The agony and the performance review

For obvious reasons, I have to be a little careful passing along this marvelous NPR story on the dreaded performance review, the process by which companies develop their workers. Or so the theory goes.

But, suffice it to say, few things in the American workplace create more tension than the performance review.

Between 60 and 90 percent of those surveyed hate the process, the story indicates. Managers often come up with “goals” for the coming year that an employee can easily meet (if he or she hasn’t already) or are so vague that it’s easily satisfied in the subsequent quarterly reviews.

Why do we do this?

“They’re fraudulent, bogus and dishonest,” says Samuel Culbert, a management professor at UCLA who does research in dysfunctional management practice, tells NPR. “And second, they’re indicative of and they support bad management.”

The NPR website version of the story features — and I realize how unusual this is: terrific stories of the absurdity of the process.

A friend of mine, was ask on his eval form how he’d improved.
His response:

“I’ve become a bitter typist.”

Much of the downfall of the annual review process is that the manager doing the review isn’t much of a manager. So many people that are tasked with evaluating an employee does not have the faintest idea how to be an effective manager themselves yet are expected to judge others based on their own flawed criteria of what a good employee is. It often becomes a personality judgement rather than a performance issue. This seems particularly true at the lower levels of management. They are often the ones that don’t realize that mentoring others below them can often raise their own status in the eyes of the company. Too often lower managers look at an employee that thinks out side of the box as a threat to their next promotion.

When I heard Ashley Williams story in this article, I thought I was hearing my own. I work in a creative field. I’ve actually been told not to care so much as well. I think it started as a bit of a joke with my project manager, but then those of us who heard it have realized it’s true. “Only care enough that it doesn’t hurt” is now the mantra in our corner of the office.

A few, however, criticized NPR for not finding enough employees who enjoy the process.

Related: What Not to Say in a Performance Review (US News).