who resent it because there is an implied criticism? That there's an implied negative criticism.

  • 13:15:20

    CULBERTSONSo, our study -- right. Absolutely. So, our study, we didn't actually look at the distinction between constructive and negative. We were more focusing between negative and positive. That said, there is still that element of negative inherent in constructive criticism, so -- right? So, you are still receiving that you didn't do as well as you could have or should have on this particular aspect, and here's what you should do to improve it. And it's that, and here's what you should do to improve it, that at least takes it away from being purely negative to developmental.

  • 13:15:52

    CULBERTSONAnd I think that's an important point, is that we use these performance reviews for a lot of different purposes, not just administrative things with promotions and raises, but also developmental, and at least taking it to the constructive element takes it out of purely administrative.

  • 13:16:07

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number, if you'd like to join this conversation about feedback at work. How do you approach giving and receiving feedback at work? Is it harder to take from your boss or from your peers? 800-433-8850. You can send email to or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Tori, since we know this is a process that is bound to create some sensitivity, how much of getting something useful out of it is about our attitude going in?

  • 13:16:38

    CULBERTSONI would say there's probably quite a bit. I think there's, just as Howard was saying, with all of the biases that we have going in, both on the rater side and the receiving side, we have all these biases in terms of setting ourselves up for a self fulfilling prophecy idea, that if we think something's going to be bad, we might react negatively and make it even worse. If we think that somebody's out to get us, if we view that our supervisor is not competent, hasn't had the ability to perceive the work that we do, we're not likely to actually accept it.

  • 13:17:13

    CULBERTSONEverything -- there's potentials to backfire all over the place.

  • 13:17:17

    NNAMDIHoward, I don't know very many people who look forward to the performance review in the same way they look forward, say, to the office holiday party. How important is the attitude going into this thing?

  • 13:17:31

    ROSSWell, I'm not sure that that's a fair comparison, Kojo. I mean, look. As I said before, I think one of the challenges with performance reviews is that the context that they're given in, and the sort of haphazard way we've done them over the years, has given people a sense of -- they're happy if they survive them, rather than looking forward to them. And I do think that there are ways that people can do a better job at performance review. But the most important one -- it gets back to what I said earlier, which is that this is -- there's a difference between a conversational relationship with an employee where you sit down and say look, I'm committed to you being successful.

  • 13:18:08

    ROSSI know you want to be successful here. Let's talk about how things are going and what's working and what's not, what we can do to support you, and what you can do to support your own performance moving forward. And then, at some point, that gets codified or written down so that you keep track of it over time. One of the things that's happened with H.R. law is that, and understandable, and discrimination law and all of these kinds of things, is that people have to keep track of and make sure that they're recording things, so that if down the road, when you have to fire somebody, because of lack of performance, you've got a track record that shows you gave them this performance in this particular place.

  • 13:18:42

    ROSSAnd that leads to more of a report card style of reporting. But when we're getting feedback from people, we also need to recognize that the things we reward people for impact the nature of the feedback. For example, often, people get rewarded for results in their feedback, when the results may or may not be related to effort. It may be that you're on a project that was relatively easy to do, you produced a great result. Sales person, for example, gets a sale when the truth is, the person who they're selling to was ready to buy before they ever picked up the phone and called them verses somebody else who really busts their tail.

  • 13:19:18

    ROSSGoes out, you know, works five times as hard, but just for the luck of the draw, gets clients who are tougher to sell to. One person looks like they're a better salesperson because their results are higher, but the results belie the fact that the performance behind those results was actually quite imbalanced. And there's some research now, especially with young children, Stanford did some research finding that the way we give feedback around things is somewhat along those lines.

  • 13:19:40

    ROSSIn other words, if you give -- if you tell your child all the time, how smart they are, for example, they tend to, in the long term, perform at a less high level and with less satisfaction than if you reward their effort. If you say, wow, I really saw you worked hard on that test. I really saw you studied hard for that test. I know you worked really hard on that essay. As opposed to, congratulations, you got an A, here's the 10 dollars for getting your A.

  • 13:20:02

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here's Emily in Arlington, Va. Emily, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:20:07

    EMILYAll right. Thank you. I often read accounts in the papers like the Washington Post of people who have filed internal HR complaints or age-discrimination complaints or have been a whistleblower of being terminated without much warning. And before they stepped forward with a complaint or a revelation, they usually had very positive or glowing performance appraisals.

