Performance Review

The Performance Review Discussion

What follows is a fictional dialogue between a manager and one of his star employees regarding the employee’s upcoming Performance Appraisal. The manager wants to have a discussion in ten minutes and get the employee (Joe) just sign off on the PA so he can drop it off at HR. The employee is taking back thinking a more meaningful discussion would take place with him providing information. He is surprised because they discussed him providing documentation for his manager’s consideration in preparing the PA.

As the meeting progress, the manager, is caught off guard. Joe is showing a high degree of skepticism. Especially when he questions his manager’s ability to get him an additional 2% added to the 3% he’s schedule to get as a raise. A statement he makes just to appease Joe. Joe surprises him with information (he should have known) about a drop off in sales, budget reduction, possible salary freeze and layoffs. However, all people rated 2 and above will be considered for raises if there is significant justification. Meaning managers have to present very strong cases supporting rating their employees 2 or higher.

Manager: “Hey Joe, meet me in the conference room in ten minutes, it’s time for you performance appraisal. I need to get this up to HR this afternoon.”

Joe: “What?”

Manager: “Your PA, you know that thing we have to do twice a year? I figure it should take fifteen minutes or so, just need to check off a few things.”

Joe: “I well aware of what it is but I haven’t prepared anything yet, I mean after our last discussion I thought we would spend a bit more time going over things.”

Manager: “What’s to go over, you’re doing okay. Besides I’m rating you a 2, this is just to keep the folks up in HR happy, and they don’t read them anyhow. I’m happy with what you’re doing all you need to do is keep it up. Besides the 2 rating puts you in a good spot.”

Joe: “Oh Okay, see you in ten.”

Ten minutes later Joe and his manager are in the conference room as we peek in and listen.

Manager: “Yeah that was a good time we had at the game. Well, here sign on the bottom line and I can pop up to HR and drop this off.”

Joe: “I thought we were going to discuss this. We spent the entire time talking about bar hopping on our business trips. I mean it was good and all, but what about my performance?”

Manager: “What about it, I told you earlier, just keep doing what you’re doing and things will be fine. After you’re getting a 2 rating and that puts you in with the rest of the 2′s. It makes you safe.”

Joe: “Yeah I get that, but what about my chances of advancement or the opportunity to take on new assignments? I thought these things were an opportunity to discuss goals, my goals. Along with areas that I would like to grow my skills in. Isn’t that part of this process, at least that’s what you said on our last PA discussion?”

Manager: “Listen Joe, you’re taking this PA thing too seriously. You know how things work around here. If we did what you were asking then I would have to set up measurements, and discuss them with you and all that kind of stuff. That’s not important. What’s important is you do what I ask. Get it done when I ask. Besides, no one really reads what we write in these PA’s. So take the 2 rating and I’ll see if I can get you another 2% added to the 3% you’re getting with this review. You know a 5% hit is a good raise considering how tight budgets are. You know how tough it can be to get more than the planned increased, but, I think I can get that additional 2%.”

Joe: “Really? With budgets the way they are, and the top brass calling for more cuts, you’re telling me you can get me another 2? Is that the same 2% you were going to get me the last PA cycle?”

Manager: “Aw Joe, come on, you know we had a 10% cut to all salary plans at the last-minute. Nothing we could do about that. But it’s different this year, so it should be a lock.”

Joe: “You haven’t heard. Sales for this quarter are off by 10%. The top brass is calling for a major budget reduction including all salary plans. There is even talk about layoffs.”

Manager: “What are talking about, I didn’t hear about that. Where are you getting your information from?”

Joe: “I have my sources. So if I had to guess not only won’t I be getting a 5% raise. It looks like with the cuts top brass are talking about there will be an overall salary freeze meaning no raises except for those who are in line to receive a 2 rating. So, since you’re going to give me a 2 rating it would seem that I should be in the running. But there is a catch, all 2 ratings require a lot more documentation than what you have, and the reviews have to be in at the close of business today. So what are you going to do, you know I’m one of your key performers, but this PA isn’t going to cut upstairs in HR. Trust me on this my sources are sound.”

Manager: Stunned silence, sprinkled with looks of utter disbelief and confusion.


The Performance Review Must Die Part 1

Professor Culbert author of Get Rid of The Performance Review, wrote; “It is time to finally put the performance review out of its misery.” I could not agree more.

What we call a performance review or performance appraisal (note, I will use both of these terms interchangeably) is quickly becoming a relic. The performance review a procedure no longer useful in the assessment of team or individual performance. However, like the bureaucracy that gave it birth, it manages to hang on to life despite numerous attempts to eliminate it, or replace it with something that is more representative of actual individual and team accomplishments.

