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Anderson professor Samuel Culbert attacks a common workplace event in his new book, ‘Get Rid of the Performance Review!’

By Suzy Strutner

April 19, 2010 10:16 p.m.

For 25 years, Samuel Culbert has battled a single enemy: the corporate performance review.

His weapons include classroom rants, full-page articles and, as of now, a book.

Culbert, a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, recently released his seventh book, “Get Rid of the Performance Review!”

The piece exposes the negative side effects of performance reviews, in which bosses annually evaluate employees’ past work while hunting for flaws. Culbert proposes the installment of a performance preview in their place.

“The performance preview puts the focus back on what’s good for the company,” said Culbert. “The focus won’t be on the boss’s personality anymore.”

Culbert said his preview forces bosses to take responsibility for the actions of their employees by igniting worker-to-boss conversations before critical workplace errors are made. These preview chats would occur more frequently and would involve less hierarchic attitudes than the human resources-imposed review system currently operating in most corporations.

Lawrence Rout, an editor at the Wall Street Journal and Culbert’s co-author, said performance reviews are essentially monologues that allow bosses to manage by intimidation, nit-pick their subordinates’ faults, and adhere to subjective criteria.

“Reviews put bosses and workers at odds; nobody likes giving or receiving them,” Rout said. “The preview has bosses asking, “˜What can I do to help you, the employee, perform better?'”

Having consulted dozens of organizations and despised reviews for decades, Culbert said he hopes his theories will inspire more overhauls of workplace dynamics via upcoming reports by the New York Times and The Associated Press.

Culbert also appeared on Canadian television last week, and he recorded an audio version of his book that, as he claimed with a chuckle, has the potential to leave audiences asleep after a mere three of its 11 hours.

Even after tapings, appearances and multiple interviews with big-name newspapers regarding his work, Culbert’s ultimate publicity dream involves something a little less standard.

“I’d love to go on the Daily Show and give Jon Stewart a performance review,” Culbert said. “I’d tell him his peer reviews have been going down because everybody knows he doesn’t wear trousers behind that desk.”

Reza Kaviani, a former MBA student who evaluated Culbert’s drafts, said he’s been converted to the preview process’s ideology as well.

“With the preview, there’s no more corrupt politics going on to try and please the boss,” Kaviani said, adding that teamwork between employers and subordinates is of peak value in the corporate realm.

Culbert said handfuls of companies have already forged these boss-worker partnerships and have reported sentiments of liberation and decreased intimidation.

A management professor in his spare time, Culbert conjured the performance preview concept after decades of consulting, where he noted the negative interpersonal dynamics set in motion by the review system.

A concern for relationships is apparent in his life beyond the office door, too.

Culbert, who claims he and Rout functioned well together because of their “quirky senses of humor,” treasures time spent with his grandchildren at his home in Malibu.

An avid “cheater at golf,” Culbert is also “so in love” and savors venturing to theater performances alongside his wife Rosella.

As for future publications, Culbert is currently brainstorming with a former student for another book about business leadership and the political entities in the workplace.

According to Culbert, one such pestering political entity is the infamous human resources department, a squad that feigns friendship with employees before wrathfully and unjustly imposing performance reviews upon them.

“We have this old joke,” Culbert said. “How many H.R. people does it take to change a light bulb?”

He paused to let a smug smile twist his lips at the edges, and his eyes lit up after a rapid blink. “We don’t know, but we’d love to be at the meeting.”

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Suzy Strutner
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