my employee disagrees with my evaluation of his performance

A reader writes:

I am a new supervisor and I am in the process of doing an annual evaluation for one of my employees, I’ll call him Carl, who has been with the company for about a year. We did a six-month evaluation at the end of his probationary period and it did not go well. Even though I felt I gave him pretty good scores (everything was “meets expectations” or “sometimes exceeds expectations”), Carl was very unhappy that he did not get anything in the highest range (“consistently exceeds expectations”) and tore apart every thing I wrote because he did not agree with some of my word choices (such as using the word “disagreement” when talking about how he handles differences of opinion with coworkers). At the end of the meeting, I felt like I had been evaluated.

We are now at the one-year mark and I know he will expect that his scores will be massively improved. There has been no improvement on most of the evaluation metrics (despite many meetings about his shortcomings) and, in fact, several of his scores have gone down, particularly on “contact with others” and “decision-making.” Everything is still in the “meets expectations” or “sometimes exceeds expectations” range, but I have a feeling I am going to have a fight on my hands, especially since the scores on the performance evaluation directly determine raises.

As part of the evaluation process, Carl was required to submit a self-evaluation of his own achievements over the past year. There is definitely a discrepancy in the way he views himself and how I view his performance. For example, he believes he is a strong team player when he has left other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions, forgotten when he agreed to switch shifts with a coworker, missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed.

How do I address this difference of opinion on Carl’s performance? Our manager and I have had multiple meetings with Carl, especially addressing the problems he has caused for the department by not thinking of the whole department when making decisions. Also, any advice on making the performance evaluation meeting go smoothly would be appreciated. Overall, he is a good employee who makes mistakes occasionally; he just is not as fantastic as he thinks he is.

Well, the good news here is that it sounds like you’ve been giving him feedback consistently throughout the year, so a reasonable person in his shoes shouldn’t feel blindsided.

Of course, Carl may not be reasonable. But you’ve done the right thing by continuing to meet with him and give feedback. It’s certainly possible that you could have been even clearer in that feedback, especially given the response that you’re expecting from him now, but it’s hard to say without knowing the content of those conversations. However, given the history, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to have said something really explicit like, “I know you were concerned about your six-month evaluation ratings. I want to let you know that in order to get improved ratings at the one-year mark, I’d need to see X, Y, and Z, which is different than what I’m currently seeing.” But that’s not mandatory, just something that can be helpful in dealing with someone like him.

As for what to do now, I’d plan to do three things in the evaluation meeting:

1. Acknowledge that you see from his self-evaluation that the two of you have different perspectives on his work, and make a good faith effort to hear him out — to a point. It sounds like you’ve already had plenty of conversations with him about his performance and so you probably have a pretty good idea of what he thinks, but give him a chance to talk about why he sees things differently and listen to him with an open mind. Just don’t let it go on so long that it becomes a drawn-out debate.

2. Know that while it’s important to hear his perspective, your job isn’t to convince him that you’re right; if you fall into that trap, you’ll be in that meeting for hours and it’s unlikely to be productive.

So once you’ve given him a chance to share his perspective and explained your own, keep the focus on what you need from him going forward. Talk in specifics about what you’d like to see from him that’s different from what you’ve been seeing, and be as concrete as possible about what that should look like. He doesn’t need to agree with you — but he does need to be able to take the feedback and work on the things you’ve asked him to work on.

3. Be prepared with some key phrases to use if he becomes combative or resistant or insists that his self-evaluation is the correct one. I like using an “I hear that we see this differently / here’s what I need” structure. For example:

  • “I hear you that you see it differently, but ultimately I’m not seeing what I need to in areas X and Y.”
  • “My preference would be for us to agree about the ratings, but ultimately I need to make that judgment.”
  • “What I’m hearing is that we see this very differently. I really appreciate hearing your perspective, but I stand by my assessment, for the reasons I laid out in the evaluation. From here, I’d like us to focus on what your work will look like moving forward.”

One last thing — for what’s it’s worth, “leaving other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions” and the other problems you described probably merits a “not meeting expectations” in at least one area. Your expectations are that he will not do that regularly, right? So make sure you’re not padding his ratings out of a reluctance to make this conversation even harder.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 248 comments… read them below }

    1. neverjaunty*

      That was my thought, too. How the heck is somebody who “has left other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions, forgotten when he agreed to switch shifts with a coworker, missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed” an overall good employee? I mean, setting aside the thing where you are giving him Bs and he is trying to argue you into changing them to A+?

      1. VideogamePrincess*

        maybe that’s the trick! By focusing the manager’s perspective to how they don’t see eye to eye, he pulls it away from how bad a job he’s doing.

        1. Juli G.*

          Or undermining the supervisor’s confidence. OP sounds like they want to be a reasonable, supportive boss and hear their employee’s concerns and I think this employee is trying to take advantage of that.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            I think it’s a little of both. This guy is a master manipulator – I almost want him to give me tips.

        2. AF*

          Yes! It sounds very manipulative. Then the OP feels like you need to calm down the situation.

        3. Joseph*

          Good point.

          It vaguely reminds me of the car sales technique of “anchoring” – toss out a very high first number (but not so ridiculous that customer walks out), then the salesman lets the customer negotiate a big chunk off that initial price. Customer walks out feeling like they got a big discount and great deal because they’re mentally comparing it to the initial price, but the actual cost is still too high.

          Of course, the customer *will* end up figuring it out at some point (via KBB, talking with friends, whatever), so it’s generally a pretty crummy idea for building repeat business or dealing with people who you have to handle on a regular basis (like, say, a manager).

          1. the gold digger*

            Yep. If you buy a rug in Fez, even though your friend who has lived in Morocco for two years warns you repeatedly DO NOT BUY YOUR RUGS IN FEZ, do not accept the price the salesman gives you as the reference price. They are masters at this and you will pay hundreds, maybe even a thousand, dollars more for your rug than you would have paid in Rabat.

      2. annonymouse*

        It depends on how frequently and the actual number I guess.

        If it was 3 times over the 6 months he forgot about shift switches and at least a month apart each time (or it was agreed to ages ago and not followed up/not reminded) he could still classify as meeting expectations if otherwise working in a team he is doing well.
        Trust me, I’m not defending Carl – however I can see how he’d barely meet expectations.

        Also what is up with your marking system? It sounds like Carl “sometimes fails to meet expectations” in a lot of areas instead of “meets expectations”.

        I mean do you not have a negative on that scale besides “needs to be fired?” I understand this is out of your control but if you don’t have a negative part or meets expectations covers 70% – 40% of expectations met, then yeah, I can see Carl not getting it.

    2. VideogamePrincess*

      maybe that’s the trick! By focusing the manager’s perspective to how they don’t see eye to eye, he pulls it away from how bad a job he’s doing.

    3. New Bee*

      Agreed! I coach a Carl who just got fired because of this type of behavior. OP, do any of your evaluation competencies include “professionally responds to and acts upon feedback”? That’s part of every teaching evaluation I’ve encountered (I’m an instructional coach, so I don’t manage any teachers, but the principal and I confer frequently about their performance), and it may be a root cause that justifies your Carl not meeting expectations in multiple categories. For my Carl, that looked like:
      –Meeting deadlines: Your resistance to feedback around efficient lesson planning caused you to repeatedly missed deadlines.
      –Interactions with colleagues: Your resistance to feedback from experienced educators means your grade level works less effectively and your lessons aren’t aligned in rigor, and so on.

      My Carl is also a novice (first year in the classroom), so I’ve also told him pretty bluntly, “You don’t have enough experience or context to have an informed opinion; engaging in this as a learning right now, rather than a debate, is what will help you gain that experience.” I wish you luck!

      1. HarryV*

        Savage! I also agree that the meets expectation rating may have given him the impression he was doing fine. I think we as managers / supervisors don’t like confrontation. Once time out of some 20 managers in europe, not one had someone in development needed!

  1. Anonymous Educator*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Sounds as if your employee is suffering from a bit of Dunning-Kruger effect.

    1. Bowserkitty*

      I just heard an interview with David Dunning on This American Life about that! It was really interesting.

      1. Julia*

        I had the exact same reaction! Great interview about this on This American Life, but I like this description: “An inability of the incompetent to recognize their incompetency.”

