how managers mess up performance evaluations

I know you probably hate performance evaluations — writing them, receiving them, thinking about them, procrastinating on them — but what I hate is how many managers mess them up. Over at the Intuit QuickBase blog today, I talk about the various ways in which managers can do evaluations badly (and how to do them well).

You can read it here.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    You missed a few:

    1. Not understanding what it means to be great. Just knocking out the basic job functions doesn’t qualify as great. Believe me, everyone knows who the real rock stars are.

    2. Just going through the motions. If employees can tell you’re not taking their evaluation seriously they’ll assume you’re incompetent.

    3. Giving better evaluations to employees just because you want them to get a good raise.

    4. Cutting and pasting last years evaluation into the current one word for word. The status quo should never be the expectation.

    5. Letting your budget dictate the evaluations. Don’t give better evaluations just because you have a big budget and vice versa.

  2. DJO*

    Sorry to comment here instead of on the article itself but IT has blocked the comments section on that site, for some reason…

    Worth noting (either as a fourth bullet on #1 or a standalone #11), if you want your employees to have a shot at promotion opportunities in the future, write their performance reviews accordingly. Don’t sell them short in the comments. If you’re rating them with 4s on a 1-5 scale, put some detail into why they’re worth a 4. To be clear, if they’re not meeting or exceeding expectations, they shouldn’t have a high rating to start with.

  3. ChristineH*

    I had #2 (waiting till evaluation to give feedback) happen to me one year at a previous job. It was really humiliating because some of it entailed calling attention to certain personal habits that were brought to his attention several months prior.

    I love #6 (giving specifics) – Not only is it effective in assessing job performance, it gives the employee some talking points should he/she apply for promotion within the company or for future outside opportunities.

  4. Mike C.*

    I have a similar issue otherwise I’d comment there as well.

    Anyway, the thing I see killing the large local tech firms is the fact that the “Average” or higher ratings have a hard cap. Combine that with managers that keep moving around and they don’t want to hand them out to employees they hardly know. That leads to hard working employees who get moved around all the time and are forced out even after doing great work. It must cost them a fortune!

    The other thing I see with my firm is that expectations are laid out at the beginning of the year, and built into those expectations is a rubric which determines what sorts of achievements will merit which sorts of ratings you’ll receive. If you do your job well you’ll end up with an “Average” rating, which leads to modest raises and the like. To get above that you have to really bust your buns, but at least you know exactly how to do it. And if you’re “just doing your job well”, that’s great too.

    1. Joey*

      Mike, most companies try to evaluate on a curve. And most managers have a hard time understanding how the performance of their employees relates to other employees. Most managers want to reward their top performers with the highest rating, but relative to employees in other areas that rating might not be so accurate. So there’s usually some caps on the higher ratings so managers aren’t too generous.

      Nice though that your company spells out how to get merit increases. That’s not too common.

      1. anonymous*

        In my company, my manager has 15 people. The company grades on a curve (it’s all departments, not just mine; it’s a Fortune 500 company and this is standard across the board). 2 employees HAVE to be listed as “exemplary”. 2 employees HAVE to be listed as “inadequate”. The rest are “meets status”. No exceptions. If every single one of your employees meets their objectives, and goes above and beyond (and we all do; we’re the central security hub for almost all applications), then no matter how hard a person works, two will still be considered “inadequate”. So it often boils down to the manager rotating the employees around in their evaluations, so that someone who was exemplary last year is now inadequate this year. It’s extremely demoralizing, and people are not just basically saying, “eff this, why should I bother?”.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. It would also mean the manager herself was inadequate, if she had two inadequate performers who she wasn’t doing anything about.

          1. anonymous*

            It’s a corporate policy. At least, it is for our subsidiary, if not for the larger company as a whole. All of us have been asked at one point or another to “step up”, often helping other teams in their objectives, as well as meeting…and bypassing…our own, and every one of us has done so. Yet our manager has to figure which of his 15 employees are considered “inadequate”. Even if we are technically “meets status”, we may not receive a good evaluation because, well, the company says two of us has to have a bad one.

