I received my annual performance review the other day. It was pretty much exactly what I’d anticipated. The experience around receiving the review, however, caused me to realize that some companies or individuals within companies use reviews quite inappropriately.
- Lie#1: The Document Reflects the Individual’s Contributions– An annual review does contain a good amount of content on the employee being reviewed (provided the company has bothered with extensive training around performance management in the first place). However, there are other forces at play inside the document: for instance, if you are a resource leader and you have seven employees, you cannot give them all ratings of Outstanding. First, there’s a doubt they all rate the same. Second, your HR department or budgeting group will stress immediately that there’s a bell curve to rating.
- Lie#2: The Rating System is Objective– The rating system is what calibrates the final pay raise, so one cannot rate an employee Outstanding and then give them pay commenserate with the company’s Fully Proficient salary percentage. Therefore, supervisors must tailor (doctor) the review ratings for all the various components and competencies such that they align with the end number the company is willing to pay.
- Lie#3: The Employee Will be Motivated by the Review– The review is a financial document married to a record that attempts to depict your experiences over a previous year. It is useful for auditing, helpful in building a case as to whether to fire you, and occasionally a conversation starter for supervisors to attempt and move an employee towards better performance. But, don’t assume that the contents of the review document are directly responsible for motivation in any but the weakest of minds.
- Lie#4: The Review is About the Employee– Unless your boss has only one employee, the review is really about the team, the boss, the way the company needs things to line up. It’s useful in some abstract ways, some statistical ways, but even then, all the words that fill up the pages aren’t what anyone besides you, your supervisor, and your HR manager ever see. The leadership sees a number and needs that number to calculate expenses and tweak strategies. The review is about the company.
- Lie#5: The Employee Should Fight Hard About the Review– Here’s a tricky one. If the review isn’t really that meaningful, and if the review basically gives you only a number for a raise, and/or potentially a bonus pay-out percentage, then it becomes important to understand the difference in cost between one rating and another. If you’re rated “fully proficient,” and that merits 3%, and the next step up, “consistently exceeds” is 3.5%, you have to ask yourself whether that .5 percent raise is worth the rest of the fighting.
- Lie#6: The Review Tells the Story– Again, an annual performance review is a budgeting tool more than anything else. If you and your supervisor aren’t in sync as to what you’re doing well and what needs improving, that’s the issue and not the review. This should not be a magical pilgrimage experience when you receive a review. Every word should be anticipated. If not, work harder on communication.
I should stress that I didn’t receive a bad review. I’m not even bitter about my review. My experience was more aligned with: “Well, nothing much happened this year so we can’t say much about you.” This was incredibly reasonable, and I got the review I expected related to the work conditions my team experienced.
What became fascinating to me, however, was that because my review was a notch lower than what I’m accustomed to, my supervisor and higher ups expected a fight. They both had long, thoughtful speeches queued up to explain their decisions. I, on the other hand, saw that the difference between my rating and the one above it was 0% difference in my salary, decided to smile politely, sign the form, and go back to work.
I came away with a feeling that seems important to consider:
Act like you don’t need the job.
Don’t be cocky, rude, mean, or flippant. But don’t act enthralled to the people who pay you. In my case, I’m passionate about the place where I work. I’ve had almost a decade of great experiences there. I practically have the tattoo. But that will never get in the way of me being who I am because of my own choices and decisions, not because I’m afraid to lose my job.
When things outside you own you, that becomes the problem.
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