  • 13:20:37

    EMILYI'm a little concerned that there's a lot of subjectivity and bias in performance appraisals in the first place and second, that they can be used as a weapon against the employee. When HR wants to help management get rid of an employee, all of a sudden they go from a glowing performance appraisal, track record to sudden performance decrement. I'd like to hear the panel comment on that.

  • 13:21:06

    NNAMDITori Culbertson, that may explain some of the apprehension that some people have about performance reviews. They believe that the opinion offered will be so subjective that if it's a good opinion that it may just be the fact that this particular individual supervisor likes their work. But that very often after that, as our caller Emily points out, that person finds themselves fired, lost a job and can't figure out how come.

  • 13:21:36

    CULBERTSONAbsolutely. I think that that really -- that hits the nail right on the head in terms of why people hate performance reviews. Not only do we hate to get negative feedback, but we hate to get positive and then have it turn around. Nobody likes to be blindsided. I think though there's this idea that it has to be so subjective or one-sided. And when we think about performance reviews and in general we want to think of it as a system. And so as Howard's been saying, these ongoing discussions, these informal interactions, they also need to be two-sided. The employee needs to speak up, needs to say what they're doing well, what they're not doing well.

  • 13:22:11

    CULBERTSONTo the extent that there really is some honest ongoing communication between a supervisor and an employee, there should be less blindsiding and HR shouldn't be able to do those sorts of things that you're talking about in terms of using the appraisal as a weapon.

  • 13:22:26

    NNAMDIHoward, I'm so glad earlier you brought up the comparison to the report cards we get as kids, because I remember in my own childhood whenever I got a bad grade in a subject I would tell my parents, that teacher just doesn't like me as opposed to, I didn't do any of the work, which was actually the truth in this...

  • 13:22:41

    ROSSYou got bad grades, Kojo?

  • 13:22:42

    NNAMDIUnfortunately, yes.

  • 13:22:44

    ROSSNo. Look, we have to understand any time one person -- any time one human being evaluates another human being there's bias and subjectivity. That's an inhered factor. We pretend like there's not. That's the problem. The problem is when we try to pretend like we don't have bias or that we don't -- that we're not being subjective, we try to turn these systems into something that we feel like we're rationally evaluating, we're fooling ourselves.

  • 13:23:08

    ROSSAnd the more present we can be to the fact that bias is always inherently in the system, the better chance there is that we can be aware of the biases -- the particular biases that we have. And we're finding there are things that we can do that make a difference in terms of that. You know, we could talk about some of these throughout the show but, you know, giving feedback regularly and consistently is one of them because people know where they -- or likely to know where they stand. They're likely to get a broader picture rather than when you sit down once or twice a year.

  • 13:23:33

    ROSSYou know, being sure that people have clear criteria for what means success. And that that criteria is not related to a personal style of the leader but rather to a result that gets produced. So I may be, for example -- you know, my style -- I'm not a particularly structured thinker. When you look at things like Myers Briggs, you know, for those of our listeners who know Myers Briggs, you know, I'm an FP in Myers Briggs, a feeling perceptive type as opposed to a thinking judging type.

  • 13:24:00

    ROSSSo I'm not going to sit down and do things in a, you know, A, B, C kind of organized way because you know from working with me all these years, Kojo. Whereas somebody else maybe, they may look at me as unstructured or unprofessional if they're rating me, or I may look at them as sort of compulsive and limited in their thinking. We have to recognize that the question is both can get results done. So are we looking for the results that people produce or are we looking stylistically at they're being more similar to us? And that's one of the real challenges that (unintelligible) .

  • 13:24:28

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you're thinking about calling the number's 800-433-8850. Has a manager ever tried successfully or not to soften the blow in giving you negative feedback? Tell us how that worked for you, 800-433-8850. Or send email to or send us a Tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:26:38

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Howard Ross who just sent a second book to the publisher. He's a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross. He's the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." We look forward to your next tome.

  • 13:26:53

    ROSSThanks, Kojo.

  • 13:26:54

    NNAMDIAlso joining us from the studios of KSU in Manhattan, Kansas is Satoris or Tori Culbertson. She's a professor in the Department of Management at Kansas State University. Tori, feedback provided without context is seldom useful. How important is the conversation and word choice around these evaluations?