        1. Lefty*

          Had a similar thought based on This American Life as well… just wanted to say that if anyone’s looking for it, Podcast 585: In Defense of Ignorance. (Also free on the Pandora app now?! I don’t have to download these individually anymore!)

    2. Boop*

      Ok, quick Wikipedia search and all I can think is “that sounds like narcissism”.

      Read “Generation Me” and weep, people.

          1. OP*

            I did not mention age in my original post, but I don’t think its a generational thing. Carl and I are roughly the same age (mid-20s), though he’s a bit younger. I don’t think his age has anything to do with it, and I absolutely cannot stand when people say “Well its millenials, they are just like that.” I am part of the millenial generation and I can promise you I have never tried to argue with my boss over a rating or tried to get a teacher to change a grade for me. Some people are just entitled, it doesn’t matter what generation they are from.

            I do think that the fact that he is fresh out of grad school does have a bearing on how he views the ratings. I think other commenters have hit the nail on the head that he believes that our 7-point scale is roughly equal to A,B,C grades and that getting a 3 or 4 is like getting a D or F. Which it is not. I did explain to him that a 4 is perfectly acceptable and a 3 means there is room for improvement but still means you are meeting expectations most of the time.

            1. snuck*

              I think painting millenials with a broad brush is misguided. There are certain traits that go with age ranges – people in their 20s are building careers, not focussed as much on family building etc… and family building requires greater job security, longevity, stability etc… so instead of it being about millenials to me it’s about life stage…

              That said… it sounds like you’ve got an experienced worker who thinks they can argue around things. Great if you are debating something at uni, not so great in the workplace.

              I’d throw him on a few people soft skills PIP goals too – taking feedback with grace, showing consideration for team members, showing he understands business priorities through his attitude/attendence/performance. And I’d point out that he’s new to the game, and all of his years at uni don’t mean that he’s experienced in professional workplace norms.

              1. Vicki*

                I will once more mention Liz Ryan’s recent article on PIPs.

                A PIP is basically a last effort before firing.

                1. snuck*


                  And if you are on a PIP for soft skills then you are pretty much th><is close to walking out the door.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Oh come off it.

            “Me first” has nothing to do with generations. (And in fact, generations are pretty damn impossible to define; there are no clear borders between them!) Some people are selfish, and that doesn’t vary much by age. Some people are narcissistic as all get-out, and that doesn’t vary much by age. The top three most self-centered and self-laudatory people I know are all over the age of 60.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Particularly millennial, which seems to have expanded in the last few years to devour the tail end of Gen X as well as the current crop of teenagers, to the point that as far as I can tell, “millennial” just means “vaguely young person I don’t like” to a lot of people.

              1. anncakes*

                The definition is now so broad that both my husband and my stepdaughter are considered millennials. Until someone can explain to me how a parent and child can be in the same generation, with presumably the same cultural influences having similar impacts on their childhood development, I’ll continue to consider the label near useless.

                1. MommaTRex*

                  I have two children, ages 27 and 7, born when I was 19 and 39. This makes my oldest son actually closer in age to his mom than his little brother. And we have both remarked on how he is much more like my generation (Gen-X) than his own (Millennial) or his little brother’s (to be named later). Sure, my oldest and I have many pop-culture background differences, but we experienced many things together (the rise of the internet, for example) that my youngest will never understand.

                  But yeah, the generation thing is just a social construct that makes people happy because it is human nature to want to classify other humans into groups. “Them” and “Us”, whether that be generations, sports teams, Myer-Briggs personality types, political affiliations, religions, etc.

                2. auntie_cipation*

                  Since the boomers’ birth years range from ’46 to ’64, there is plenty of room in there for a parent and child to both. Of course it doesn’t mean everyone under that label had the exact same experiences, but in the bigger picture, they have some things in common as compared to people who grew up in other eras.

              2. aebhel*

                Yeah…and so much of it is judging the entire ‘generation’ by the behavior of its youngest cohort…who are teenagers. Teenagers are short-sighted and narcissistic, in general, because they’re teenagers. The current crop is no worse than any other.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  And some of it is judging the entire generation from a small group of really wealthy famous people who are on TV, and whose lives are nothing like what most people are living.

            1. Mookie*

              Hopefully a great vantage point for shaking their fists at the clouds above.

              Also, I can’t get over “Generation Me” to describe young people today. It’s like the 60s and 70s never happened. What, just flipping the words around thinking you’re fooling somebody? Those danged Boomers, so unimaginative.

                1. Rmric0*

                  We need a good Youtube Montage/.gif of older people throughout the ages shaking their fist at the youth (preferably with a warod balloon that stays exactly the same for like five minutes).

          2. Ms. Didymus*

            Give me a break. Did you know millennials volunteer more than previous generations did at this age (or other generations do now)? Did you know they are more likely to give to charities? They do both even though they have neither the time or money to do either.

            But definitely…all a bunch of narcissists…

          3. Narcissism Happens*

            Seriously? Millennials are by-in-large the sharing generation. They share housing, they share transport (can’t afford/don’t want cars) they work well in groups. If anything, our generation and the one before it are the entitled ones. Education costs have risen some 300something% and rated wages are down some 15% in comparison to when I went to school.

            Narcissistic? Really? When I went to school it was 300 a semester, good state school. My kids can’t even get room/board/school covered for 3,000. We’re the ones who were involved in the housing crash, voting in people who served only their own and our gains, and now want to blame some 20something year old kid who is already bitter?

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Maybe you should read it more thoroughly. It isn’t saying “People in such-and-such generation are this way.” It’s saying people who tend to be less skilled or knowledgeable in one area are more likely to overestimate their abilities compared to others, and people who tend to be more skilled or knowledgeable in one area are more likely to underestimate their abilities compared to others. The latter group is in the same generation as the former one.

      2. ToxicNudibranch*

        First, could we please not make this a generational thing? Or even attempt to?

        Second, the Dunning-Kruger effect is not really narcissism; it is that people who are good at something tend to think of themselves as less competent, while those who actually *are* less competent tend to think of themselves as doing better than they actually are.

        It’s a self-perception thing, not an “I am the only one who matters” thing.

        1. Natalie*

          Indeed, in the TAL interview referenced upthread, David Dunning says that the competent people didn’t actually underestimate their own competence as much as they overestimated the competence of other people. (The experiment involved people taking a test and then ranking where they thought they would be within the group).

          1. Serin*

            I’m fascinated by the Dunning-Kruger effect, but when you think about it, why would we even expect incompetent people to judge their expertise competently?

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              They talk about that in the interview with Dunning, who says it makes total sense, because even the ability to self-assess is a skill, and presumably the people who are incompetent in some of the areas Dunning was testing were also incompetent in the self-assessment department as well.

              1. A Cita*

                Right, but what Serin is pointing out is that it’s not just about self assessment in general–it’s how would you even understand the full range of competencies if you only ever experienced one end of the range (which would naturally be the lower end, since in most cases, one has to pass through the low range of competency to get to the higher range).

                I think the more important take away from that is that competent people underestimate themselves.

                1. Bookworm*

                  Yes. Another important takeaway of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that if you’re not familiar with a process, you’re likely underestimating how simple it is.

                  You can see this in offices all the time. People have a keen awareness of their own department and all the complexities therein, but usually only a simple overview of other departments. So it can look like legal is taking *forever* with a simple request….but it’s likely those requests are more complex than you can realize without more expertise.

              2. Collarbone High*

                I once explained D-K to a colleague who was widely considered to be incompetent, and he heartily agreed with the findings. “It’s so true! They NEVER realize they’re incompetent.”

                It was very meta.

          2. Mookie*

            David Dunning says that the competent people didn’t actually underestimate their own competence as much as they overestimated the competence of other people.

            But the inability to objectively and accurately assess the skills and performance of peers and recognize deficiencies is a kind of incompetence. Weird.

            1. Koko*

              I think this is in scenarios where you don’t have access to hard data about specific people’s work. It’s that to highly competent people, what they’re doing feels so easy to them that 1) they don’t think of themselves as being especially skilled because c’mon, it’s a super easy task, and therefore 2) they assume if they are of average skill, the average person probably could do about as well on the task.

