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."
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 reviewsdraft 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.
- All standards are fairly applied to all subordinates equally, without discrimination as to race, sex, age, religion, ethnicity, or any other demographic factor.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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