  • 13:27:15

    CULBERTSONI would say it's extremely important. I think that if you don't set the stage as a supervisor trying to tell your employee whether you think somebody's done well or not, you should not take it for granted that they're going to understand that that's what you mean. You might give somebody a rating of a 4 out of 5 thinking, I'm giving good positive feedback right now, letting them now they did well. But beware. If you're telling somebody who was hoping for and expecting a 5 out of 5, they may take what you just told them as being negative unless you actually preface it and say, I want you to know I think you're doing really well. And here's why I'm giving you this feedback.

  • 13:27:51

    NNAMDIAnd there are others of course for whom that 4 out of 5 would cause them to be really happy, right?

  • 13:27:56

    CULBERTSONRejoicing, right.

  • 13:27:57

    NNAMDIOnto Christian in Washington, D.C. Christian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:28:03

    CHRISTIANOh, thank you, thank you. I'm a teacher. I work for many years in a school in the district. The supervisors only gave us a template of the expectations that they have on our job. One semester they come to the room to make observations based on that template. Then we have a meeting after school normally, where we have to grade our self with the same template. And then we compare the grades and see where are the discrepancies or what are the differences. And then we just make a discussion about that. I think that is awesome. I want to know what you think about it.

  • 13:28:47

    NNAMDIWhat do you think, Howard?

  • 13:28:49

    ROSSI mean, when I think -- it sounds like a relatively thoughtful process. And the fact that, you know, what you're speaking to, Christian, also is another thing that we found that really seems to help balancing out these discrepancies in the way different performance reviews are done. And that is getting broad input from people. That when you get various different voices into the conversation it tends to balance out individual biases.

  • 13:29:11

    ROSSIf I'm just doing something on my own, that's one thing. But if you're sitting down with your colleagues and kind of comparing notes like you're describing, than you're likely to catch each other over a period of time. You're not likely to notice, for example, that one person is a tougher rater than another one is or that one person has a particular thing that they're sensitive to. And because they're sensitive to it may not see something else that's right in front of them that could be influencing the performance review positively or negatively.

  • 13:29:34

    ROSSSo using broad input is another one of the factors that we usually recommend that people include in the process.

  • 13:29:41

    NNAMDIJohn, thank you -- I mean, Christian, thank you very much for your call. We're moving on to John in Bowie, Md. John, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:29:50

    JOHNYes. I was curious -- I was in federal government for 40 years, retired from that. And I was in the Army and also civil service. And in the Army the private gets an evaluation. Everybody gets evaluated in civil service. I was wondering, in the private sector do service workers get evaluated? Do construction workers get evaluated? I presume executives do so that's my question there.

  • 13:30:19


  • 13:30:19

    ROSSIn my experience, John, it depends a lot on the company involved. I mean, there's some companies that do that very rigorously in most companies. Some companies, you know, too -- and most companies are somewhere in between. There are an awful lot of companies who have performance review processes but don't use them very effectively. They don't hold people accountable for really doing it.

  • 13:30:38

    ROSSI was just working with a law firm up in New York City two weeks ago, for example. They did put in this great performance review process and about 30 percent of the partners use it with their associates. So the challenge in a situation like that is if you happen to have somebody who you're working for uses it, you've got one experience, where somebody who doesn't has a completely different experience. And it makes for more variation.

  • 13:31:00

    ROSSI think my experience has been that it works less so in circumstances where people are doing repetitive tasks or more manual kinds of labor tasks where you're talking about. Like I don't know very many circumstances where people are doing construction work where you get performance reviews in the sense that we're talking about. It's usually much more of a subjective determination. Your foreman decides whether they like you or not. And that's, of course, very rife with personal relationship issues and all the biases we've been talking about.

  • 13:31:28

    NNAMDIAnd I know, Tori, that the study you and your colleagues conducted was asking oh, a couple hundred employees at a large university about performance review. Did they cover a broad range of professions within that university?

  • 13:31:42

    CULBERTSONYes. They were mostly staff positions. So any sort of staff position that you could imagine at a university was pretty much represented.

  • 13:31:49

    NNAMDIAny idea of how wide spread the use is in the private sector, I mean, outside of universities?

  • 13:31:55

    CULBERTSONYeah, you know, I would echo what Howard said but I would also say I think that everybody gets evaluated to the extent to which it's formal or to the extent to which we have informal feedback really varies. So even the construction worker, there's going to be something that going to determine whether that person gets called back for another job or not. So we still are going to evaluate performance. It's just it might not be this formal procedure that we're used to seeing in other organizations.

