Performance reviews – do they still have a place?

Is there any dirtier word in HR than performance reviews? Whether you love them or hate them, they always seem to be viewed with a degree of distrust and apprehension.

Over the last year we’ve looked at all the different parts of a traditional HR landscape and thought about what they mean to us here at Ento. This has enabled us to build systems and processes that are tailored for us and reflect our culture and values.

Throughout this the topic of performance reviews loomed large.

To start with, we weren’t even sure we needed them. After all, the research documenting the failings of traditional performance reviews is ubiquitous and, as a result, there has been a wholesale shift away from traditional models by organisations both large and small (the Harvard Business Review summarises the problems here).

Understanding the problem

We started where we often do at Ento, we asked our people what they thought during a 1:1 cycle. We asked them whether they liked reviews and why/why not. If they thought they were necessary, and, if so, how often should they be conducted. We asked what they felt a performance review should be about, what they’ve seen done well in other businesses and where they’ve seen it all fall apart.

There were some strong themes that came through in the answers from the team. The majority liked and wanted reviews – this was a surprise. However, most had never had regular reviews and those that had, had never seen them done well or in a manner that helped them and their careers in any great way.

What was interesting was the reasons why the team felt reviews were necessary:

  • Create a formal opportunity to get feedback so learning and skills can progress.
  • Chance to discuss career opportunities.
  • Opportunity to set clear goals and get feedback on how they are progressing.
  • Get feedback on areas they could be focusing on and upskilling in.
  • Understand how personal goals can tie into company goals.
  • Chance to provide feedback on how their manager is performing.

If I was to simplify the teams feedback down to just one statement it would be “it’s not about Ento, it’s about us”. They don’t want to spend their reviews talking about KPI’s and they definitely don’t want to be compared to their colleagues. They want to be viewed as the individuals they are and they want the review process to reflect this.

We already manage performance on a daily basis – as we should, good performance management is proactive and consists of live, actionable feedback. So we have structures in place to support ongoing performance management when it’s required. Why rehash the same things again in a performance review?

Creating a solution for Ento

The solution we’ve landed on is to shift the focus from performance to development.

We’ve designed a review process that asks each team member to work through exercises asking them to consider their motivators, opportunities to improve in their current role and what their goals are (be that in life, at Ento, or in their career – whatever makes sense for an individual). The final step is spending time with their manager, discussing and identifying a couple of objectives to work on over the next quarter that will move them closer to reaching their goals.

We hope that development reviews will see everyone making steady meaningful progress toward their goals during their time at Ento. And we’ll continue to iterate and improve on the process with every cycle as we learn what works well and what doesn’t.

We think that there are a few key points that set our development reviews apart from performance reviews:

  • Everyone owns their own objectives. We’ll happily enable them – providing training and support where relevant. Deciding to take action is entirely up to the individual.

  • It’s okay to not complete your objectives each quarter. It might slow progression toward goals but life gets busy and everyone has to prioritise accordingly.

  • Potential career progression, salary increases or role changes are in no way impacted by development reviews. We want to encourage bold goal setting and not limit people to achievable goals so they look good at review time.

  • It’s always a data set of one. There is no comparison to anyone else, only to the progress each individual has made since their last development review.

At Ento we hold curiosity & intelligence in high regard and by putting the focus on our team’s development we will continue to build a culture of learning. We hope that by allowing our team to work on their own career and their own goals while at Ento, they’ll be more engaged, and actively contributing to our success.


I realise that in writing this post I’ve been rather vague about the detail of our process. Rather than swamp this one I’ll save the ‘how to’ for a future post… coming soon!

I’d love to hear how others are solving the performance reviews question and welcome your comments and questions on the solution we’ve landed on at Ento.

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