Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 4;   January 25, 2012: A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding

A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding

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Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
The field of vision of a horse

The field of vision of a horse. View a larger image. Horses have blind spots, front and rear. In their natural habitat of open range, they manage quite well, but in human-dominated environments, such as cities and villages, their blind spots leave them vulnerable. This vulnerability has given them a reputation for startling easily — a reputation that is likely undeserved, because it's probably due to the mismatch between the human environment and their natural habitat.

In the organizational environment, managers who choose to withhold from their subordinates information regarding reviews can, in effect, create blind spots for their subordinates. Those blind spots make their subordinates vulnerable, and once the pattern is evident, their subordinates can become skittish, exhibiting signs of stress arising from an acute sense of vulnerability. Performance declines are then inevitable. Image courtesy U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

A vignette common during performance review season goes like this. Michelle Manager visits Sam Subordinate's cube and says, "Morning Sam, come to my office and we'll do your review." Sam is taken by surprise. Arriving together in Michelle's office, Michelle says to Sam, "Have a seat," and hands him a two- or three-page document that he's seeing for the first time. "Have a look," she says. "Tell me what you think."The field of vision of a horse

Sam reads eagerly at first, but slowly realizes that, far from singing his praises, this document is an indictment. It's a list of grievances he's never heard before. Many are gross distortions and some are just plain false. His emotions take over. He feels accused, hurt, and angry.

"There's a space at the end for your signature," says Michelle. "Signing doesn't mean you agree with every little thing, it just means you've read it." Defeated, Sam signs. The document enters his personnel folder.

Sam has been blindsided. Feeling helpless, he has surrendered. His personnel record now contains yet another review filled with falsehoods and distortions.

Blindsiding was once much more common than it is today, because law is developing regarding employee rights. The law is in a primitive state, and civil suits are still the main deterrent to performance review abuses. But a consensus is emerging about appropriate processes for conducting performance reviews. Here are the basics:

Regular scheduling
Reviews of employees in good standing occur at regular intervals — quarterly, semi-annually, or, at a minimum, annually. Employees who are on notice for performance issues might be reviewed more frequently.
Fair notice
The subordinate receives fair notice of review meetings. Subordinates with heavy travel schedules are reasonably accommodated.
Written documentation
Everything of significance is captured in writing, and signed by supervisor and subordinate to indicate not agreement, but acknowledgement that the document was presented. The two parties can negotiate the content, but each can also append their own views without editing by the other.
Opportunity to prepare
The subordinate receives a A consensus is emerging about
appropriate processes for conducting
performance reviews
draft of the document far enough in advance to allow for preparation of rebuttals or appendices. The subordinate can prepare for the review on company time, at full compensation.
No hidden standards
The review can fault the employee for failing to perform to standards only if those standards were previously documented. If a standard is revised between reviews, the employee is informed of the change, and has time to adapt to the new standard. At the next review, that revised standard applies only to employee performance during the period the standard was active.
Fairness
All standards are fairly applied to all subordinates equally, without discrimination as to race, sex, age, religion, ethnicity, or any other demographic factor.

How did you conduct you last review? Was it fair? Were any of these guidelines violated? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Social Transactions: We're Doing It My Way  Next Issue

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