  • 13:32:22

    NNAMDIJohn, thank you for your call. We're talking about performance evaluations or feedback at work in general and hoping to hear from you about how it works in your job situation, 800-433-8850. If you do not have a formal feedback system in your workplace, do you wish you did? If you are an employer, do you have a formal feedback system in your workplace, especially if you're a private employer? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send email to

  • 13:32:51

    NNAMDIHoward, there are seemingly countless ways to conduct a review process. How widely does the range that you see deployed vary?

  • 13:33:01

    ROSSOh, tremendously. I mean, there are people who do it in, you know, a very structured way and very clear process. They have, you know, measurement criteria and calibrations used. And then there are people who do it much more conversationally and ongoingly. There are various people who do it relative to the particular kind of metrics that they look for. Some people may look more for behavioral metrics. Some people will for just the results that are being produced and how often it gets done.

  • 13:33:30

    ROSSThere's some organizations that will do it twice a year, some organizations that do it once a year. Some organizations really only give performance reviews -- in a practical matter only give them when there's something going wrong. And, you know, so it's performance reviews are more for scolding than they are for ongoing work. And if you're doing well then people don't bother to give it to you, which is a real problem and, you know, creates sort of a negative orientation in a workforce. And that the only time I get feedback is when something's going wrong. The people who are doing well at some point begin to diminish initiative for that reason. So there's a tremendously wide variation.

  • 13:34:06

    NNAMDIBut there are things that can distort the performance review process. Talk a little bit about what you call dysfunctional rescue.

  • 13:34:13

    ROSSYeah, there's a phenomenon I've seen happen and this occurs often -- more often around race than anything else, although I've seen it happen around gender, but more often around race than anything else. And we call it dysfunctional rescuing. And what I mean is that let's say you've got a white male boss and an African American female employee reporting to them. That boss may be hesitant to give that person feedback for fear that they'll see it as a racial issue.

  • 13:34:37

    ROSSAnd as a result they sort of sugarcoat the feedback or avoid it entirely. The person goes along merrily thinking that they're doing well, not realizing that the person has issue. I can give you a very specific example that I have with one of my clients.

  • 13:34:49

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 13:34:51

    ROSSI had a CEO who I was working with a number of years ago, a really good guy. And very attentive to his employees' needs and really all these issues. And he got a new assistant. She's an African American woman and I worked closely with her because she did scheduling and all these kinds of things. So I knew her quite well and she'd been working about six months. And I said to him one day when we were in a meeting, I said, how's she going? He said, well she's really great. She's does a fantastic job, this, this, this. One little problem and that is that she come in late a lot.

  • 13:35:19

    ROSSI said, well, really. Tell me about that. He says, yeah, about three times a week, two, three times a week she comes in 15, 20 minutes late. And the other people in the executive office pool are, you know, kind of grousing at that and talking about it. People talk about it a lot.

  • 13:35:32

    NNAMDIThen it's not a little problem.

  • 13:35:33

    ROSSNo. Exactly, you know. And so it became clear that this was a story, a narrative that was being built around her. So I said, have you talked to her about it? And he said, no, you know, I don't want to make a big deal out of it, da-da-da-da-da, you know. So -- and I realized exactly what was going on. It was very apparent to me.

  • 13:35:47

    ROSSSo later that same day I happened to be sitting out there and talking to her and said, tell me about, you know, how's the job? You know, how's it working out for you? She said, it's really fantastic. She said, people here are wonderful. She said, in fact, you know, and really flexible. She says, I have to drop my kids off at daycare in the morning. And sometimes because of traffic, you know, I can only get them there at a certain time and if traffic is running late I sometimes will get, you know, to work 15, 20 minutes late. Everybody's very cool about that.

  • 13:36:10

    ROSSHad no idea. Didn't have a clue, this whole story. It took five minutes to work it out. You know, I got the two of them together and I said, you guys need to talk about this. He talked to her. She explained the situation to him. He said, why don't we do this. We'll just create a flextime situation over lunch where you can take a 45-minute lunch break rather than an hour if a situation like that occurs or, you know, some other way to accommodate it. And boom, it was handled.

  • 13:36:31

    ROSSBut what happens often in these kinds of circumstances is...

  • 13:36:34

    NNAMDI...nothing is said.

  • 13:36:35

    ROSSThat's right. What's said officially and the narrative about people is dissonant, and that's one challenge. But the other is that people don't get the feedback that they need to continue to improve. So because I didn't tell you that you're not performing up to level, you don't change your behavior. You go around merrily thinking you're doing a great job but the person next to you who gets that feedback gets an opportunity to improve their performance. And two months, three months, three years later one person becomes a better employee as a result of that.