        2. aebhel*

          Yeah, there can be elements of narcissism (or at least over-confidence), but the main problem is that someone who is incompetent at a particular thing is, almost by definition, not capable of assessing what competence would look like.

      3. Natalie*

        There is something hilarious about using basically the generation-bashing-phrase that was applied to Boomers (“Me Generation”) to bash the current group of kids that just won’t get off those Boomers’ lawns.

      4. AnonNurse*

        Actually, I think this commenter is literally giving the advice for people to read the book “Generation Me”. They’re not pointing out the “me generation” but rather pointing to a book. I may be incorrect but that’s how I read it.

        1. Boop*

          Exactly – thanks!

          I’m definitely not trying to say anything about this generation, or assume the age of “Carl”, but point out that this type of attitude is alarmingly on the rise. I can confirm that it’s not isolated to the Millenial generation, either, it seems to be a cultural shift in the US.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            But the book you’re pointing out is literally calling out the Millennial generation specifically.

            In this provocative and newly revised book, headline-making psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge explores why the young people she calls “Generation Me” are tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but also disengaged, narcissistic, distrustful, and anxious.


            Dr. Twenge uses data from 11 million respondents to reveal shocking truths about this generation, including dramatic differences in attitudes toward work and religious practice, and controversial predictions about what the future holds for them and society as a whole. Her often humorous, eyebrow-raising stories about real people vividly bring to life the hopes, disappointments, and challenges of Generation Me. Engaging, controversial, prescriptive, and funny, Generation Me gives Boomers and GenX’ers new and fascinating insights into their offspring, and helps those in their teens, twenties, and thirties find their road to happiness.

            That’s exactly saying “this generation is different!”

            1. literateliz*

              omfg, I have been reading this entire thread with the browser add-on that changes “Millennials” to “Snake People,” but I did not realize that it ALSO changes “Generation Me” to “Cult of the Serpent” and thought this was all a very elaborate joke/pun based on said browser add-on. It wasn’t until this comment that I twigged to what was going on. Good job self

              1. Alli525*

                This is incredible. I have a couple Chrome browser extensions that block a certain GOP candidate’s name from appearing on my screen (one extension apparently wasn’t enough) … I was doing some website updates at work yesterday and noticed a memo with a missing headline, so I tinkered around with it and still had issues… I almost contacted the IT department, but before I did, I opened the page in Firefox and the headline was there – and it had the word “Tr*mped” in it, so Chrome thought it was about said candidate and blocked it. I laughed so hard.

          2. neverjaunty*

            No, it really isn’t. The “Me Generation” was what people talked about back in the 1970s. Ranting about how people today don’t think about themselves and kids these days are narcissistic goes back through recorded history.

          3. Lily*

            Nah. A true Millennial stereotype would go cry in the bathroom after a bad performance review, text all his friends/mom for support, take a Snapchat with the crying face filter, and ask to leave work early that day due to anxiety so he can go watch Netflix, cuddle his dog and vape. Face-to-face confrontation? That’s for people 35+.

          4. CMT*

            “this type of attitude is alarmingly on the rise”

            What? No. Since the dawn of time there have been narcissists. They existed even before Narcissus!

  2. Bowserkitty*

    I don’t know if this is the case with your employer, but at OldJob the managers were instructed to rarely give the highest ratings to anybody. It was REALLY discouraging and frustrating.

      1. Granite*

        I would say it does, only from the perspective that if you have to be really excellent to get the highest ranking, getting the next highest better mean you’re pretty darn good, and getting adequate should mean you’re doing just fine. If there are areas he’s not doing just fine, he needs to get not meeting expectations so you don’t put yourself in a position of having to inflate a future grade to show he’s improved.

      2. Jinx*

        The thing that sticks out to me is that performance evaluations “directly determine raises”. I can see a combative-type person really latching on to this and fighting for every point, because they are viewing the meeting as “this determines how much money I get” instead of “this is feedback on how well I do my job”. It’s not a reasonable way to approach it, but I can see it happening.

        If he’s also the kind of person who isn’t good at self-assessing, he might feel like OP’s scores are wildly off-base and taking money out of his pocket. This is why Alison’s advice is spot on in that OP needs to provide concrete examples that say “this is what I see, and that’s why I gave you this score”. You can let him explain his perspective without letting him derail the conversation into word-choice quibbles.

        1. Jinx*

          To clarify (I feel like I always do this, Jinx needs to proof posts better): Looking at performance reviews from a financial perspective is not unreasonable. Doing so to the point where you’re ignoring the actual feedback is.

      3. themmases*

        It could be relevant though that these categories have somewhat subjective names and different people might expect a different distribution of ratings across the scale. And if the company doesn’t have a rubric for the overall score or a guideline of how the scores should be distributed (e.g. “in most departments the middle 80% of performers will receive ‘meets expectations'”), they should. I think it can head off a lot of resentment, both in encouraging different managers to use the scale the same way and heading off unrealistic expectations from employees.

    1. Juli G.*

      I don’t think that’s relevant here. Given all the evidence OP presented, this guy isn’t even meeting expectations in all areas. Missing customer meetings – plural! And an employee that’s just completing 12 months being frustrated with an average rating for an average to below average performance… I think that would be nervy.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Maybe he’s being evaluated the way that some people used to be where I work: the evaluation was based on the expectations that they had for you based on your (perceived) skills and abilities, not the job requirements. This is an excellent way to keep low performers while demotivating the high performers. (It also is a great way to keep people in a job they clearly aren’t suited for.)

        Oh, and there was only one Exceeds Expectations given out per department.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes this happens. Where my friend works they won’t fire anyone. Someone can just say “no I can’t do that” and they’ll assign it to someone else. If they’re truly terrible, they just get passed to another dept.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, it doesn’t really apply here, but we have a rating scale of 1-4 and nobody is supposed to get all 4s, unless they are the most amazing employee ever. I usually get a few 3s and a few 4s.

    3. Sans*

      My old boss refused to give anyone the highest rating, even for individual items, much less as an overall rating. It was kind of ridiculous. I can accept it’s hard to get the highest, but if it’s impossible, why even bother having the rating at all?

      1. starsaphire*

        Ooof. My friend was a manager at a company like that. Before the evaluations even went out, she was told, “You will give X many ones, X+Y many twos, X many threes, and no fours.” She was livid, and she had to give twos to some of her best performers.

        1. Joseph*

          Basing the grades on an arbitrary number system is a great way to lose top performers. Or, even worse, a way to encourage top performers to (a) refuse to work with other great employees, (b) quietly hope for others to fail, or even (c) passively sabotage other employees. After all, if someone’s raise depends on the evaluation and only 2 out of 10 people can get threes, it’s in his best interest that eight of the people on your team are clearly worse than him. In fact, it might even be best if the rest of the team completely fails (as long as it doesn’t reflect on him), so that his success glows even brighter compared to his failing colleagues.

          In fact, a couple years ago, Vanity Fair did a longform article on Microsoft’s decade-long stagnation. Microsoft had this kind of “stack ranking” – and every single employee VF interviewed cited it as one of the most destructive things the company ever did and a primary reason that Microsoft basically wasted a decade.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I had a boss once who told me that it was literally impossible to get the highest rating, because it meant there was absolutely no room for improvement. Even though one of the rated factors was attendance, and in my first year there, not only did I not miss a single day of work, but I came in on days I wasn’t scheduled because it made certain procedures easier on them. (Guess how long I did that. Go on, guess.)

        1. BeautifulVoid*

          Back when I was a teacher, I got into a discussion (not quite argument-level) with some of my colleagues about whether or not to give any 100s (the highest grade in that school) on report cards the first half of the year. The ones arguing against it said if you give a kid a 100 early on, it means that they can’t improve on anything and that they won’t be motivated to keep trying. I said if the kid does all the work I put in front of him and his class participation shows he clearly understands all of the material, why shouldn’t he get a 100 just because it’s October?

          I graded how I wanted, and though it’s been quite a few years, to the best of my recollection, out of the few kids I gave 100s to in the beginning of the year, most, if not all of them sustained that for the full year.

