Performance Reviews (bad)

It’s that time of year at my company when we meet with our respective bosses to discuss how well we did. Review time is probably the least fun time of the year, not because I am fearful of how I might do but, because it’s time to give my boss hell for our bad performance management system.

Our company has this standard form that was borrowed from some other companies inept performance management system (most companies I’ve worked for also had bad performance systems). This form has evaluation areas which don’t apply to our roles and some areas that nobody knows how to evaluate. We start by filling out a “self review” and then send it to our respective bosses for their comments and grading – a scale from “didn’t meet expectations” to “far exceeds expectations”.

According to the book The One Minute Entrepreneur there are 3 primary parts to an effective performance management system:

  1. Performance planning. This is where managers and their people get together to agree on goals and objectives to focus on.
  2. Day to day coaching. This is where managers help their people in anyway they can so they become successful.
    1. It doesn’t necessarily mean you meet up or talk about how things are going everyday. Instead managers should work to support their people, praising when things are going right and correcting when things go wrong. This is the stage where feedback happens – where real managing is done.
  3. Performance evaluation. This is where managers and their people sit down and examine performance over time; also called a performance review.

(Note: Both The One Minute Manager and The One Minute Entrepreneur are good books with simple messages: clear goals make managing far easier and better for everyone involved. )

At the beginning of the last few years my boss and I have attempted to do some performance planning. Then we get busy, lose sight of the planned goals and then the coaching either happens sporadically or never. This year will be the same. We’ll review each other’s comments and grades and I’ll have to “adjust” his misperceptions (if I get anything below far exceeds) or point out the fact he never communicated any other goal than what I achieved. I make it a point to debate and remove any area on the form that is too vague or subjective or nobody knows how to evaluate. I don’t like doing this but I think it’s the only fair approach.

Looking back at the past I should have done this more often. Most of the companies I’ve ever worked for do #1 occasionally and #3 every year but almost never do #2. Day to day coaching is the hardest but it provides the most value. My boss usually has a few areas where they think I could have done better to which my response is always, “why didn’t you say something earlier?” If they had I could have corrected my behavior and brought value to both of us sooner.

Some managers don’t tell their employees what is expected of them; they just leave things alone and mark them down when they don’t perform well. I would imagine some do this because they don’t know any better. Other do this to look good. They believe and/or fear ranking everyone at the highest level of the review scale will make it look like they can’t discriminate between poor and good performance. I’m grateful not to have a manager like that.

If there’s little planning and no coaching then what is the point of the review? Perhaps it’s worth skipping the review all together assuming a raise isn’t impacted by not having it. However I fear my future raises are tied to a poor / bad review system which is why I give my boss such a difficult time. He’s well aware of the problems with the system but he doesn’t do anything to fix it. I want to avoid believing in infallible systems, it’s broken so let’s fix it. Until then I just don’t have a choice except give my boss hell.

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Jamie Larson