Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Vast Stupidity of the Performance Review

A Guest Post By Adam Piggott
We didn't have performance reviews when I was a whitewater rafting guide. Our performance was based upon whether we had managed to kill any of our customers or not. All of your passengers alive at the take-out point? Good performance review. Lost a couple along the way? Poor performance review.

But when I returned to Australia and I got a "real job" I was suddenly exposed to this strange modern employment ceremony. It hadn't been present back in the nineties when I had last had a real job but now it was a core feature of any company of even moderate size. The existence of the performance review goes hand in hand with a human resources department. The two are symbiotic in nature - one cannot exist without the other. Even though I have actively despised performance reviews since I first encountered them, it was only when I saw this tweet in an article at the Dark Triad Man that I really understood why these reviews are not just awful but also counterproductive.
I had a mentor/boss once who gave me a performance review. "You say what you mean and you mean what you say." That was it. Complete review. Took four seconds. He coupled it with the biggest raise he was able to give. I learned something that day.
Wouldn't you love to have a performance review like that? The reasons why this review is so good help to illustrate why performance reviews in general are so awful.

First of all we have the length of the review. All of the reviews that I ever sat through were of unbearable length. This was because the reviews were not about me, the employee. They were about whoever was my manager at the time, ie the one who was giving me my review. In their eyes, the longer they sat there droning on about rubbish that had next to nothing to do with me or my job, then the more interest they were apparently taking in my welfare as their minion. The performance review was their big chance to pretend to give a crap about me and my existence within their organization.
I soon learned that these reviews were most certainly not the place to bring up any real issues or grievances that I had. They were just for show and any deviation from that illusion was met with a severe decline in the attitude of the person who was giving the review. We were there to hear how wonderful they had been and how well they did their job as a manager.

Which leads me to my next point about the quoted review. The manager in question is so good precisely because he has clearly been doing his job of managing the employee for the entire year. He does not need the review to manage the employee. The review simply tops off all the work he has done throughout the year. It is the icing on the cake. When he states that his employee says what he means and means what he says what he is actually doing is demonstrating that he knows exactly what his employee has done, what he is capable of, and how much he values this particular employee. In other words he has actively managed his employee throughout the year. He does not require a performance review to manage this person due to the fact that it is a continual process which goes on all the time. He is interested in his employee's welfare and thus his true value to the department in which he works.

However, the vast majority of "managers" spend the bulk of their time playing political games and undermining underlings who might constitute even a fraction of a threat to them seeing as they never actually do their job. When these managers enter a performance review they are faced with the panic of having to engage with someone whom they probably know nothing about. Thus their only real option is to spend a great deal of time talking at length about themselves.

They do however, have a get out of jail free card. This is the ubiquitous form that employees are required to fill out before they enter the review itself. This form contains questions such as, 'what are your 5 big success for the year?' and 'where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?' The only reason that this form exists is to give the clueless manager some idea of who the hell is this person who is sitting across the other side of his desk. Whenever a manager is particularly out of his depth then a choice move is to get the twenty one year old HR ditz to sit in on the review so as to give him clues as to what he is supposed to say. As she herself is only privy to the information contained on the form then this can make for an entertaining spectacle, if you yourself are not so demoralized at understanding what her presence actually signifies. 

The final part of the quoted review is the raise. For the rest of us mere mortals this is of course hilarious. Not only is the topic of a raise never brought up, if you are so brave and foolish as to do so then you will be met with a wall of stony silence. In one case I actually had a manager inform me that he was not authorized to give raises. He didn't take kindly to my question as to why he was in the position of a manager if he lacked this basic power.

I have no advice for you as to how to negotiate the perils of a performance review so as to bring about a satisfactory conclusion. The obvious reason for this is that the review is based upon the capability of your immediate superior and if he is a clueless moron then your review will reflect as such. Perhaps some of you readers have brilliant advice as to how to turn the tables in such an encounter. If you do then I am all ears. Of course, I no longer work in a job that requires such a thing as a performance review. Perhaps that is the final answer on the subject.


Domestic Engineer said...

Performance reviews are horrible. I always held the view that when management said good things about me, they were lying; and when they said bad things about me, they just pissed me off, so the whole exercise was futile.

Our management liked to play a game where they would write your review, seal it in an envelope, and place it on your chair when you weren't looking. My response was to pick up the envelope, go to my bosses office and ask two questions: 1. Am I getting fired? A: No, why? 2. Am I getting a raise? A: Y/N

Either way, I would throw the unopened envelope in the trash in front of my boss, and comment, "Well, no sense in reading this, were're done until next year."

Un Americano said...


Those 4chan memes, though.

Anonymous said...

Raises, lol. You want a raise? You move companies. If you want to be the guy who stays somewhere for 6 years, then you can enjoy being the guy who sees his salary go from X to 1.2X (which has likely barely kept up with inflation), while the "job hoppers" as HR calls them see their wages skyrocket.

Dr. Dan said...

The last performance review I received was short and to the point. My manager told me "You should be my boss..." and I didn't disagree with him. He didn't want to quit, the perks were far too nice, and who else would hire him?

Me? (and the rest of the entire department, as well as my company that had been acquired?) Were terminated and the entire manufacturing section moved to China.

Post Alley Crackpot said...

"In one case I actually had a manager inform me that he was not authorized to give raises."

MINGER = "Manager In Name, Generally Employee-Rated"

As in: Managers not authorised to give raises are MINGERs. :-)

Tucanae Services said...

I lived 25yrs going thru performance reviews at a Fortune 10. There is a way to short circuit the system but it requires some suck up. Performance reviews are generally designed to assess the individuals 'alignment' with corporate goals. So how do you know what those goals are? Strike up a conversation with the person whose bonuses are goals determined, usually a director or VP. Their goals assignment in the current year should be the performance pattern you set for yourself next year. It works because the dir/vp goals are usually set before the lower ranks are set.

Practice your suck up skills.

Adam said...

I am a manager and despise performance reviews. I am a "front line" manager so to speak, so one level above those who execute work, one level below company officer. My boss is a VP.

Here is some info - at most companies, managers at my level are not allowed to give raises. We have to fight it out with our bosses, write business cases, present evidence, etc on why raises beyond the standard 2-3% are earned.

I consider myself a "good" manager and do fight for these raises, but, consider my 7 direct reports that I'm responsible for. I just don't have the time to write 7 business cases for justification. So that worthless brag sheet that's a PITA to assemble just helps me negotiate for your raise because I come armed with documentation. I know in my head what my employees have done, good or bad, but that's not enough when I'm sitting in a room with my peers arguing why my people should get more $$ instead of someone else.

I'm not saying I agree with that, or that there isn't a better way, its just the way it is.

Bill said...

My advice: go on welfare or go galt.

A Texan said...

Be thankful you don't work for a state agency. Total BS as well.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a large organization for 8 years and this is 100% true. I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks Aaron!

Take The Red Pill said...

These "performance reviews" sound a LOT like the Evaluations that I had to sit through while I was in the military...what a damn waste of my time (i.e., the Evaluations. Overall, I enjoyed my time being a nephew of Uncle Sam).

Mosesr said...

IBM has gone to a new "checkpoint" system as well. Supposed to be the elimination of the annual review and the PBC rating which determined your worth to the company. In PBC a 1 rating got you a raise (hardly anyone got a one and managers had to compete for a limited pool of money made available to a division of around 1500 employees) all the way to a four (bubi you are fired) . The checkpoint is supposed to be a more "collaborative and progress monitored" way of checking with your sup - guess they are catering to the millenials on that one. So glad I am almost out of the work force, no dealing with the bs.