Let me begin this post with a story about two consecutive yearly performance reviews, one given to me by a supervisor who liked me and the other given to me by a supervisor who felt I was after his job. Jerk.

The first performance review was great. I met or exceeded expectations in all eight categories. In the comments section at the bottom of the review my boss stated what a pleasure I was to work with, complimenting my work ethic and disposition. To this day, I have yet to get a performance review as glowing as that one. I used the review as my main ammunition when I asked for a raise a short time later, getting every penny I asked for.

Fast forward to the next year. I had a different boss, but I was in the same position. Out of eight categories, I only met expectations in three, meaning I needed improvement in five. It became apparent very early on in the review that my manager was nitpicking, finding fairly specific things I had done wrong recently and basing my whole yearly performance on them.

Outraged, I set up a meeting with his boss. To paraphrase, I was told the organization still held me in a very positive light, my immediate boss just didn’t like me. It was implied to me if I just stuck around long enough, he’d either get promoted or he’d move on and I’d get his job. I left within 6 months, a big reason why was dissatisfaction with my supervisor.

Bosses Have Biases

I cringe every time a performance review is referred to as “objective”. The fact is, bosses have subordinates that they like, tolerate or despise. If a boss likes the worker, the performance review is likely to be better than the employee deserves. It’s the exact opposite with an employee the boss doesn’t like, no matter how good that employee’s work ethic is. So rather than an objective review of the employee’s performance, we get a report filled with the reviewer’s biases, which almost never gives an accurate representation.

Even if you get several people contributing to the review, the biases will still be there. Supervisors talk among themselves, and human nature dictates we value the opinions of our peers. If every other supervisor in an organization hates someone, that will inevitably change the opinion of the person who likes them.

Both Parties Are Looking For Different Things

As an employee, the purpose of the performance evaluation is simple. They want a good review, partially to feel good about themselves and their performance, but mostly so they can leverage that into a pay raise.

The supervisor usually has been given pressure by management to not be too positive on reviews. Management knows if they have a bunch of staff that get great reviews then they’ll have a bunch of staff pressuring them for raises. Obviously management doesn’t want this, so reviews just about always follow a “employee A did X good BUT…” format. Often managers nit pick on some little wrongdoing during review time, just so they can find something negative to put in the review. How is that in anybody’s best interest?

They Really Don’t Care If You Improve

In every workplace I’ve been part of, the review never offers any concrete ways to improve an employee’s performance. If the review identifies a weakness in a certain area, the review should also outline a step by step process to improve the employee’s performance. At the end of the day performance reviews are presented, discussed and then filed away until next year, when the reviewer cracks them out to see what they said last year.

If management was serious about employees really improving themselves, they’d revisit reviews on a regular basis throughout the year, working with the employee to improve their deficiencies.  A review could be a great opportunity to show an employee that the employer is serious about their personal growth in the organization. This opportunity is just about always squandered by management.

The Boss Has All The Power

Every organization likes to tout teamwork. We’re all a team they say, we all work together. This may be the case sometimes, but it definitely isn’t the case at review time. The boss has all the power. The employee can object to the review until they’re blue in the face, but they’re not going to change it. In fact, objecting to the review just gives the reviewer further ammunition next year, they can add “doesn’t take criticism well” to their list of beefs. It’s either the supervisor’s way or the highway, which is a contradiction of the whole teamwork and working together mantras.

Can They Go Away Please?

I’m not sure what the ideal solution is for giving feedback to employees, but it’s obvious the performance review isn’t it.

If I ran an organization, I’d give employees a handful of goals to work on at the beginning of the year, working with them throughout the year to accomplish those goals. After the year, I’d go over the goals with the employee. If there was success, then a raise is in order. The greater the success rate, then the greater raise I’d give. And if someone didn’t accomplish much, then perhaps they need to be transferred to a different department or even let go.

That’s just one solution. Certain organizations are starting to come up with some innovative ones of their own.

What’s your take? As an employee (or boss) what would you like to see in a performance review? How can the process be improved?

You made it all the way to the end, thinking this was original. FOOLED YOU. This originally appeared as a guest post back on Five Cent Nickel in 2010, and was then recycled in 2011. Yeah, it’s been recycled from something already recycled. It’s the blogging equivalent of hot dogs.

Tell everyone, yo!