  • 13:37:01

    NNAMDITori, since everyone has different sensitivities, I imagine it's probably impossible to find one solution that's going to work for everyone. But are there approaches to the process that you have found to be more effective across the board?

  • 13:37:16

    CULBERTSONYou know, I think that there's never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. I think you're right. In general we're going to find that those systems that allow people to have a voice, so allow this input from all sides so we have those self ratings, we have people -- employees who can speak up, who can actually counter ratings that they receive and say, wait, wait that probably isn't right. You're not getting the full picture. Those are going to be more well received.

  • 13:37:43

    CULBERTSONWe know that when a supervisor is seen as being competent, as being knowledgeable and also having access to performance records and actually getting to see the employee, that they're going to be trusted more. And if a supervisor is seen as trustworthy, we're going to accept the feedback more. We're going to want to improve. We're going to want to go with it. So there's not going to be a one-size-fits-all but to the extent that we do involve a voice in the process by all parties to the extent that we treat people with respect, obviously those are going to be better systems.

  • 13:38:13

    NNAMDIHere's Randy in Mechanicsville, Md. Randy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:19

    RANDYGood morning. My experience with the performance reviews process has done more the budget is set up at the start of the year. The salary increase amounts have been predetermined. Performance reviews were done at the end of the year. Consequently it felt like the performance reviews were used as a tool to justify the amount of salary change rather than actual review of a person's performance.

  • 13:38:54

    NNAMDISo you're saying that the performance review occurred 11 months after the budget setting salaries was put in place?

  • 13:39:04


  • 13:39:05

    NNAMDIAnd so you see the reviews as simply justifying an action that was taken 11 months to a year in advance?

  • 13:39:13

    RANDYBasically what you came up with was you were called in for a performance review. They laid it out in front of you and they said, okay, you got a X amount of increase or you'll remain the same or whatever. And this is why and they open up your performance review and then view the figures at that point.

  • 13:39:33

    NNAMDIWell, did the performance review -- and of course I'm going to let the experts in after this -- does the performance review at the end of the year give you an indication of what you need to be doing over the course of the next year? And does it tie it to a possible salary increase?

  • 13:39:49

    RANDYYes and no. They would review your -- they would review your performance in terms of how it was laid out previously, yes. Okay? However, they didn't tell you that if you did a three out of a four, a four out of a five, or whatever, you could expect a percentage of this. That was all left up until the end of the next year. So, if you did a four out of five, you might get, for example a 1 percent, when the budget was set up for 4 percent. So there was no real correlation between the amount of increase, with regards to position validity...

  • 13:40:39

    NNAMDIAnd I am not sure that they necessarily should be, Howard Ross. Should they?

  • 13:40:43

    ROSSWell, I mean, look. You're looking at a situation here that, you know, begins to sort of unwind the system that's at play. You can see how, for one thing, in a lot of cases, you know, people have something on their mind. I'm going to have to lay people off at some point. I'm going to have -- I'm going to have fewer jobs. I'm only going to have a certain amount of money to give people. You know, all of these things are factors in my mind. How does that impact the way I rate people?

  • 13:41:07

    ROSSAnd then things happen down the road that are impacted by things earlier, you know, sort of like, in chaos theory, they call it the Butterfly Effect. You know, the notion that a butterfly flapping their wings in Russia causes a storm somewhere else on the planet. But you could begin to think of it this way, you know, let's say -- we talked before about some of these biases that people have -- so you have a particular bias, you begin to see the particular people in a particular organization are more engaged than others because it's an environment that's friendlier for them.

  • 13:41:32

    ROSSThis is an issue that many times we find with people in underrepresented populations. So, you know, we have certain groups here are more in the in group than on the out group. So because they're in the in group, they have more influence on or more engagement with people in leadership, so they're seen more. That means that they get more opportunity to work on important projects. And when they're successful in those important projects, that's a bigger -- the bigger score for them. Then down the road that means they get opportunities to meet other people.

  • 13:41:59

    ROSSAnd then, when it's time for performance reviews, that person is front and center, has had a lot of face time. And the other person is sort of in the background and hasn't had a lot of face time. When that gets tied into salary, that obviously becomes really problematic. But if you ask that -- if you go back and ask the leader who's making that determination, they say, look, I'm giving this salary in a very objective way. This person got a 4.5 average on their performance review, this person got a 3.8 average. Because at the moment that's what it looks like.