        2. Emmy*

          That happened to my husband too. He was never late, never took a sick day, (which is not a good thing, but I digress), showed up to every scheduled day but didn’t get 100 on his attendance or on “available to work” because he didn’t volunteer for extra Saturday shifts. He was working 60+ hours already. He was also informed “I have to mark you down somewhere as no one can get a perfect review.” He does not miss working at that place.

        3. Regina*

          This happened to me as well. I had a perfect attendance record, never had been late, and I would frequently cover my co-worker’s shifts when they were absent. My manager had been told by his manager not to hand out any 4s. I asked him how to improve my attendance record and he had no answer. He did end up giving me the 4, but likely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t sassed a bit about it, heh.

      3. neverjaunty*

        The point of having the fake ‘highest’ rating is to make it easier for the company to cover their butts. “Discrimination? Why, we didn’t fire Wakeen for any untoward reason – we fired him because of his performance! Look at how he didn’t have a single rating in the ‘Exceeds Expectations’ category!”

    4. M*

      My manager (not company as a whole) won’t give the highest ratings to anyone because “You can’t exceed my expectations. I expect you to be an excellent employee.” :(

      1. Dan*

        I… kinda have that thought when filling out customer satisfaction surveys, so I understand why some managers think that way too.

        My expectation is that you will do the job being asked of you. For something that is relatively transactional, like checking me into a hotel and what not, my expectation is that you check me in with no fuss. If my room is technically deficient, I expect you to assign me a new one with little hassle.

        About the only way you can exceed my expectations is to give me something I did not pay for and I was not entitled by virtue of some loyalty program. In some ways, that’s not really fair, but for routine transactions, there is just no way to exceed my expectations.

        1. ToxicNudibranch*

          Slightly OT, but there are an awful lot of companies who will actively punish employees who receive anything less than a “perfect” score. Back in my call center days, we could get written up if we got a 4/5 on any component of a customer survey.

          It was a broken and deeply unfair system that benefited no one and certainly didn’t help improve customer experience. So I get where you’re coming from, but if you’re filling out those comment cards just for the sake of filling them out, and not because you have specific feedback, it’s something to keep in mind.

          1. Saturn9*

            Also at a call center. Our surveys have a 1-10 rating but an 8 or less is scored by my employer the same as a zero. We need consistent 9 or 10 ratings to have any hope of seeing a bonus–which we all desperately need, since our hourly pay is barely north of minimum wage.

            If you really want to screw us and inflict the most mental/emotional damage while doing so: rate our service an 8. It’s sort of the call center equivalent of tipping your waitress one cent.

        2. CMT*

          I’ve never seen a customer satisfaction category with an exceeds expectations option. They’re usually always statements with categories of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. It’s easy to give somebody top marks on those when they do their jobs.

      2. animaniactoo*

        My boss had to fight HR to give myself and my co-worker the evaluations that she gave us last year. About 40% 3s, 55% 4s, the rest 5s and a single 2 for me. I believe he got pretty similar. We’re a really small team in general, and her answer to being challenged was “They are exceptional employees. I don’t have room on my team for anybody who is anything less than above average”. She considers it that her expectations are high and as such, even consistently meeting those is more than simply “meets expectations”. She won that battle, and I deeply appreciate it.

    5. Koko*

      I think ultimately what people are frustrated about is that they don’t get big raises every year. You could let managers give out more highest-ratings, but that doesn’t mean they have enough money to give raises to all the people whose rating is now as high as it could possibly be. Then you have employees being frustrated because, “I’m exceeding expectations and you can’t even give me a raise!”

      I think it’s much better to reserve the top rating for people who are truly outliers, the top X% tail end of the bell curve, and make it clear to staff that getting less than the highest rating doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with their work. This isn’t school where everyone can get a 100 if they do what they’re supposed to have done and do it well. This is the real world of work, where not everyone is a superstar. Reasonable adults should be able to understand that, and expectation management goes a long way towards keeping people happy.

      1. Dan*

        That’s the thing. The other issue is what should performance evals really be used for? When raises are strictly tied to performance, and there’s a fixed pot to go around, the evals are “doctored” to justify that little raise is being given. (BTW, I don’t like companies that are big on self assessments. I really am not in a position to judge my contributions relative to my peers. Hell, it’s not always obvious who my peers really are.) So now we have to waste our time on a bunch of BS, because my reviews aren’t an unbiased assessment of my work.

        If reviews are used as an honest assessment of an employee’s performance, it can lead to “I did well, why not much of a raise?” Me, I’d prefer that conversation, because I want an honest assessment of how I performed. At least then I know where I can improve. If the company is being stingy with raises and not rewarding strong performers, then I want to know that too.

        1. Koko*

          In our company there is no hard-and-fast rule about what score gets what sort of raise. It’s extremely unlikely you’d get the top rating without getting a raise, and fairly unlikely you’ll be promoted without getting the top rating, but most people who get the middle rating still receive a merit increase.

          The raise pool available is fixed, the evaluations are accurate assessments, and then raises are distributed in a way that makes sense, with more of the money going to people who scored highly and less of it going to the middle-scorers. And two people who got the same score can end up with different raises because while they fell into the same bucket their manager still saw a distinction between their performance (average vs almost-above-average, superstar vs supersuperstar, etc.).

      2. Serin*

        In a lot of places these days, people don’t get ANY raises from year to year.

        Which is irrelevant to the question, but just happens to be irking me right at the moment. Suuuure, assign me another hour-long presentation on the Agile Culture of Lean Client-Centered Excellence. Might it possibly be relevant that my base pay is low, my bonuses are a tiny percentage of a tiny number, and my raises don’t exist?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          A lot of places don’t give regular raises and a lot of place no longer do performance reviews either. Here we don’t do reviews and if you want a raise, you state your case to your boss and they take it up to the top for approval. It’s definitely not going to happen every year, only if you’ve taken on significantly more responsibility.

    6. Bwmn*

      In addition to this, the flip side is when some managers give everyone straight across the highest marks. Whether this is because a manager is a total people pleaser or if because the aggregate average of the evaluation contributes to a raise – having a different kind of review can be really difficult.

      I used to work somewhere (not government), which gave raises based off the aggregate score. As a result lots of managers were very quick to “straight 5” employees. In such a situation when you then end up with a lower aggregate that impacts your raise, the whole situation is far less about areas of improvement or true reflections of performance – but far more about “you took money away from me”.

      If your place of employment does tie raises to these aggregate scores, then I think it would be helpful to know what the average level that most people get is. Also, if it’s not related – then be honest with that. That someone’s cost of living raise will have no impact on these numbers and it is just used around performance.

    7. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      At my last job, the only people who ever got the highest rating were HR. Not only that, but I was told I couldn’t have an overall score of “Exceeds expectations” two years in a row. Go figure.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all, I think we’re getting way off-topic of the letter here (and branching into complaints about performance evaluations in general), so I’m going to ask that we come back to the topic of the letter. Thank you!

    9. Psychdoc*

      When I get evals, I think it’s fine to get “meets expectations” . It means I’m doing the job I was hired for in the way it’s supposed to be done. If I’m significantly exceeding expectations then I may need more work or challenges. And having a couple are that need work shows room to grow, which should be considered acceptable. I know that Carl probably won’t see it this way, but LW could try pitching it this way, just to see if it helps.

  3. CH*

    OP – I agree that you need to run the department and what you say is final.

    Is there a way for each of you to formally write a response to the evaluation? Perhaps the employee would feel better knowing that their disagreements were documented, while at the same time you could also respond with your thoughts and your evaluation would be final. For example if you gave a team player category a meets expectation rate; employee could formally write I exceed expectations because of x,y,z to which you could respond I disagee/ As was discussed in previous meetings incidents a,b,c,d left the department in a lurch. Or maybe in the evaluation itself can you state I am giving you meets expectations because of a,b,c,d. It seems like employee is forgetting the needs improvement areas and only focusing on his positive qualities.

