Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

Vol. 11 No. 2


As human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion. Nowhere is this truer than in organizations, especially regarding performance reviews. Here is a story from outside the world of education that may help us see a few truths pertinent to teacher evaluations within private-independent schools.

The Story

My friend asked me to read a copy of his recent performance review. Seeing his downcast demeanor, I expected to find a review filled with nasty comments or low ratings. What I read, though, was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he agreed glumly.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a ‘performance review’ class. She used several specific examples of your accomplishments, and she included feedback from your colleagues. She set new goals for next year, and even approved the professional development plan that you had proposed. All of that is spelled out right in the review.”

“I know,” he said still looking like Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh.

“So why the long face?” I asked.

He sighed and said, “She never talked to me once the whole year—not even to stop by for a minute to see how things were going.

And there it was—assessment without relationship—a morale killer, indeed.


My friend’s boss had done everything right in compiling the review except for one thing. Yes, performance reviews are designed to let both parties have a common understanding of how the employee performed during the year. Yes, evaluations are places for fine-tuning goals and providing professional development guidance for the future. But, they are also about building (and solidifying) relationships.

Ideally, a performance review is a summary of all of the coaching, mentoring, and “check-in” conversations that the employee and supervisor have had over the year. In that way, reviews reinforce the supervisor-employee relationship (and more broadly, the employee’s relationship with the organization). This supervisor got all of the facts right … but she missed the relationship part entirely.

All employees—teachers included—want to know that their bosses are paying attention to them more than just once a year at review time. We all need gentle reminders from time to time. Let’s work hard to get performance reviews right … and supervisory relationships, too. In this way, perhaps we can see the beauty in both the forest and the trees.

Additional ISM resources of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Business Managers Vol. 10 No. 5 Why Business Managers Need to Care About Teacher Evaluation
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 10 No.6 Design All of Your Employee Systems Around “Characteristics” (The Zappos Example)
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 10 No. 2 Rethinking Faculty Performance Evaluations
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 9 No. 4 New Year: A Time to Think About Performance Evaluations

Additional ISM resources of interest for Consortium Gold members
I&P Vol. 37 No. 2 A 21st Century Teacher Evaluation Model

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