  • 13:42:23

    ROSSBut all that other stuff was set in motion a year before, two years before or whenever. And that's the challenge with these structures and systems.

  • 13:42:30

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. We'll be coming back to this conversation. If you've called -- Daniel, Saar, stay on the line -- we will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is (800) 433-8850. Has a manager ever tried successfully or not to soften the blow when giving you negative feedback? Tell us how it went. You can also go to our website, and ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:36

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross; author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." We're talking about feedback at work. Also with Satoris or 'Tori' Culbertson, who is a professor in the Department of Management at Kansas State University, where a study was conducted on performance reviews.

  • 13:44:59

    NNAMDIWe're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Howard, new alternatives are out there. What kinds of options are you seeing companies try that you think might catch on?

  • 13:45:10

    ROSSWell, I mean, there's really -- as I was just saying before the break, Kojo -- there's a systemic approach that people are taking that starting to -- that we're starting to find is having some real impact. One is to make people aware of the biases that are in the system. You know, we're doing a lot of work now with people, helping them understand unconscious biases, so that, if I go into a process, understanding that unconscious bias is something that's as inherent to human beings as breathing. It's always there.

  • 13:45:33

    ROSSTherefore, if I stop and take a moment to remember that when I go into the process, I'm much more likely to look at my bias and to pay attention to it -- to look about and review that. Another is to watch in -- watch where their bias in pattern-recognition responses. Is there a way that things happen around here, where somebody who is an outlier, who does things differently, is always evaluated negatively -- not because they're not performing or not because they don't have value, but because they're sort of the onion in the group, so to speak. They're the one who does things differently.

  • 13:46:05

    ROSSAnd that's important as well. And then another is to watch for any particular patterns of assessment among particular -- among different groups. So let's say, for example, that you or I are evaluating a team of 10 people. We've got 10 people reporting to us. We've got to do 10 performance reviews and five are men or five are women -- and five are women. And when I look at those evaluations after doing them, four of my top five scores go to the women. Then it should be a red flag for me to look and see, is there any, in this case pro-gender bias towards women, engaged in the process?

  • 13:46:38

    ROSSIt may not be. It may be, when I evaluate it, it all feels valid. But looking at the metrics and looking at them in patterns like that over time is really helpful. And so we look at some things before and after. And then the other is -- the standard that we're trying to move towards both in our own company and with the companies we're working with -- is much more of a conversational review rather than a calibrated review. So that it's not about giving people a report card where they get a four and a three and a five and a one; but more a conversation about how have things been going, what's been working, what hasn't been working, and what do you need going forward?

  • 13:47:12

    ROSSAnd, as Tori was saying, very importantly, a two-way conversation where the employee can also say, here's what's been working for me and here's what I need in order to be successful.

  • 13:47:21

    NNAMDIWhich brings us to Saar in Washington D.C. Saar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:26

    SAAROh, yes. Kojo, thank you for the opportunity. I have a question about what would be the result if the employees work in a different department, all of them, that's Basil (unintelligible) they all sit in the same room and evaluate each other? How much (unintelligible) ?

  • 13:47:44

    NNAMDIWe're talking about another kind of review that's increasing in popularity, the so-called 360 review. Howard Ross and Tori.

  • 13:47:53

    ROSSYeah, well I would say that the peer reviews or 360 reviews could be very valuable. Now, we generally encourage people to do 360 processes outside of salaries or performance reviews, but more as just general feedback processes. In what you're calling 360 reviews or we call sometimes multi-rater assessments, what you do is you give an assessment to -- one to your boss, some to your peers and some to the people who report to you. So you get it from all different directions. And then you also rate yourself. And you look at those comparisons.

  • 13:48:19

    ROSSAnd those can be enormously valuable from a coaching standpoint, in that you can see not only how am I doing, but also is there a particular way somebody's managing. So, for example, if a supervisor gets very high ratings from their boss but very poor ratings from the people who report to them, we sometimes call that the Eddie Haskell effect. If you remember the old "Leave It to Beaver" program, Eddie Haskell was the friend who was always sucking up to the mother and the father, you know, but treated the kid brother, you know, poorly.

  • 13:48:47

    ROSSSo you have people who do that -- they manage up. And then you have the opposite, people who are loved by their employees but their boss doesn't like them so -- or doesn't evaluate them so highly. So 360s is one way and peer review is another way to get input from peers. We just always have to be careful that peers are also impacted by the same bias systems that anybody else is and there can be cliques within the organization. There can be personality challenges there. And there can also be sort of sibling rivalry -- that if I give you a lower evaluation, then mine looks better.

