Last year, General Electric announced that it was ending the annual performance review. If there was anything that might have sent more shock waves through large corporations and their Human Resources, I can’t imagine it. Annual performance reviews were a staple –perhaps the staple – of my entire career across three different Fortune 500 corporations and one public school district.
The official reasons given by GE and other companies (GE wasn’t the first but it was the most notable) were that today’s workforce was different, coaching and mentoring were more important, and annual reviews were no longer necessary in our wired 24/7 world.
I hate to be the one to break it to these companies, but annual reviews were never necessary. Not even in the highly structured old days. I sat through enough annual performance discussions to know that few if any managers knew how to conduct them. Of the 23 supervisors I had in my working career, only one knew how to give them and use them properly.
Work constantly changed. Goals and priorities constantly changed. Employees and their supervisors generally knew who was doing work really well, and who wasn’t. And when politics entered the equation, as it invariably did, the annual review process (and its handmaiden of forced performance ranking) served more to keep the workplace and work team in upheaval and discord.
While it unlikely to have ever happened, what my workplaces needed was a better understanding of performance – what it is and isn’t. It might have also been helpful if they had had a general understanding of grace.
Christians know the difference between performance and grace. Performance is what we do; grace is what we receive, when we do nothing to deserve it. Nothing we do, in fact, merits the grace of God. Performance and grace are contradictions of each other. Too often, we mistake service for performance. If we perform well, then God’s blessing should follow.
God’s blessing is independent of anything we do, or can do. Yet we never seem to stop performing. Why? “It is because we do believe,” said the late author and theologian Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, “that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditioned upon our spiritual performance.” He suggests that the idea that blessing depends on performance is a cultural concept.
It is cultural, and even the culture does it badly. For Christians, emphasis upon performance doesn’t just smack of legalism, it is legalism.
“Regardless of our performance,” Bridges says, “we are always dependent on God’s grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath.”
Who deserves His wrath?
And who receives his grace, regardless of what we do to earn it?
I don’t miss performance reviews. May they die and rest in peace.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. Consider joining with us. To see others’ posts, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact. (Four years ago, I participated in a discussion on this book led by Tim Challies, but it's good to read it and discuss it again.)
Jerry Bridges’s Seven Standout Spiritual Lessons – Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.
Top photograph by Jean Beaufort via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.