The distraction inside the annual performance review

Tis the season to be writing.

Annual performance reviews are upon us. It’s a topic that most employees I know loathe. They might even rank it up there with public speaking for most feared and disliked events in life. So last year I tried to give some practical advice on getting value from the annual review process. Most employees only have to write their own self-review whereas managers write multiple. But even so, many of the employees choose not to document information in a self-review. They supply the minimum amount of information necessary to check-off their requirement and wait for their manager’s assessment.

I told a group of co-workers this year that your self-review is a chance to be who you want to be. It was a fun play on words. I wasn’t saying to make up accomplishments, but rather that this was their opportunity to self-assess for their own personal growth as well as to highlight accomplishments that they felt were most significant. Paint your portrait.

Managers, are not immune to disliking the process either. Throughout my professional career, I’ve listened to managers complain about various elements of the process. The results are often reviews without much content or waiting until the last minute and rushing through the form. Unfortunately the employee is the one penalized if this happens because they deserve to have an honest assessment of their performance.

I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to performance reviews. I do value the intention of the process.  I do spend quite a bit of time working on them. But I also have weekly one-on-one meetings with my reporting staff. So communication is constant throughout the year. There is one thing that bugs me though…..

The distraction.

The ratings are a distraction to the review process. I know they are necessary and well intended because they provide a measurable result of achievement. But they typically take away from the meat of the review which is the qualitative feedback on an employee’s performance during the year.Performance-Review-Questions

Through the years I’ve see multiple types of rating scales from the HR form. The consistent thing is that employee expectations and the definition of the HR scale don’t agree which is what creates the distraction. Employees think of the scale as if they were in school. The highest rating is equivalent to an A. The rating associated with “you did your job as expected” is thought of as a C.  The creators of the scale and HR have the mindset that if you tell an employee they have done their job fully that it’s a good thing. So most employees should have this rating. The psychology of “meets expectations” vs “exceeds expectations” could be it’s own blog topic.  But it’s not the upper end of the scale I want to explore.

What about “partially meets expectations”?

When the rating is for an objective that is associated to a project that didn’t complete or a metric that was was not achieved, is it OK to give a rating of “partially meets expectations”? Or would that offend the employee and send a message that they don’t work hard enough? For much of my career, I would list all the reasons why the project wasn’t completed. On some occasions, I would even ask that a goal be removed if the business made intentional decisions during the course of the year to allocate labor to other projects.  I think these are good steps as a way to document and discuss.

In more recent years, I’ve been prone to rate myself as “partially meets expectations” when I don’t deliver goals that were written and agreed to. I’ve reached a point in my career where I’m comfortable raising my hand and saying that I didn’t accomplish the goal that we set to out to complete at the beginning of the year. But not everyone can do that. Not everyone is happy with a rating like that either. People react negatively to such a rating. They attribute it to failure and that they didn’t care.

But goals should be challenging to meet right?

If we achieve or exceed all our goals each year then have we set the measuring bar too low? If we don’t fail on some projects then are we learning as much as we should? Do we learn more from failures than success?

In my mind, having a couple of “partially meets” ratings is not necessarily a negative thing. It signifies we created a stretch goal. It signifies we may have failed and learned. It signifies we may have made decisions to allocate our time different than what we originally expected to do. Or it could be as simple as we bit off more than we could chew. Whatever the case, let’s have the emotional maturity to admit it and discuss it. Then it’s time to learn, re-rack, and start again in the new year.