Failed Appraisals

by Evil HR Lady on May 27, 2008

I relocated to a new state in 2006 and have just completed my first year at the company I am now with. So it’s time for the performance review. I did my self review – the standard rate yourself from 1 – 5 on a bunch of different things blah blah blah. Today my boss came into my office with the review and said to me “You weren’t here when we did the training on how to fill these out. We don’t believe that anyone really exceeds 3 except maybe once in a while they have a 4 and maybe rarely we give a 5. Oh and if you have any room for improvement in anything at all to do with the item you need to rate yourself a 2. So would you please go back and redo your performance appraisal.”

That isn’t what the review descriptions say. A 3 is in a nutshell an average performer who comes in the required hours, does what is required and no more or less. A two is someone who needs improvement just to meet minimum standards.

I work whatever hours I need to to get the job done. I not only do the minimum but in the year I have been here I have suggested and implemented for my customers higher standards and extra services that this office has never before provided. I step up to help others with less experience and to back them up when they are not in ( some of them are not in a lot). I have designed technical checklists, am participating on a company wide team to redesign our proposal form ( for which I have been getting rave reviews from the woman in charge which my boss shared with me), handle the five largest accounts in the office and keep them extremely happy ( which again management knows and has commented on to me), mentor the newer employees and generally have tried in every way to be a role model and assist in bringing our service up a level. Which was one of the reasons I was hired – they’ve never had anyone of my experience or caliber here and sold me on coming in with an opportunity to give back some of what I have learned over the years to newer less experienced employees.

But now I have been essentially been told to go back and redo my review and rate myself as average because that’s how it’s done here. I am not average – I am confident enough in myself to know that is not the case and I have received enough feedback from various colleagues and clients to know I am not being arrogant in placing what I feel is an appropriate value on my work. And no I did not rate myself all 5’s – that would be ridiculous. In fact I don’t think I gave myself any 5’s. I mostly gave myself 4’s and some 3’s in areas where I feel I don’t measure up to my standards.

I don’t intend to change my self review. I will be happy to listen to what my boss says about his rating of me ( which I suspect will be significantly lower than my self ratings) and I am always open to ways to improve what I do.

Frankly I suspect the real issue here is that this office (for a variety of reasons) is in a rebuild mode and financial results are not as good as they would like them to be. My guess is that the salary raises are tied to review grades and they don’t want to give me a raise so what better way than to rate me as average and keep the increase (if any) to a minimum.

Whatever. Money is not my motivator however. My motivator is feeling that I have done a better than average job, have learned something new and will have an opportunity to expand into new areas and to keep being challenged. Today’s conversation left me feeling completely de-motivated and irritated. I certainly don’t feel very valued and am seriously wondering if I want to continue to give my all to a company that apparently has so little appreciation for what I have to offer.

Disengaged and De-Motivated

Oh for heaven’s sake. Your management has no clue about the purpose of performance appraisals. Yes, I believe in paying for performance, but if you don’t have a budget for large increases you don’t give large increases. You take whatever your budget is and make sure your top performers get the top increases.

A 5 point rating scale is silly unless you are actually going to use all 5 points. It sounds like your company really has a 3 point scale–2, 3, and 4–with 80-90% as 3s. In my never to be humble opinion, you might as well not have a rating system if you are going to lump everyone together. Why? Because, let’s say we have a layoff and I need to eliminate 10 positions. If there are 100 people in the same job, and 5 are rated 4 and 5 are rated 2 and 90 are rated 3, how do I pick who goes? Sure, the 5 2 rated employees are out of there and the 5 4 rated employees are safe, but what about the remaining 5? Surely, all 90 of those people are not identical performers, but I have no documentation to show that they aren’t the same.

Sigh. You can’t re-do your company’s lame rating structure (and it may not be the entire company–it may be your director, or division, that has these lame-brained ideas), and so we are left with what you can manage.

I totally get the idea of saying, “this is my self-evaluation and this is how I evaluated my SELF so it stands” and then taking whatever final evaluation comes your way via your supervisor. This is bound to tick off your manager. (And keep in mind, that sometimes managers disagree with policies that are thrust upon them, but they have to support the policy and PRETEND they love it. It’s part of being a manager.) Do you want to do that? You may well. I would.

