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On Honest Performance Reviews

March 25, 2019

I hate reviews.

That’s a tough thing to deal with since the tech industry, in fact many industries universally implement them. I’ve had to write reviews for my team. And of course, I’ve had to write reviews for myself.

Some companies do reviews at the same time each year. My company does reviews on the anniversary of your hiring date. I started working at my company in March, so, that’s my review date.

BTW, in case you’re reading this sometime after it’s published, it’s March now.

So, I have to do my review. (Did I mention I hate them?)

The review has two purposes. One, it is an indication, or a scorecard of how the last year has gone. It’s also the basis for merit increases. It is the basis for how much of a raise I’ll get for the coming year.

So, it’s both a forward and a backward looking document. And it happens once per year. No pressure. Oh, and one final piece of data, you write it yourself.

At least the first draft is done by the employee themself. Then, it goes to my manager, and he makes any changes, we review it and then it goes on to accounting and gets processed.

If you get to write your own check, write a big check

Here’s the thing, if you are writing your own review, and if your review is the basis for how big of a raise you’ll get. . well, there you go.

What would happen if students got to grade their own papers? Assign themselve their semester marks?

Review inflation happens too. It’s awkward because it’s not something that’s often discussed. Managers understand that the employee is going to write as favorable review as they can. They often need to “adjust” the review and the expectations.

I admit that I’ve been guilty of it in the past. Review scores are typically a 1-5 scale. A one means your fired. A two means you are performing below expectations. A three means you are doing an adequate job. A four means you are performing above expectations. And a five means you. . .well, no one gets a five. It wasn’t unusual to have my score be a half or full point above what my manager chose.

That’s negociation, right? You pick a starting point, the other party picks one and you meet somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t always happen that way.

In fact, a few years ago, I started doing my reivews a little differently. For the past three years, I’ve written brutally honest reviews. Two years ago was a pretty good year. I completed a massive project. It went really well. I worked with multiple departments and even other companies.

Was it perfect? Not all. There were about 100 things I could have done better. My meetings could have gone better. My follow ups could have been quicker. My writeups could have been more complete. Naturally, it figured heavily into my review. I pointed out the things that had gone well. I also pointed out the mistakes.

I gave myself a 4.

My manager disagreed. He bumped up my score. He felt I downplayed my contribution to the project and my contibution to the team, the company and the client.

This year wasn’t as good of a year. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t spectacular. It was an adequate year. I gave myself an adequate score. My manager reviewed it. He agreed with my self-assessment. He made a few tweaks, but overall he agreed.

Let’s go through it next week. But, there won’t be any surprises.

I still hate reviews. But, it’s easier seeing tham as something other than a negotiating document.

The end

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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