Industry Trends

Nonstop Performance Reviews Sound Terrible

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
trust solutions

June 16, 2022

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Performance reviews

Of all the insufferable necessary evils in the working world, performance reviews have to be near the evilest. Most working people have a manager, and most managers either want or need to give these workers feedback on their work. Time was, managers hectored employees with feedback to get the best work out of them to improve the business. More recently, we’ve seen workers demand feedback proactively to improve their performance before getting hectored by managers. Also, more workers have been providing feedback on their managers (fka upward feedback) so bad, hectory managers aren’t walking around without accountability. It’s arguable we’re in peak performance review (which is really to say nadir performance review).

In my working life, I have not encountered anyone who enjoys this process. Performance reviews are usually couched in vague terms of work quality that people understand but are too subjective to actually be meaningful. Not to mention, in the United States, far too many people conflate their work quality with their identity. Any criticism, valid or not, is taken to be an attack on the worker’s personal character or worth. In turn, a bad review can have a significant negative impact on a person’s self-esteem. In some cases, this can lead to people working harder in an effort to make up for any perceived shortcomings, or to disengage from their jobs. 

In fairness, people don’t want to be bad at their jobs. They don’t want to make mistakes. Arguably, the best way for a worker to improve or stop making mistakes is to have another person talk to them about how they can improve or stop doing something wrong. Of course, since there are humans involved, the execution frequently gets bungled, badly in some cases. And, as I just mentioned, because people can take these things personally, there are lots of bad feelings. Plus, hearing how someone feels about your work, even if you don’t take it personally, is a lot to process. So while it’s a good idea to give people feedback on how they’re doing regularly, it’s probably also a good idea to not give them feedback too often. That can come off as micromanage-y, and that might be the working world’s most undesirable attribute. 

Which is why I think this is a terrible idea:

Coinbase is reportedly asking employees to rate each other after interactions as part of an app-based pilot program.

The cryptocurrency company has been piloting an app that collects employees’ evaluations of their colleagues, including their managers, after meetings and other interactions, The Information reported Monday, citing two people with direct knowledge.

Known as Dot Collector, the app was invented by Ray Dalio’s hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, and has been in use by Coinbase’s HR and IT teams since the first quarter of this year, according to The Information.

In the app, employees review how well their coworkers demonstrate 10 core values at Coinbase, including things like communication and “positive energy,” per The Information. They can share their input in the form of a thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral review.

Think of it as a corporate “Nosedive” or a workplace Social Credit System, whatever you like. And yes, creepy, but more like, just grossly unfair. Why would I emit positive energy in meetings? I don’t like meetings! Does that make me a bad person, a lousy co-worker? No, my friends, it does not. Not to mention that this perpetual feedback motion machine essentially means you can’t be human. Don’t show up to a meeting at Coinbase hangry or after walking a dozen city blocks with a rock in your shoe. Your co-workers will drop a thumbs down on your ass.

The point is, performance reviews need to acknowledge that people are messy, and they aren’t wired for ongoing scrutiny from people they have, at best, a professional relationship with. That said, if you want your workplace to be some Ray Dalio-inspired sociological experiment, then please go work at one of those places. My bet is you’ll be exhausted after the first week.

Trustiness as a service

As we’ve discussed, the accounting profession fancies itself the trustworthiest of business advisors, and last year, mega firm PwC decided it would be the trustiest of them all by teaching clients how to be trustworthy. I remain impressed by this feat of self-aggrandizement, but to be fair, there’s no shortage of clueless overconfidence in the business world right now:

PwC’s 2022 Consumer Intelligence Series Survey on Trust shows a jarring gap in trust between businesses and their customers and employees.

Almost nine in 10 (87%) business executives think consumers have a high level of trust in their business. But only 30% of consumers say they do. That said, the gap between how much businesses think their employees trust them and how much employees say they do is much narrower: 84% of business leaders say employee trust is high, compared to 69% of employees.

I suppose the challenge here is convincing your clients who believe they’re very trustworthy that they aren’t trustworthy. 

Trust Advisor: Your employees don’t trust you.

Business Executive: What makes you say that?

Trust Advisor: We did the research. Here, look.

Business Executive: Well, only 31% of them don’t trust us.

Trust Advisor: Consumers trust you even less.

Business Executive: How do you know?

Trust Advisor: [points to the research]

Business Executive: Hmmmm. Well, 30% of consumers do trust us. That’s something.

Trust Advisor: We can advise you on being more trustworthy.

Business Executive: Oh, I get it. You’re pitching me. Sure, sure. No one trusts us. Got it. You can still prepare our tax return, right?

Maybe accountants should try teaching their clients self-awareness first? Then again, the profession is still working at being honest with itself.

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.


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