You are probably thinking I am bitter due to receiving less than stellar performance reviews. I always received outstanding reviews but, I also knew much of the time they were not always an accurate representation of what I had – or didn’t – accomplish for the timeframe of the review. Like any employee, I wanted due recognition for my contribution and accomplishments. However, I also knew they did not cover everything not to mention the time when I discovered verbiage describing a project I worked on a year prior that hand nothing to do with the current review cycle. It was the start of my realizing this process was a useless and formulaic process just to satisfy HR requirements. My confirmation came when I noticed an increase in my weekly salary.

There is an unwritten rule never let the money precede the review. To do so meant you violated the Wizard of Oz principle around giving out raises. Employees are supposed to think their annual performance review is necessary for them to receive an increase in pay. It is leverage over their employees. It is the smoke and mirrors trick that a good appraisal equals good raise. Maybe in a small company of less than 100 employees. However, once you get into the corporate arena, it is not about performance as one is lead to believe. It became apparent to me when my last manager broke this rule. Here is what happened.

It was that time of year when was do for my annual performance review. When I picked up my pay stub and opened it, I noticed an increase. I did the calculation it amounted to a 5% pay increase. I quickly realized what happened. I received my raise without the formal review and discussion. As I proceeded to his office to discuss it with him, he saw me and notice I had my pay stub, and he waved me into his office and explained what happened.

You see he missed his deadline to get all his reviews into HR. So in favor of getting my increase into the current cycle, and feeling the review could come later. He pushed through the increase without the review promising HR he would meet with me before it showed up in my pay. His intent was to get my pay stub before I did and met with me to and let me know I was getting a raise, and we would meet later to discuss the review.

We had an awkward discussion, but it did not matter. You see the appraisal was not that significant, as we both knew what my accomplishments were, and I understood the folly of the review process having managed people before. We hand an understanding as long as kept him up to speed on what I was doing, with no surprises he would leave me to my own devices. Besides we met regularly to discuss progress, so we both knew what I was and wasn’t doing. The review was just the formal paperwork process HR needed to justify a salary increase. Culbert described it best when he said: “It is a pretentious, bogus practice that produces nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.” I agree with his statement that the review process is a bogus practice producing nothing. Let me explain.

The employee being reviewed comes to the session thinking he is there to discuss achievements for the evaluation period. They come to the meeting with a detailed list of what they did during the review cycle with a preconceived notion of receiving a rating of outstanding. They also believe part of the discussion will focus on their development so they have prepared several items they would like to go over in this area. The employee believes this meeting is about him and his contributions to the team and success to company bottom line, so, there is an expectation of receiving an increase for all his hard work.

The manager responsible for conducting the evaluation session comes not to praise the employee but to exert and ensure his dominance over the employee. He does not intend to discuss the employee’s accomplishments. Any discussion on the part of the employee about accomplishments is short-circuited with, “here is how I think you did. Followed by “here is how you need to fix it, and this is what I want you to do next.” This does not lead to any meaningful rapport between manager and subordinate around accomplishments. It quickly degenerates into a process of the manager controlling the conversation and conveying the message he is the determinant factor of the employee’s rating and any increase they might receive. So that carefully crafted list of accomplishments; it falls by the wayside. Also and hope of discussing developmental needs is tossed aside because the manager told you what you to correct and how to do it, so why would you need any development?

Recall what Culbert called it, “a pretentious, bogus practice” an accurate description of the process. He also stated it produces nothing. That is not entirely right. It creates angry and disillusion employees. It generates managers who are inefficient and detrimental to the company. Disillusion employees incompetent managers will result in poor customer service, crappy products, and completely no accountability all because of the company’s inadequate performance appraisal process.

The bogus practice around the appraisal process is that management has not incentive to improve the process. They are very comfortable with the way their ill-equip manager are handling the entire process. If they were not, then they would handle it in an entirely different way. I am not saying all companies are blind to the failed process of providing meaningful employee reviews. Many have adopted a 360-degree process believing this will provide a more accurate rendering of a person performance because the information is coming from multiple sources. Unfortunately, this process also is corrupted. It, usually, happens when any of the following occurs as pointed out in a Forbes article entitled: The 7 Reasons Why 360-Degree Programs Fail

  1. The boss does not get involve discounting the program
  2. The 360 questions are too vague
  3. Personal comment or vague comments are made rather than constructive comments
  4. No plan set for receiving the feedback
  5. No follow-up post 360 plan if one does happen it only happens once
  6. Lack of confidentially
  7. Focusing on the weaknesses and forgetting about the strengths

The interesting thing about this list it is everything that is wrong with non-360-degree review processes. So replacing one system with another that suffers from the same problems as the system already in place is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results that is the definition of insanity. For those who say they have a 360-degree review system that is working fine, go back and check better yet read the following article by Harriet Edleson: Do 360 evaluations work?

It is past time to get rid of the performance review. However, it is not that easy especially in large companies. There is a workaround, but that comes in part two.

© Timothy A. Wilson All Rights Reserved

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