  • 13:49:20

    ROSSSo all of these things are fraught with these dynamics. But some combination of all of them and getting input is really helpful. There's no question that getting input from a lot of people is better than getting input from only a few.

  • 13:49:33


  • 13:49:35

    CULBERTSONSo I would add a couple things here. And one is the importance of anonymity in some cases. So I absolutely agree that we want to use them for developmental purposes as opposed to -- for promotions and such. Especially when you're thinking about peers might be trying for the exact same jobs as other people. So you kind of amplify those biases and almost make them intentional oftentimes. Oftentimes, when I see 360s used and I think it's a good best practice, is unless you can keep it somewhat anonymous, unless you're talking supervisor, I think supervisors should always own-up to their feedback.

  • 13:50:09

    CULBERTSONBut when you have peers or you have subordinates or you have customers, you oftentimes want to say, if we don't have more than five people, we're going to lump them in with another category, just so that you get honest feedback. And the last thing is really telling people to keep their feedback job relevant. I've seen one too many evaluations from a 360 perspective where people start going off track and start getting into things that are absolutely unrelated to the workplace. And I often see that as being really problematic.

  • 13:50:39

    NNAMDISpeaking of 360s, that's what Marlene in Rockville, Md. wants to talk about. Marlene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Marlene, are you there? I think we may have lost...

  • 13:50:52

    MARLENEOh, I'm here.

  • 13:50:52

    NNAMDI...oh, there you are.

  • 13:50:53

    MARLENEOkay. Hi. Yeah, I also want to talk about 360. I worked in an agency where morale was very low. And, finally, we had an employee workgroup and we recommended having a 360 evaluation of supervisors. And it was carried out by an independent consultant. And it was obvious who were -- the supervisors who were well thought of and the ones who were not, because their employees -- they had high turnover. But, unfortunately, nothing happened. You know, it was done. The results showed what we were saying. But nothing happened, so morale didn't improve.

  • 13:51:26

    ROSSWell, I think Marlene's pointing to something that's true of any process. We say this all the time when people come in sometimes and they'll call us in and they'll say, will you do a cultural assessment about an organization. How are things going around here? And our question is always: What are you planning on doing with it? Because there's nothing worse than doing an assessment -- whether it's an individual assessment like Marlene's talking about or a group assessment -- getting all this information for people and then having nothing come from it.

  • 13:51:51

    ROSSAnd what it does is it feeds cynicism in the organization. And oftentimes that happens because leadership gets the information and they haven't even thought past: What are we going to do when we get it? And it's short-term rather than long-term thinking.

  • 13:52:06

    NNAMDIDaniel in Arlington, Va., wants to talk about a form of employee performance review that we hadn't thought of in this discussion so far. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:17

    DANIELHi, Kojo. How are you today?

  • 13:52:18

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 13:52:20

    DANIELGood. Well, this will either make you chuckle or bring you to tears. But...

  • 13:52:23

    NNAMDIBoth, I think.

  • 13:52:26

    DANIEL...I'm from the hospitality industry, by background. And one thing that has become a growing part of the review process for managers is -- I guess, you could think of it in a sense as a peer review, but is actually Yelp reviews and sort of outside blogs. And basically any individual or anonymous review website that's used as a means -- that names an individual employee. And I've actually seen it used as a means of termination in one restaurant that's actually relatively popular in D.C. right now. And I actually...

  • 13:53:03

    NNAMDISo, in other words, if I visit the restaurant and then I get on Yelp and I say that a particular waiter who I name...

  • 13:53:11


  • 13:53:11

    NNAMDI...did not serve me according to my satisfaction...

  • 13:53:15

    DANIELYou could very easily be a nail in their coffin. Yeah, absolutely. It can result in that. And it isn't written in -- I haven't seen it yet in any employment contract, though I have worked at a couple hotels in the Georgetown area where I have seen them used in conjunction with employee reviews as a means of either reprimand or termination or suspension. So it's definitely becoming a bigger and bigger part of the feedback cycle for how restaurants actually maintain their employees.

  • 13:53:44

    DANIELWhich I think is actually pretty terrible when you consider the fact that a lot of people -- well, no one who's using Yelp as a review is working in that restaurant or sees what the day-to-day of a restaurant could be, even if they're in the industry, it differs on a case-by-case basis.

