Tales of Bad Performance Reviews


Subjectivity has little place in an effective performance evaluation process.
Subjectivity has little place in an effective performance evaluation process.

I am not generally one of those performance review bashers. I genuinely believe that the performance review is a valuable tool, that when done well, provides a coaching opportunity that is usually desired by an employee. But over the last couple of days I have heard a few stories that just demonstrated what is wrong with the way most performance evaluations are done. These stories are about personal acquaintances of mine so I will not be mentioning names or companies.
Story One
This first story involves a fourteen year employee of this company. The company is a large one with a worldwide presence. He had worked his way up through the ranks starting on the front line in a position interacting with the public. He was good in his job; I know that for a fact. He then moved from the public eye to a technical position and traveled a territory first as a repairman and then as a manager. In fourteen years NEVER a bad performance review; always exceeding expectations.
Enter a new boss. In short order the boss is conducting a review which for the first time in 14 years shows the employee as NEEDS Improvement. He is put on a 90 day PIP (performance improvement plan) with specific measure to meet at 30 days. He exceeds every goal set for him. The boss tells him he should be doing the work with more enthusiasm and reminds him that his employment is “at-will.”
They then go into the next 30 day timeframe. The employee exceeds those goals as well, but is told by the boss that he doesn’t believe the employee is “really bought into being successful” and tells him his employment is terminated. After termination the employee learns that the boss’ friend is then given the job. Fortunately for the employee a competitor has heard that he was “on the market” and promptly hired him into better position he had been terminated from.
Story Two
The employee has been on the job six months. His boss gives him his first review. “Job well done. Very happy. You are doing great work.” The form shows “Meets expectation” across the board despite the accolades. He gets a 2 percent increase. He is told he should be happy he is so low down on the pay grade otherwise he would not have gotten any increase. Learns that a fellow worker is given a 5 percent increase, but that is because he is even lower down on the pay grade. His reach goal for the next year is to “become the quarterback of the team.” His remark to me “fat chance with that kind of performance evaluation.”
What is wrong with these two pictures?
In both of these stories the end result of the performance review was a pissed off employee. Two employees who felt they were cheated by the “system.” To me the major problem was the introduction of too much subjectivity that ignored or offset the actual performance numbers. In the first case an evaluation that an employee is “not committed actually improving” despite number to the contrary. In the second case an “adjustment” needs to be made for budgetary reasons so the evaluation is put down on paper as being less than the verbal assessment.
Performance evaluation is to be used to document performance and to be used to coach employees to even better performance. Unfortunately in these cases it was used as a crutch to accomplish less than ideal objectives. There is a difference between documenting performance and using to set up employees. There is a difference between using it as a coaching tool and using it to justify budget manipulations.
On a positive note I do know one person that received a well done performance evaluation. The boss concentrated on objectives that had been set, yet included a personal evaluation of the cultural fit. It was tied to an increase that fit within budget parameters but it was also accompanied by a bonus. So done properly it can “motivate” an employee and provide direction. Unfortunately it is not done correctly enough. I have written numerous times on this subject, such as here, here and here. The last link provides what I think are the proper components of an effective performance evaluation.

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