            I’m not sure I’m explaining this well…we have an outstanding record for customer service. We were responsible for bringing in at least half the applications and mid-range servers for security administration. Every last one of us is involved in several major projects plus daily work. Yet two of us are considered “inadequate”, simply because corporate policy evaluates based on the bell curve. Two are great, two are bad, everyone else is average. It’s beyond frustrating.

        2. Mike C.*

          At the work places I know where this happens, competitors email invitations for resumes to the work addresses after reviews come out.

          Just think for a moment how effective that is if you busted your buns all year long and got the unlucky “inadequate”.

          Why do so many employers install revolving doors at the entrances of their businesses? They aren’t saving money this way…

      2. Mike C.*

        I understand what most companies do, but they’re doing it wrong. Doing a curve alone without taking an inventory of the positions and listing expectations for those positions is a recipe for high turnover. Additionally the company keeps track of low/average/high wages for a given job title/experience/etc so that if someone falls way out on either end a manager must justify the reasoning with higher ups. This further ensures that employees are treated fairly across vastly different departments.

        If it can be done for a large company it can be done for smaller ones as well. The averages thing may be more difficult with fewer data points, but the listed expectations should be trivial. For a company to do otherwise is frankly very lazy. If I’m a manager I want my employees to know not only what is expected of them, but what they can get if they want to go beyond.

  5. Lee*

    I’d like some advice!

    I just got my performance review today, and I did really well; however, my boss wrote only a few short, general things, e.g.: Lee continues to perform strongly and has developed interests in x, y and z”

    I am being considered for a title change (promotion!) early next year and wonder if this will hold me back. Can I ask my boss to re-do the form, or add more specific feedback? (We have until January 31st to add comments to our reviews before they are submitted to HR). It’s also rife with spelling/grammar errors which irks me…but not in my place to ask for them to be corrected…right?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whether or not you even need to consider this depends on how your workplaces uses reviews and handles promotions. Do they consult the formal review when making a decision on your promotion? A lot of places don’t; they just ask your manager for her overall take on you (orally, not the written form). So you need to know how that works.

      If the form WILL matter, and your boss knows you’re up for a promotion, you could say, “Thanks so much for this great review. Since it’ll be part of the decision in whether I’m promoted, I wonder if you could add X and Y to help with that?”

      And no, let the grammatical errors go!

  6. Anonymous*

    Have you ever heard of a self-evaluation on a point scale in which the higher ups say you cannot give yourself anything higher than the median number? That’s for my boss, not me. Aren’t companies seeking out the best from the pool of applicants when they are interviewing? Then for God’s sake why tell them they are not great employees and cannot evaluate themselves at “exceeding expectations” or “going above and beyond?”

  7. Cassie*

    Our performance evaluation short form consists of a short form – assigning a score of 1 to 4 in categories such as oral communication, reliability and customer focus. And then the 2nd page is for supervisor comments. I’ve gotten some pretty short comments – one boss simply wrote “deserves a raise”. Which is nice and all, but to get some kind of raise, your boss has to submit a request. And explain why you deserve a raise. A fragmented sentence in your evaluation is not going to cut it!

    I feel that the people in my dept gloss over evaluations and particularly fall victim to # 5 & #6. I don’t know if they feel like being specific is being mean or what. Also, I think supervisors tend to shy away from criticism – it isn’t unusual for a problem employee to get 4s (highest score) in all categories even when there are definite deficiencies. Of course, my main boss gave me a 3 in customer focus (4s in everything else) because he didn’t know what it meant! :p

  8. Natasha*

    I once had a really awful performance review by a manager who hated me. She had to make me as doing really well since my work was the best in the department but she deliberately marked me as low as possible in the Other category. Her reason: I wasn’t best friends with everyone in the department. Never mind I had nothing in common with them and was just polite. She did it to keep my raise as low as possible and even told some of the supervisors that was the case.

  9. candid*

    I am in the same situation where I am discriminated against because I am not a part of the pack. I did the best I could at my job and made the best attempts to try to change the situation. I was told I needed retraining on notating accounts and put y down in my reviews for it but am being pushed aside and not getting help. And on my last review was told I am going to lose my job because of this. Not to mention she has shared personal medical information about me with her cohorts….I lose sleep everynoght because of this. Help!!!

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