  • 13:54:01

    NNAMDII don't know. That's a real difficult one that I'd like to hear both Howard and Tori weigh-in on. Because if I have a neighbor against whom I have a grievance and I happen to know that that neighbor serves in a restaurant someplace, I could wreak havoc on that neighbor on Yelp.

  • 13:54:15

    ROSSI actually, anecdotally, was told by somebody that that somebody had had a circumstance like that -- exactly what you're describing -- with an ex-wife, Kojo. That an ex-wife had asked some friends to put in some negative stuff about her ex-husband. And, you know, the challenge with all of this stuff -- because there are so many challenges with that, it's almost hard to start. Tori, I'm sure you have some yourself to add to this.

  • 13:54:36

    ROSSBut just a couple that come to mind is, first of all, negative comments like that are so much more frequent than positive comments that they're always going to occur out of balance at seven, eight, nine to one, depending on which study you show, that people are more likely to complain than they are to give positive comments. Secondly, people with big personalities are likely to be seen as offensive more, even if they're also seen as much more positive.

  • 13:54:59

    ROSSSo, if you've got a waiter who's a really big personality, for example, in a restaurant, you may have eight or nine people who come back for that waiter, but one who feels like they're a little intrusive and therefore says something negative about them. And then, thirdly, as I said before, it could be influenced by so many different biases. I'll stop so Tori has some time.

  • 13:55:15

    NNAMDITori, the anonymous employee review.

  • 13:55:17

    CULBERTSONI would say, use with caution and maybe for additional -- obviously -- but maybe for additional information when needed. But certainly not as a sole nail in a coffin. Too many opportunities for fake feedback on either end; right? So we get -- we hear about organizations going in and writing their own comments in favorable ways. We have similar things within academia with trying to use Rate My Professor ratings for evaluations of faculty members. And it's never going to be received well. It should be an additional piece of information.

  • 13:55:51

    ROSSIt could also be, Kojo, if I could throw one thing in...

  • 13:55:53


  • 13:55:53 can also be a pointer. So if, you know, you look at a Rate My Professor thing -- and that is a great example, Tori, of the similar kind of thing -- if you see that there are a whole lot of students who are complaining about their professor, let's check it out. Let's go in and observe the professor a little bit. Let's find out if there's something here. Or is this just a couple of disgruntled employee -- students, in that case, the same is true. You know, so it should be a red flag to look at, but to turn it into something that immediately becomes a fire or hire situation is, I think, a real mistake.

  • 13:56:22

    NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. But here, now, is Steve in Rockville, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:56:28

    STEVEHi, Kojo. Quick question. Howard, you've had some great insights in the past on the show, so that's why I tuned in.

  • 13:56:36

    ROSSThanks, Steve.

  • 13:56:36

    STEVEMy question -- yeah -- my question has to do with, how can you address the need for more civil treatment of fellow employees through performance standards as opposed to simply measuring whether there's bias or not? Do you have any techniques for building in respect, dignified...

  • 13:56:56

    NNAMDII really liked the part about the conversational aspect that you talked about, Howard.

  • 13:56:59


  • 13:56:59

    NNAMDIBecause that's where you can make those kinds of observations.

  • 13:57:02

    ROSSOkay. Let me be really quick about this, Steve, because we're almost out of time. Clear -- first of all, creating a relationship with the employee up front that says, you know, we're here in this together. We have a partnership to have you be successful. That's what our intention is, to have you be successful. Secondly, to make it clear what success looks like. Third, to have regular check-ins. The earlier the better and the more often, earlier. So that as the employee gets into their job, they're getting a sense of what's expected.

  • 13:57:28

    ROSSFourth, to watch your own personal biases and then also watch how this particular employee's style may match up with what you're used to. And then to ask the question, when it's different from what you're used to, is that additive to the system? And then, finally, to have honest preparatory conversations, if you see the employee struggling, to let them know you really want them to be successful, but they are in trouble. Here are the things they really need to work on and how can you get them the coaching and support.

  • 13:57:53

    NNAMDIStop yelling at your colleagues. Howard Ross is a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross, author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." Howard, thank you so much.

  • 13:58:04

    ROSSThanks, Kojo. Great to be here.

  • 13:58:06

    NNAMDISatoris or Tori Culbertson is a professor in the Department of Management at Kansas State University. Tori Culbertson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:13

    CULBERTSONThank you for having me.

  • 13:58:14

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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