I would tend to play dumb in this situation. “I see what you are saying, but the definitions on the self-evaluation form don’t match up to what you’re talking about. It says here that a 3 is an average employee. I look around and my [something quantitative here–customer satisfaction scores, for instance] are significantly higher than my co-workers. To me, that means I’m performing above average. Can you explain to me why I should put down a 3 for this?” Or, “What would I need to do for your to consider me a 4 in this situation?” And then wait for the response.

It sounds like an overall bad situation. But, your manager needs to keep in mind that it is his rating that “counts,” not yours. (Although I admit, I used to copy and paste from my employees’ self evaluation when I wrote their final appraisals.) (And no worries about plagiarism, they all approved of my methods–it was to their benefit.)

No matter what, make sure that either your original self-appraisal, or comments that you make on your final appraisal end up in your file. And keep a copy of everything. (Note to everybody else, please keep a copy of your performance appraisals. The employee records people dislike having to pull out paper copies for you. And they talk to us, and bugging the people who are responsible for firing you is never wise.)

Your company is a perfect example of why performance appraisals are so incredibly painful. It’s bad enough to have your flaws written about and discussed. It’s worse to have your accomplishments ignored. The end result of policies like this is that poor performers feel justified in continuing on their lazy path (hey, I’m a 3, that means I’m average, so I’m doing fine), and good performers start looking to leave (I know I’m not average at my job, so I’ll find someone else who appreciates me). In the long run, their attempt to save money by keeping ratings down will backfire.

And since they are dumb enough to not know that just because someone is highly rated it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to keep them, they are probably too dumb to realize why their top performers leave frequently.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

jaded hr rep May 27, 2008 at 2:53 pm

It makes me wonder if this is really the company’s intent. I’ve found my managers either challenged with showing edge and not giving everyone 3-5s on everything, even when employees don’t deserve it. When I question higher ratings, this gets interpreted as HR or the company doesn’t allow anything more than the average 3, when there is no such rule. I do push back on high ratings for not-obvious high performers, but if the manager gives me a good reason for this, I’m fine with it.

I will add that if an employee was hired with a certain set of expectations (i.e., build a process), and if the person builds said process, I don’t consider that in itself execptional or above average. S/he did what was asked and expected. If it was done in shorter time, with less budget, or required overcoming more obstacles than anticipated, then that’s different. Employees need to get past being considered “average” (I don’t advocate this term). Employees are paid salaires to do their jobs, and if they are told, they’re doing their jobs, employees should not take offense at that. Of all the employees I’ve ever spoken to, I’ve never met an employee who considered himself not above average. Statistically that can’t always be true.


Evil HR Lady May 27, 2008 at 4:02 pm

I totally agree–everyone thinks they are fantastic and above average. I had a friend who was the head of HR for a company that employed a ton of PhDs. “But I went to Harvard!” they’d say, as if that meant that their rating wasn’t deserved.


The Office Newb May 27, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Disengaged and De-Motivated,

Did you move to Seattle? Because my company uses that exact same review form and we all hate it!

In addition to the confusing 5-point scale of which no one should get a 1 or a 5, and only sparingly a 4 or 4.5, upper-management can’t agree as to whether we’re supposed to rate ourselves based on our previous performance, expectations of performance by management (i.e. if you got a 4 last time, you should not be able to get one this time because expectations should be higher?), or against others with similar levels of responsibility.

Talk about a big mess. And when the employees complained, the CEO said it would be too “disruptive” to change the system now. Go figure.


Ms Bart May 27, 2008 at 5:49 pm

My last company did this. Gosh did I hate it. When I left that company, I had 15 direct reports. I was allowed to have 1 of the 15 avreage over a 4 when all of the 26 categories were added together and divided by 26. It would have been eaiser if 5 was the ‘never give it out’ category and everyone could be 4s.


Leroy Grinchy May 27, 2008 at 9:40 pm

I usually give myself super high ratings in everything. If you don’t rate yourself highly then I don’t think you will work well and you’ll never get a high rating and what good will that do?

I agree with the advice here. Playing dumb is really good.

I think this may or may not be a head’s up on how things are run. It is actually an opportunity to run.

If this is your dream job, and this is the only problem you have ever had and your boss is perfect otherwise, then I’d play the game and change all my ratings to the new high which is 3. This requires a lot of trust, but if things are perfect, a silly rating game that comes once a year is not a reason to cause problems. It’s just a number on a paper. Whatever.

On the other hand, to me, this seems like a power play. It says, “I know best. I don’t trust your judgement. Ever. If I say the sky is green, you better agree or else.”