    1. sara*

      I love this idea. This is a totally different context, but I’m a professor, and I do something similar whenever students have a complaint about grades. When I first started teaching, I had way too many students who would want to argue over grades in my office hours or after class, and I often found these interactions to be combative and counterproductive. Now I have students write me a brief memo on specifically how there was an error in the assignment grading. There are way less complaints, because it weeds out all the people whose complaint is essentially “I would prefer a higher grade” but they cannot articulate how their work actually matched the correct answers or assignment instructions/rubric. And, it is really useful from my end to be able to see whether the student perhaps still has major misconceptions about the material (for example, they write a memo full of errors even after being able to think about it and consult notes), and we can work on those problems, or I can assess whether there actually was an error in grading (which obviously can happen!). I think having everything in writing just makes everything way less argumentative because the person complaining needs to put their thoughts down on paper and can better tell whether there is a legitimate issue vs. an emotional complaint.

  4. Anoners*

    Has anyone listened to the most recent ep of This American Life? There’s a segment on the Dunning-Kruger effect and it really reminded me of this employee. Def worth a listen!

      1. Anoners*

        Awesome! Totally missed that above! Since that ep I’ve run into so many of those types work/town.

        1. Bowserkitty*

          Yes, I’m going to be able to detect it much better now. I’d never even heard of it prior to that interview.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I used to have a friend who was the DKE personified. It did not make him an easy person to get along with.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I’ve worked with one. It was horrible. We were actually at our most efficient when she was out on medical leave a few times.

  5. Roscoe*

    My honest guess is that there is a disconnect for him about how you score things and how previous managers scored things. That is always a learning curve when someone has that. I remember a job I had a few years ago. I was super angry when I saw the evaluation my boss gave me. It sounded a lot like what you gave him. There were 5 categories, with the middle being “meets expectations”. Well in my mind that was essentially like getting a C on a report card. In my mind, while I may not be the perfect employee, I wasn’t “c level”. His first comment to me was explaining how he saw each of those levels. That conversation to start actually put me in a much better place, because as he explained his thought process, I realized that he didn’t see me as bad as I was interpreting it. Maybe thats something you should consider doing.

    A similar thing happened at my current job. During my 1 year review my self evaluation and his evaluation of me were VERY different. Again I was pissed. During the conversation, I started to understand how he saw things, and what he considered important. Often what he saw as a BIG DEAL was something I saw as pretty minor (note taking for example). So while I didn’t necessarily agree with HOW he was evaluating me, I understood WHY I got what I got. My 2 year review, we were pretty much on the same page.

    So, while he doesn’t sound like he is a great employee, if you do want to keep him, it may be beneficial to have these conversations.

    1. Anon9999*

      +100. This is very important in all forms of evaluation; taking the time to explain what it means to you versus what it might mean to someone else is critical to helping everyone be on as similar of a page as possible.

    2. Joan Callamezzo*

      I had to make this point repeatedly to a group of employees under me. They saw that middle score of 3 (“meets expectations”) as being a C-level employee, and several wanted to know why their supervisors weren’t giving them all 5s (“consistently exemplary work; a rare level of performance”) all the time.

      Because if everyone is exemplary all the time then no one is; that’s just the performance standard in your workplace then.

      I had to frame it as “Everyone should be operating at a 3 as a baseline, and scores above or below that require documentation with specific examples.”

      1. esra*

        Because if everyone is exemplary all the time then no one is; that’s just the performance standard in your workplace then.

        This doesn’t really make sense to me. For example, if everyone is making five teapots an hour instead of three because they really wanted to bust it out this quarter, that’s not the new normal, that’s everyone going above and beyond.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          … he has left other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions, forgotten when he agreed to switch shifts with a coworker, missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed.

          I’m not being snarky, I’m seriously wondering… Are these your expectations? When you say he “meets expectations” in this particular area, do you mean you truly do expect a certain amount of this kind of behavior? (Because I’m sure there are positions where this *is* the baseline.)

        2. doreen*

          That might be true for a short period of time , but if everyone is making five teapots an hour instead of three for a whole year it absolutely is the new normal. For a number of reasons, one of which is that if everyone gets rated a 5 then you can’t distinguish the person who makes seven teapots an hour all year from everyone else who makes five. It can’t be “a rare level of performance” if everyone is that level – you might as well go to a two rating system and just have “Satisfactory” and “Unsatisfactory”.

    3. Terra*

      Agreed, this is a huge problem with rating systems in general but especially when you go from the academic world (where getting all As was not only do-able but generally expected) to the corporate world (where the highest ranking is something that’s handed out a lot more rarely) or from corporation to corporation (some companies do expect everyone to be in the highest level and being in the middle means you’ll probably be fired, others being in the middle is more expected/acceptable). It’s not always super clear what a rating means, to the manager giving it and to the larger corporate culture.

      1. Roscoe*

        Yeah, I mean for me, my first issue was like my 2nd or 3rd job out of college. But I had worked at organizations that were apparently more loose with throwing around 4s and 5s than other companies. So in my opinion, my work ethic didn’t change, and I was still doing pretty good, yet my next evaluation looked a lot different.

      2. Chickaletta*

        Yes, plus anyone who was raised in the last couple decades in the US came from a culture where you get a trophy just for participating which, obviously, doesn’t reflect the real world. Example A: this post. This employee’s expectations are exactly why so many parents like myself cringe at giving out trophies just for showing up. I’ve been told my five year old will get a trophy for playing t-ball at the end of this season. Ugh.

        1. my two cents*

          It’s not limited to the recent generations. At OldJob there was one NCG and one ‘senior’ employee in their mid 40’s who both thought VERY highly of their own work and would have easily considered themselves star performers despite the various altercations/run-ins they had with other folks in the office.

          1. ToxicNudibranch*

            Ain’t that the truth. I remember joking about the participation trophies with some soccer teammates when we were 8. Literally no one on that team was under any illusion that the trophy was representative of achievement.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yep. They’re generally small, cheap, and plastic, and any kid can see that every other kid got one too.

          2. Hlyssande*


            Participation trophies are because the parents have fits over their precious beebee not getting something. Any kid who gets one knows exactly what it’s for.

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              No. Evidence-based research has shown that kids aged 10 and younger will give up in competitive based scenarios, like science fairs, or sports leagues. Participation trophies celebrate the kids’ participation without coming up with individual merit rewards that mean nothing.

              Honestly, I’m not that fussed giving an eight year old kid a participation trophy for showing up all season to softball games and practice. I’d rather save my anger for 50+ year old CEOs that sink their companies and then receive a $1 million dollar severance fee for being incompetent.

              1. twig*

                I remember getting trophies for participating in t-ball and soccer in the earlyeighties.

                I knew that it didn’t mean the same as my uncles NASCAR trophies or my brother’s MVP trophies that he got for soccer. BUT as an un-athletic clumsy kid, I was super excited to get a trophy at all — and I knew that it was the only way I would get one.

              2. Hlyssande*

                Then maybe I’m speaking from my own experience, there. Getting participation trophies for soccer and softball in grade school was depressing.

                I agree re: CEOs for sure.

                I just really, REALLY hate the generalization that kids who got participation trophies expect special treatment and are entitled.

        2. VideogamePrincess*

          Hey guys, all of you guys are the best, participation trophies and 5 star ratings all around.

          That being said, Please lay off us poor 20-year-olds. We’ve got some growing up to do, probably because our brains haven’t developed, and we’ve got a lot of really enormous choices ahead of us. It’s hard. If we do great, that’s great. If some of us are narcissistic and/or dunning-krugery, that’s not so great. But even if 95% of us are narcisissists, that shouldn’t color your perception of the other 5%.

        3. Mookie*

          Yes, plus anyone who was raised in the last couple decades in the US came from a culture where you get a trophy just for participating which, obviously, doesn’t reflect the real world.

          If we’re going to deal in stereotypes, no: that kind of thing is reserved for white, middle-class people.
          If we’re going to deal in reality, the real world is not a meritocracy and adults are given adult-version participation trophies all the time.

        4. Cool Runnings*

          “Yes, plus anyone who was raised in the last couple decades in the US came from a culture where you get a trophy just for participating which, obviously, doesn’t reflect the real world.”

          This is a really tired & inaccurate trope.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        I kinda hate how pervasive grade inflation has become. When did A’s become expected? When did they stop meaning anything? Now a lot new grads come into the workforce expecting inflated reviews and getting pissy if they receive anything lower than “exceeds expectations.”

