Saturday, November 20, 2010

performance review

Have you read the Ribbon Farm blog, in particular the explication of the categories of actors in the workplace, using the sitcom "The Office" as a reference?  Check it out, and get comfortable with the specialized meanings of "sociopaths, losers, and the clueless".  It's really very interesting stuff, whether you buy in wholesale or not.

I was reminded of this blog post (really a series of posts if you dig in) when considering my annual performance review.  On the off chance my reviewer reads my blog (hi there!) let me here carefully and sincerely qualify that I don't consider him a sociopath, loser, or clueless in any pejorative sense (believe me, there are non-pejorative ways to be called a loser - read the other blog!)

Allowing for the possibility that other, non-American, cultures may differ from us in this regard, I suspect that one of the least comfortable experiences of the modern office place is the performance review.  I'm going out on a generalizing limb, but people do not enjoy being judged.  And for all but the most boneheaded and/or ego-maniacal folks, being the judge is tough too.

I have strong memories of the first few reviews I had in my first real "professional" job, and how I felt like a jumble of anxious, emotional, volatile, and contradictory reactions were all jostling for the opportunity to be expressed.  Going into the review knowing that I had checked off all the boxes, had acquitted myself well against any reasonable set of expectations, etc did nothing to quell that feeling that I was somehow going to be called out...and the managerial masochism that informs how a review must go always snuck up on me and pulled the carpet from under my feet.

If you've been there, on either side of the desk, you know what I mean.  If the scale is 1 - 5 or 1 - 10, or A - F the rule is the same:  managers can't give out 5/5 scores (or can't give out many).  The rationale goes something like this:  Nobody's perfect, and if an employee gets too many ratings of "strongly exceeds expectations" then one of two things will happen, and both of them are bad.  1. the employee doesn't think there's room for improvement; or 2. the employee will ask for a raise

The trap for most managers is that there is no room for secret choice number 3: some employees really are competent, self-motivated, conscientious, and will not take all 5s as an allowance to coast for a while, but will take it as a challenge to figure out what lies on the other side of a 5.

And this segues to a future post (coming soon to a small screen near you!): my version of the Ribbon Farm study, slightly different in its calibration, and based on a scale of relative competencies.

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