There is a common refrain in board rooms across the world: the cost and effort invested in performance review systems is not paying off. Time-consuming and onerous, current performance review processes are failing to improve efficiencies, grow the top line or empower employees to perform better and take more responsibility for their own development.

The bottom line is that review systems are not cutting it. The annual, or bi-annual ritual, is hated by both managers and employees. The form-filling and meetings breed resentment and are only adhered to because it is company policy and everyone, from the CEO down, does not  question the efficacy of the process.

Performance reviews have become the sacred cows of corporate life. After all, they are seen as key to improving efficiencies, increasing productivity and growing top line, all no brainers for any corporate. They are also meant to enable companies to retain and develop their best people.

The crisp question is:

Why are conventional review systems not working?

The answer is quite simple: conventional reviews focus on what goes into the process rather than what should come out of it. 

The emphasis in conventional systems is about form, rather than content or outcome. Documents have been developed to ensure that every eventuality is covered. The result is bureaucratic and boring. The process focuses on a “tick sheet” that covers most bases, but delivers very little outcome. It does not apply the 20/80 principle to focus on priorities and key outcomes.  

The missing elements are firstly that the system has degenerated into a process devoid of any meaningful content, and secondly that the “tick lists” are invariably missing specific efficiency improvements, or business generating activities. 

There is a solution to this problem.  It involves a two-pronged approach: changing the character of the conversation, and asking three “Acid Test” questions that measure the outcome.  

To achieve the best outcome, there are just three “Acid Test” questions that need to be discussed. They are:

  • What are your priorities and goals for the next 6 months? What are you focusing on? The point of this question is to clarify their role and KPI`s for the next performance period.   (A year or 6 months)
  • How are things going?   What is going well in terms of achievements?  And what is not going as well as it should?  Here the idea is to find out what the person believes is working well and areas in which improvements can be made. When you find the perfect world in which all is “hunky dory” with no requirement to improve, or take to the next level, please contact me immediately. You have discovered the perfect world of work!   I have been searching for an awfully long time!  It does not exist. The point is, do not bluff yourself or your Company. There will always be issues that can be improved or taken to a new level.
  • So what are you doing to improve certain things?  Or developing yourself to optimize your capabilities?   


A meaningful discussion around these three questions should take no more than 30 minutes. Try them on your team, or conduct an informal one-on-one with an employee. Then ask yourself the questions:  is there clarity on both sides about what is expected? Will this lead to improved efficiencies and productivity? And will the individual take responsibility for their own growth and development? 

A few short points about process:  

  • There is no substitute for simplification.  All the above should be summarized on One Page. Ensure that individual goals and targets focus on improved efficiencies and/or generating revenue or improving productivity.


  • This honed-down and focused “One Pager” model has proved highly successful in companies ranging across all levels. It works and proves that performance management can be transformed, for the benefit of both employees and the company.


In conclusion and most importantly:  The informal on–going,  day to day coaching and management should prevail, during the normal rhythm of the day, the week and the month.  When informal day to day coaching and management occurs naturally, the need for more “formal” Performance Reviews becomes less important.   


Tim Southey is a specialist in Performance Management

[Short bio: has 30 years’ experience in blue chip companies in South Africa and overseas and is a former Manager of the South African National Cricket Team. He has combined his insights to develop practical Performance Management solutions for the worlds of business and sport. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or 083 259 1726


July 2016