If this is true, then I’d run. This seems like an indicator that there is a lot more going on here.

Again, you need to trust your own judgement, but I do think that this is a good indicator that not all is normal at this place. If your boss has trouble comprehending the directions on your SELF evaluation,I think that there are deeper issues brewing. Keep your scores as is and look for a new job. What are they going to do, fire you for following directions?

If your boss is against you and you change your numbers, then later on, it WILL be used against you. Watch your back while you look for that better job.


HR Wench May 28, 2008 at 12:20 am

This reminds me of teachers in school that “didn’t give A’s”. Ugh. What a complete, utter waste of time.


Anonymous May 28, 2008 at 1:46 am

I had a manager who, at my annual review, said my performance was excellent and he was very pleased with me. But if he rated me fours and fives as he’d like to do, policy required him to give me a raise, and he hadn’t budgeted it. So he said I should just ignore the fact that he’d rated me one (which indicated disciplinary probation) across the board because it was all he could afford and he didn’t really mean it. Silly as it sounds, that can happen.


Anonymous May 28, 2008 at 2:48 am

I’m the original poster and appreciate the comments and viewpoints on this.

One thing I guess I didn’t make clear – I don’t mind being rated average if I truly am average among my peers. I’ve worked for a very professional company in the past where it was actually a great compliment to be average since everyone there was amazingly competent and professional. Most of the below average people there would be top performers anywhere else. Here however the norm is to do the minimum you can to get by and that’s all that’s expected. As a result that’s what this company gets from its employees.

Since I posted I’ve found out some more info about what is going on here with reviews. On talking to some long term employees (the ones who know all the scoop) I found out that that no one else has been asked to change their self scores and guess what – they all rated themselves 3 and 4’s. Hmmm… It also seems like everyone this year has gotten the same percentage raise – 3% – no matter their final rating. Now there is a wide variety of performance that I see going on around me and I know for a fact that several of those who self rated themselves 3 or 4 were actually called in and put on warning for various performance issues. Basically the review process here is a complete sham and the raise process seems to be as well.

What I decided to do is to leave my self rating as is. I’m not lowering them because to me that would give them ammunition in the case they decide my services are no longer needed (which I see as a distinct possibility based on the financial picture here and given that I am one of the highest paid staff out of 30+ people.) “See Susan herself rated herself lower than everyone else around here. She’s the one we should terminate based on her own self rating and wow look we even save money…”

I’d like to leave – I really don’t see much future here – but given the economy and my short tenure I am going to try to stick it out for a while. Of course if I happen to get a call from a headhunter or competitor ( which I do receive fairly frequently) I will be listening a lot more seriously than I have up until now.


Totally Consumed May 28, 2008 at 4:43 am

Your boss probably doesn’t really like the performance system himself but is trying to abide by company policy. If you want to be successful with your current employer, show them you can get on board and play by their rules.

Like it or not, that’s how you play the game. Get on board, or find another gig … in the long run those are your only options.


Chintan May 28, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Hi , i m a novice in this field, just 2 day old fresh MBA-HR yuppie, but i just have one question. if performance review and appriasal is for everyone, why dont they print the fact sheet, the same way the accounts dept does for the expense. who spent what and how much. the same way who gets what % of raise of total budget.that way everyone knows where they stand, whom they are better than, and also makes HR more transparent and accountable.
or i may be entirely wrong, but i m willing to learn….


HR Godess May 28, 2008 at 1:48 pm

This manager is exactly the type of manager that makes HR look silly. I have never and will never understand managers who don’t take processes seriously, especially performance appraisals. I guarantee that they would have plenty to say if they were asked to rate themselves lower if they felt they were doing a good job.

I certainly am not blind to fact that this occurs in companies but where is the HR department? If they are knowingly allowing this without speaking up (they may speak up and be over-ruled), they shouldn’t be in HR. I understand that HR can be over-ridden on many issues but they should certainly speak up.

I also would find another job but I make sure that performance appraisals are complete, fair and timely while my review is 5 months overdue. I guess you can’t win them all.


Breanne May 29, 2008 at 5:21 am

I woked for a company that wanted everyone to be a 3. Getting a 3 meant you were doing your job. It was nearly impossible to get higher than a 3 (believe me, I’m a perfectionist and I really tried) and you’re probably going to be fired if you get less than a 3. Equating this to grades in school, it’s like telling everyone….good job, you all get C’s!


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