        1. Artemesia*

          IN colleges the mental stance of students now is ‘A is the base and show me what you took off if I get less than that’ versus back in my day and on my lawn when it was ‘C is the base and you add goodness onto that to get to B or A’. When I graduated from college at Big State University the average GPA for my class was 2.45. Today it is typical for the average GPA to be between 3.3 and 3.5 depending on the school. One result is that some schools have had to change their Latin Honors criteria to a percent based system since 75% of the class was graduating cum laude or above.

          When I taught college classes I developed rubrics for assignments that basically identified the half dozen to 10 or so factors I was using to grade and then what constituted ‘needs improvement’, ‘adequate’ ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ achievement on that factor. The student got the sheet with the various categories circled as well as a written paragraph of feedback. It greatly reduced whining, but didn’t eliminate it.

          I think in managing you need to do the same thing in doing performance reviews i.e. be able to anchor the evaluation levels with some sort of clear idea of what performing at that level means. ‘I expect everyone to be excellent so that means ‘met expectations’ hardly counts as clarity. What is the productivity, lack of error, initiative, collegiality of someone who exceeds expectations. Or maybe drop those relativistic terms and go with excellent versus adequate work.

        2. Terra*

          It’s part perception (part of getting kids into your school is bragging about how your school is 95% honor roll and such) and parents always wanting their kid to be the kid on the honor roll and so on and partly the fact that unlike the IQ score where the test is actually supposed to be re-calibrated regularly to keep the “average” at 100 no one has actually forced schools to standardize an average grading so they can just do whatever.

          I hate it because it can really mess kids up because I was the kid that always got perfect straight As no matter what even if it meant I had to pull multiple all nighters in college and it’s been murder when it comes to reviews as an adult because the scores are nowhere near standardized, can be completely arbitrary, and sometimes are locked into a level of “no one can get the highest level”.

          My sister was the exact opposite of getting so frustrated by grades that she barely even tried and just coasted and has had similar problems in drifting between jobs.

          Best advice, both for this particular employee and all employees is be very clear what your metrics are, why they are that way, what’s good, what’s bad, what you expect. Also, please do not be the person who expects everyone to be special because then no one’s special and it is hell on the good employees.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      This is actually something I tell new employees, especially if they’re coming out of school. I tell them that they’ll probably look at a 3 as a “C” because it’s the middle of the range, but it’s actually a very good score because we expect them to do great things. So doing a great job means you’re meeting expectations. And then I explain what getting a 4 or 5 looks like. It helps them caliber their expectations.

        1. Artemesia*

          In many workplaces that 3 is failing though. If you are in HR and an instructor and get 3s on course evaluations, you get fired or if a consultant never hired again. Grade inflation is everywhere.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            Oooh yeah. Do a supermarket or restaurant survey, and if they aren’t all wonderful in every way, the employees may get reamed out for poor performance. My nephew works at a local grocery, and if you’re not going to give them the highest marks, he’d rather you didn’t fill out the survey, because they’re not allowed to be anything less than the very best at all times and in all ways.

            1. Terra*

              Which doesn’t make sense because it becomes the “if everyone is special, then no one’s special” paradox. I wonder if there have been studies linking this kind of attitude to higher rates of burnout, it seems kind of inevitable.

              1. Mookie*

                It makes sense in service and retail jobs because they are underpaid, mostly unprotected by standard labor laws, and are often run by people who think staff function at their best when harried, bullied, and frightened into submission. Making them fret over postcard-size customer evaluations is part of the brainwashing.

            2. Pershing48*

              I used to work at a grocery store and that was how the system worked. I think it’s because all the managers of each department are constantly made aware of what the numbers are and corporate is constantly pushing for higher numbers, seemingly regardless of how that’s achieved.

              In contrast, my current job is a QC tech for a chemical company, where performance evaluation is a much more objective “You helped fix Problem X which saved us Y dollars but failed to catch problem W which cost us Z dollars.”

            3. SusanIvanova*

              Or car salesmen. I’ve usually had good luck with them, but the last one – when I drive up in a Miata, mourning my totalled Mini Cooper S, don’t point me at the Clubman. Yes, I do want the JCW package. And this sporty option, and that option, etc. And then to send me a link to the survey page and say that anything less than all 5s gets him in trouble? Don’t tempt me.

        2. Sydney Bristow*

          I think it totally depends on the company. I work in a knowledge-industry job, and at my company, 3 means that you are doing well and progressing as expected. If you’re well-regarded and doing your job well, you can expect mostly 3s and a few 4s. My first promotion happened significantly earlier than normal, and my evaluations leading up to that promotion were roughly 50% 3s, 40% 4s, and 10% 5s.

      1. FD*

        I definitely agree with that! It can be a shock because in school, they usually refer to C as average, when in reality, C often means below average, and B’s and A’s are the expectation.

    5. Ann Furthermore*

      This is an ongoing quibble I have with my current employer about how they do PE’s. Of course just about everyone is going to fall into the middle of the bell curve, with some outliers on either side. Same scoring system, from 1 to 5, with most everyone getting 3’s, which they call “Met Expectations.” I read that the same way you do — C student, just barely doing enough to get by. And yet, they keep pushing this notion that a “3” is a perfectly respectable ranking to get and there’s nothing wrong with it. That is not what my work ethic is, and every year that I’m scored that way, it irks me. I talked about it with my director and manager a couple years ago (not during a review, during another conversation) and I said I hated the designation of “Met Expectations” because the connotation is that I just barely skated by, and that if HR wants people to be happy with a ranking of “3” then they need to describe it as something like “Made Valued Contributions,” and not something that makes you sound like a mediocre slacker.

      My director completely agreed with me. My manager said she didn’t care, the substance of the review, and the resulting raise, was all she was concerned about.

      1. Sydney Bristow*

        It seems like you should focus your efforts on having your ratings changed upwards to reflect your performance, rather than trying to change the company’s way of evaluating people. Unless the evaluation is used to be giving you raises and bonuses that you believe are too low, it seems like you are picking the wrong battle. Right out of college, I, too, fell victim to this notion that “meets expectations” is akin to earning a C. Over time and numerous evaluations, I’ve realized that it’s not at all the case. The professional world is not the same as the academic world (I could also go into a long tangent on grade inflation in academia but I’ll save it for another day/blog). How do you know that people view your “met expectations” as being a mediocre slacker? It’s just as likely that they view employees in the same way that they are evaluating you. As long as they are transparent about the expectations and treat you in the manner that your work ethic and performance merits, why does it matter?

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Intellectually, I know all that. On the other hand, it’s a gripe that many people have, not just me. There are a lot of complaints about that designation. So wouldn’t it be easier to change the description to something that says, “You’re doing a good job and we’re glad to have you as an employee” instead of spending untold amounts of time every PE cycle convincing people that the ho-hum “Met Expectations” is actually really good?

          1. Roscoe*

            Completely agree. Again, even between 2 different managers (hopefully not at the same company, but it happens), meets expectations could mean 2 different things. To some its “This person isn’t doing great, but they are getting the job done and its not worth it to get someone else” to another its “You are doing a good job”

          2. Sydney Bristow*

            Yeah, this makes sense, and I definitely understand where a lot of PEs definitely seem arbitrary, especially when comparing one manager to another. There are managers in my company who are notoriously soft on PEs, and others who are viewed as overly harsh. I think part of the problem is that because people on both sides of the equation dread them, they also lack the initiative to change the method of evaluation. The best scenario in my opinion is one in which your evaluation is a formal documentation of the feedback you’ve received contemporaneously during the period, both good and bad, and a conversation with the manager that addresses what happened in this period and provides guidance for the future. It seems that these evaluations are all too rare…

          3. Judy*

            One company I worked for, that did have forced rankings, had 3 = Strong Performer, 4 = Exceptional Performer and 5 = Outstanding performer.

            They did force no more than 5% 5’s, no more than 10% 4’s, at least 5% 1’s and at least 10% 2’s on the overall ratings.

          4. Pinkie Pie Chart*

            At OldJob, we had a 4 point rating system: 1-Does not meet Expectations, 2- Meets some expectations, 3 – Meets expectations, 4 – Exceeds Expectations. For some reason that made me feel like a more valued employee. Meets expectations was more than half, so in my head, I could interpret it as good rather than mediocre.

