The Purpose Review

The ineffectual nature of the traditional performance review process seems to be a never ending storyline as evidenced in the 2008 Wall Street Journal article, “Get rid of the performance review!”. Discussions on how to skillfully facilitate a meaningful dialogue with actionable content persists with few notable changes. I would advocate that we consider a complete process overhaul and begin with addressing the ongoing challenges of the traditional performance review model.

Performance review challenges:

  • We know that limiting feedback to infrequent and quick interactions does not offer a team member the necessary insights to adjust their engagement or productivity levels.
  • Some supervisors do not possess the necessary training to help them comfortably and skillfully facilitate a performance conversation.
  • Supervisors lack necessary Socratic communication skills.
  • At times, performance reviews have been looked upon as a time consuming task with limited return on investment. When viewed in this way, the experience can create emotional unease and resentment on the part of the supervisor and team member as they slog through the process.
  • Organizations often do not commit the necessary resources to train supervisors on facilitating these important conversations.
  • Performance reviews take time and are rarely funded.
  • Performance feedback is weighted in the direction of reviewing skill and competency instead of discussing the necessary emotional and environmental considerations that support positive outcome.
  • All results oriented feedback should be discussed in the moment so that appropriate adjustments can be made by the team member and the organization.
  • If a team member is hearing that they are failing in a performance review, the failing should be viewed as the responsibility of the leader or supervisor, not the team member.
  • A team member falling short should not be viewed as failure. It should be acknowledged as a valued opportunity to adapt and improve.
  • Performance reviews are often redundant and cumbersome.
  • The information exchanged in performance reviews rarely addresses the team member’s need to be seen and heard, establish safety and security, develop relationships, and to be engaged in meaningful work; all of which support positive outcome

Organizational psychologists and neurologists have shown us that when a person receives “feedback”, they inherently respond with the predictable human emotions of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and apprehension. When we experience these emotions, our limbic system lights up and is fully activated limiting our capacity to be expressive, confident, understanding, and curious as we regress to our instinctive responses of flight, fight, or freeze. In order to help our team members move past this instinctive response when receiving feedback, we need to establish trust and a safe, positive working environment where both parties can comfortably connect. Additionally, we should challenge our assumptions that “offering feedback” works in any environment and instead move towards alternate methods of offering guidance to our team members.

Recently, I was challenged with the idea that millennials further compound the performance review quandary as they “differ” from previous generations and are even less likely to be engaged with their work. I dove head first into that conversation and as an unexpected result, I recognized that millennials have actually told us EXACTLY what our traditional review process has been lacking all along. I must say, it was such a nice change to explore this new generation of workers as powerful contributors instead of a problem to be solved. Let’s hear it for the millennials!


What we have learned from millennials:

  • Feedback and the exchange of information needs to be on-going. They want to know how they are doing and how they can improve in real time.
  • Opportunities for growth need to be made available and should not be solely focused on efficiency and job performance. Develop character and the person first.
  • Strengths need to be actively engaged.
  • Relationships keep us all grounded.
  • Millennials are seeking a sense of purpose – the most important consideration.

These insights lead us directly into the next iteration of the performance review process, The purpose review”. I am going to give you some framework which can be adapted to your organizational needs as we explore these concepts. We are currently examining methods of supporting the traditional pen and paper approach of a written purpose review in addition to a quick and easy online tool that creates an ongoing exchange between supervisor and team member. As information comes into the system, the results can be distilled into aggregate that allows for supervisors and executives to evaluate the engagement and happiness of their teams at any time. Real time information, supporting positive results.


In the Purpose Review we will focus on three very specific categories. (note, this replaces the traditional performance review model completely)

  • Team member purpose
  • Organizational purpose
  • Outcomes

Within each category, we will explore the following:

Team member purpose:

  • What gives you a sense of purpose? – Directly engaging purpose
  • Does your work engage your sense of purpose? – Connecting personal and professional purpose
  • How do you use and express your purpose? – Establishing expectations of collaboration and participation
  • How are you developing your purpose? – Growth is a cornerstone for positive organizational culture
  • Does purposeful work result in meaningful work? – Can we connect the reason why we do what we do to something greater than ourselves

Organizational purpose:

  • What is the purpose of our organization? – Connecting our purpose to the mission of our organizations
  • How does your personal purpose align with the purpose of our organization? – We want our team members to be selective and work with a company that supports who they are. We also want the team member to feel comfortable that we may fall in and out of alignment with one another. When that happens, no need to panic, it’s just another opportunity to improve.
  • Do your professional relationships support our shared sense of purpose? – Strong relationships keep us grounded and engaged
  • Who are you teaching? – Teaching and helping others builds self efficacy and resilience


  • Does your work positively impact our customers and our community? – The work we do should be clearly seen as doing something good for others
  • Do you actively seek opportunities to help others? – Normalizing help seeking develops relationships and trust building
  • How do you determine if your individual and team contributions are successful? – Supports performance alignment, collaboration, and goal setting
  • What current obstacles or challenges are we learning from? – We should be operating with a growth mindset and learning when things don’t work out as planned
  • What does it look and feel like when we are at our best? – Listen carefully

So far, our pilot programs have been met with enthusiasm from both sides of the table. We are seeing more collaboration, more questions being asked by team members, more creativity, more autonomy being offered and utilized, and happier teams. When evaluating future results, we will connect the process to sales, retention, and profitability metrics as appropriate.

I believe that with a bit more refinement, we can look back at the performance review conundrum as a powerful learning opportunity of the past. In working through this challenge, we can be better connected to our most precious and valuable resource, our team members. With determination and resilience, we are moving towards more meaningful work with a strengthened sense of purpose.

Lead on my friends, lead on!

One comment

  1. […] Source: The Purpose Review […]


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