    6. Tuxedo Cat*

      I agree, but the caveat I’ll provide is that whatever the rating scale and definitions are, it needs to be normalized across all managers/supervisors, especially if compensation is tied to it. Someone shouldn’t get a new manager and have a radically different score for doing the same work.

      1. Roscoe*

        Oh, I completely agree. But even going from one company to another in a similar role can have vastly different definitions of what “meets expectations” means. Its also important for management to fully explain that

    7. JS*

      100% agree. Especially since this is a new supervisor. Looks like the expectations on what these ratings are aren’t clear cut.

    8. OP*

      I think you are definitely right Roscoe. When I approached my own manager about this issue, she suggested I bring the Rubric that explains what each rating means to show Carl that our 7-point scale is not aligned to the grading scale of school and a 3 or 4 does not equal a D. I think that did help him quite a bit.

      The two of us met today to discuss the performance. And there were definitely things (like forgetting that he switched shifts with a coworker) that he did not see as a big deal, but I did. I talked to him about why that was a big deal to me and why it is important and why I gave him a low score because of that. He wasn’t happy but he did not put up as much of a fuss as he did at 6 months and seemed to understand where I was coming from.

      1. MC*

        Well that’s great news. You were able to effectively communicate the justification for the ratings and reset his expectations to clarify that while he may not see dropping the ball as a big deal – you do. I expect that he’s also had some additional time to see how other’s performance impact him and some additional standards for “how things work” in your organization so that he can better see how his behavior aligns to expectations.

        Sounds like you handled it well and have some lessons that you can apply going forward.

      2. JS*

        Great. I hope you will continue this method of laying out your expectations and what is important to you in grading him.

  6. Kara*

    I recently had to advise a client on a similar issue. They had an employee who had been there 3 months and was already asking for a significant raise because her supervisor had left and she was under the impression that she was taking on more than her job description entailed (she wasn’t – the supervisor just hadn’t been training her properly in an effort to make herself seem more important), and that she was now effectively the supervisor (again, no). My client wants to keep her, but her perspective is fairly skewed as to what her contribution to the company actually is. I gave him similar advice to what Alison gave the OP, and I totally agree with her in this instance. I do also wonder why the employee still works for this supervisor, and hope the OP has the confidence to let him go if necessary.

    1. Koko*

      Ah, I had a similar misperception when I was first starting out. Our department head resigned and rather than hire an interim head, most of her day-to-day tasks were distributed between myself and another person. We were both in our first post-college jobs, and as I look back we were sure that we were “doing the department head’s job.”

      Of course, in reality, we were just doing the rote/routine parts of her job that involved following clear instructions, like filling out reports or tracking metrics. We weren’t making any strategic decisions, managing any employees, or doing any of the higher-level work that is actually the meat of a department head’s work. But being so junior ourselves,the department head’s job was focused on higher-level tasks that we weren’t even really aware of.

      I’m really glad we didn’t start agitating for raises based on that flawed perception. All we did was pat ourselves on the back for all the director-level work we were doing XD

  7. Analyst*

    Dude needs a Needs Improvement or two in that review. And you’ll want to keep documentation of the downfall that results from that (tantrums, insubordination, work failings), because then you can use that to let him go. Good luck OP, stay strong.

  8. KT*

    How does this guy “meet expectations” or “sometimes exceeds expectations” if he misses appointments, forgets he switched shifts, leaves people in a lurch, and misses appointments with customers?!?!

    This sounds like more a problem with a new-manager not feeling empowered enough to do her/his job and can the guy rather than an employee not happy with an evaluation.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yep. And if he truly _does_ meet and sometimes exceed expectations in all categories on the review, then some pretty critical categories are missing.

    2. MaggiePi*

      Maybe we need to refine these levels.
      I think of my friend who is always late. Waiting for her for 10 minutes is now my expectation, but it’s not what I want. Does she “meet expectations”? Yes, but only because I’ve lowered them! If she was on time, I guess that would “exceed my expectations” even though it is the bare bones of what I really want.
      Maybe it should say something like (or think of it as saying), “Performing as desired” or “Consistently fulfilling duties in this area.”

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I like “Consistently fulfilling duties in this area.” It doesn’t have any of the fuzzy emotional connotations of “expectations” or “desires” – it says you do what the job description calls for.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        We have had this conversation *a lot* around my office…I really think the ratings need to move away from “expectations” because it is clouded by the manager’s view. I took on an employee who was constantly being dinged because he did not have a lot of skills – he was never rude, mostly just in his own head. His boss was very focused on whether people said hello in the mornings, or signed up for outside of work activities — so even though he was doing exceptional work, in his boss’s mind he wasn’t meeting expectations on the delivery.

        The best reviews I ever had/used were goal and area based and the (paraphrased) scale was:
        * Failed to meet requirements/goal a majority of the time
        * Met requirements/goal 50-80% of the time
        * Met requirements/goal 80-100% of the time
        * Exceeded requirements/goal

        1. FD*

          Ooh, I like this! I don’t think you’ll get many corporate offices adopting it, just because bureaucratic inertia is hard to overcome, but I’ll definitely remember this if I ever hire employees for my business.

      3. Ad Astra*

        How do you feel about “meets standards,” kind of like how they evaluate elementary school kids taking standardized tests? I’ve never seen it in the context of a performance review, but it would take the trickiness out of the term “expectations.” Every now and then I do see a comment on AAM about a high-performer not “meeting expectations” during a given period because she was just awesome that quarter and the expectation for her is spectacular.

  9. Katie the Fed*

    This is the least favorite part of my job, too. Alison gave you some good language to use.

    It’s ok to hear him out, but remember you need to stay in control of the conversation. Don’t give any inclination that you’re open to changing the score. You’re there to talk about what he needs to do going forward.

    1. Roscoe*

      Agreed. I’ve always gone into those evaluations wanting to be heard, and possibly wanting to have my own opinions and disagreements included in writing in my file. But I would have never expected it to be changed.

    2. Murphy*

      It’s the least favourite part of my job too (on both sides, actually). I’ll bookmark some of this language for later this month.

    3. hbc*

      It really is a horrible feeling to get someone’s self-evaluation and realize the conversation will be 10x harder than you thought it would be. Even the people who understand the explanation of why Meets Expectations isn’t a bad rating still walk away under a cloud.

  10. Artemesia*

    What struck me as it did Alison is that he had left co-workers in the lurch on several occasions as well as forgetting when he agreed to cover — that is ‘doesn’t meet expectations.’ Don’t be bullied by his pushiness into inflating his evaluation. And go into this with a very clear list of 3 things he needs to do differently if he expects to get ‘exceeds expectations’ in the next review. Of course listen. But don’t be backed down when there are clear issues of behavior as there appear to be. Some people are used to working the refs and getting upgraded just to avoid unpleasantness; this guy needs to improve his behavior, don’t let him roll you.

    1. PlainJane*

      I like the “clear list of 3 things to get ‘exceeds expectations.'” I’m going to remember that one. Thanks!

  11. DropTable~DropsMic*

    While it sounds like this employee has performance issues that truly mean he is not meeting expectations, I wonder if there is some material thing riding on his getting a certain score. Things like being on a PIP or some form of probation from before you got there that stipulates he’s fired if he doesn’t get a certain rating, or if there have been times in the past when people were selected to be laid off based on low scores.

    The reason I bring this up is I’ve talked to professors who had students argue with them over grades because the student was on some form of financial aid, or on a sports team or something, that could be affected by their grades.

    None of this changes the fact that people need to be evaluated on their actual performance, not on what their own needs are. However, it does call for clear and consistent standards as to how the evaluations are done, and an understanding of what those evaluations mean in the larger context of the company.

  12. Catalin*

    This dude sounds like he has a major attitude problem. If his work isn’t extraordinarily good or involves a special, rare skill…just no.

    Disagreeing with your boss is generally okay if it’s done in a polite, calm, respectful manner. I may be reading this incorrectly, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. Chances are good he expects that if he puts up enough of a fight, you’ll cave. Do. Not. Cave.

  13. oleander*

    Is Carl recently graduated from college? My partner and I both work on a college campus, and it’s alarming to me how many students use these techniques to get better grades, and even more alarming how often these techniques work, partly because instructors’ evaluations and therefore their continued employment depend on students getting the grade they think they’re entitled to. I hate sounding like a “kids these days” grump, but I really do think the behavior is on the rise, fueled partly by the fact that more and more instructors are adjunct or temporary, not tenure-track, so their ability to stay employed is all the more dependent on good student evals as well as not causing any extra work for higher-ups.

    But in any case, there are lots of kids in college getting good grades just from arguing every single point and making their instructors’ lives miserable — I’m sure many of them go on to think they can use the same techniques in the work world.

    1. BeautifulVoid*

      Eh, it’s been going on for a while now. The movie “Clueless” is over 20 years old at this point (ugh, I’m old!), and Cher says her father taught her that the grades on her report card is just a starting point for negotiations.

      Even so, as previous posters have mentioned, it might be worth pointing out that “meets expectations” is not the same as a C grade in school. But with this guy, his perception might be so warped that it won’t really matter.

      1. animaniactoo*

        And the point of that was supposed to be how ridiculous it was that she got away with it. Laughable as farce, horrifying as a real world situation kind of thing.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I witnessed this a couple of times in grad school and I was flabbergasted at the gall of the student. They put forth their point, the instructor remained steadfast, and the student then basically demanded that the grade be increased. The instructor ultimately conceded. I thought it was an isolated thing. I guess not. I’m all for open dialogue and even agreeing to disagree, but this is nuts.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I’m about five years out of school now, but when I was in college I saw an increasing number of professors who felt the need to quantitate every tiny detail of their grading scale to avoid the kinds of arguments you’re talking about. I saw some very elaborate paper-grading rubrics in my history and political science classes, in an attempt to reduce the subjectiveness (subjectivity?) of the grading process. I usually knew exactly what I needed to do to get the desired grade.

      Journalism professors, on the other hand, seemed to select our grades using some kind of dart board. No rhyme or reason.

      1. Artemesia*

        Those rubrics do serve to reduce whining but they also force professors to think through their own standards and communicate them very clearly. When you can articulate what various levels of ‘critical thinking’, ‘supporting theory with examples’, ‘write clearly’ etc etc actually mean you are likely to grade more fairly, push students to do better work and also communicate more clearly.

        1. Judy*

          I’m seeing rubrics published beforehand for 4th grade projects. It’s somewhat interesting.

          1. CMT*

            I saw those things all the time when I was in elementary school. I don’t think it’s a new trend.

          2. Mephyle*

            It was when my kid was in Grade 4 that I learned the word ‘rubric’ – twenty years ago.

        2. Mookie*

          Exactly this. It’s a useful pedagogical exercise and holds them accountable to resisting unconscious biases when evaluating student performances. It’s great for heading off arguments, but it’s valid on its own.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I think it’s good to have rigorous standards to explain exactly why someone got a grade or score. Because these are fundamentally subjective, but I should be able to tell my employee exactly what a 3, 4, or 5 looks like. Same with grades in college. Otherwise they’re just trying to hit a mysterious target. And it’s so subjective – I always do a first draft of performance appraisals and come back a week later to look them over and will make changes because I don’t want my mood or whatever to influence someone’s score.

    4. neverjaunty*

      Sorry, but you’re a ‘kids these days’ grump. Entitled, overprivileged twerps were screaming at their instructors about how they deserved an A back when I was in college over a quarter century ago, and it wasn’t new then.

      1. oleander*

        I was in college over a quarter century ago too, and grade inflation was certainly a trend. I think the difference I’m seeing now is that it’s not just a minority of ultra-entitled overprivileged twerps — the Chers of Clueless, if you will — who browbeat instructors if they don’t get perfect scores ( and who, like Carl, aren’t interested in actually doing the work it takes to produce excellent results). It’s a much broader swath of students, including the many with decidedly non-Cher-like upbringings who attend our non-elite state school.

        1. A grad student*

          I think you’re probably right in that the increase in adjuncts is driving the behavior. Maybe the Chers of generations past would have tried to get professors to increase their grades but failed because their professors could afford to stick to their guns back then. That would not encourage their peers to try. Today though with the ‘students as customers’ mentality and professors whose livelihoods depend on good evaluations? Professors have a real financial incentive to give in- even tenure for tenure track professors depends on their student evaluations. And once they do that once, all the students’ friends try it, because why wouldn’t they? The students haven’t changed, but their environment sure has.

          1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

            I believe grade badgering is increasing, and I agree it has way more to do with the job insecurity of adjuncts and part-timers than with any inherent level of entitlement among The Youths.

  14. newlyhr*

    I cannot emphasize strongly enough that this employee needs to hear it STRAIGHT, CLEAR, and don’t mince words. I agree with Allison who says that based on what you posted, this employee is NOT MEETING EXPECTATIONS in at least one or two areas. Don’t gloss over that. I know it makes the conversation hard, but the conversation just gets harder if you don’t address these issues now when they come up. Take it from someone who made the mistake of thinking things would get better if we just let some sleeping dogs lie–they didn’t. It got worse and worse. I learned an important lesson and I was lucky I didn’t get fired myself because I was not doing my job to let that go on as long as it did. Employees can become emboldened when they do things they know they shouldn’t and get away with it.

    You are the supervisor and you have the responsibility for providing feedback and helping an employee understand what is expected of him/her. It’s hard for someone to be told they aren’t meeting expectations, but don’t waste your time trying to get them to agree to that assessment, rather spend the time saying ‘this is what you can do to improve in this area.” Then it’s up to the employee what happens next. It’s in their court.

  15. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    This reminds me a bit of explaining report cards to the parents of my students. Our old rubric was 1-4 on various measures (e.g. “Takes responsibility for own learning”) and the standard was a 3. Parents were sometimes upset if their child didn’t get all 4s, and super upset if a 2 appeared (even among a lot of 3s). I had to explain that 4 does not mean “A” and that 3 is what’s expected – and that a 2 just means that’s an area for us to focus on with your kid right now.

    I’m glad we’ve moved to a totally different rubric now.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Oh, and I meant to add – what I’ve learned over the years is that the best way to give feedback that a kid isn’t meeting expectations is to be super specific and give concrete examples. Not “Sally doesn’t work well with others” but “Sally frequently has conflicts with her partner when working in a pair. She gets upset if her partner doesn’t let her make all the decisions, and often needs teacher assistance to compromise.” Maybe even adding, “For example, in her parachute experiment she… [what happened].”

      1. Artemesia*

        Great example. And it keeps the teacher honest. Maybe Sally is a little s&*( and she really loathes her — but focusing on what we can do to help her improve moves the focus to positive impact and specific behaviors and lessens the likelihood that she will be getting poor reports because we don’t like her, she is a girl, she is black, whatever.

  16. Former Retail Manager*

    Along the same lines as someone mentioned above, if this manager is new and believes that “meets” with “sometimes exceeds” is a good rating, but her predecessor routinely gave out higher ratings and other managers of similar employees are giving out higher ratings that could be one potential source of the employee’s frustration. When two people doing the same job are performing similarly but are not rated similarly, it can create an issue in terms of the employee’s perception of their own performance.

    Also, for the people saying that the person doesn’t deserve their current rating, I think it’s all relative. While his behavior isn’t great, it may not be as bad as it sounds. Did he miss 3 appointments out of 120 in 6 months, or did he miss 3 out of 10? There is a big difference. And does anyone else ever make the same mistakes that he does or is he the only one? If he’s the only one, I’d be inclined to say that he may not deserve his current rating. Either way, best of luck….contentious employee ratings are never fun.

  17. PlainJane*

    I could have written this letter about the employee whose evaluation I’m writing today. She argues about any constructive feedback I give, nitpicked word choices in her last appraisal (which included–I’m not kidding–over *30* “corrections”, nearly all of which were either trivial or inaccurate), blames co-workers and former managers for everything, and exaggerates her own contributions to a degree that’s mind-boggling. And she asks for a raise every few months. I tried most of what Alison suggested, unfortunately to no avail, and started the discipline process (extensive since we’re gov’t) when she was transferred to another department. Thankfully this is the last appraisal I have to write for her. People like this are so frustrating. I try to coach lower performers, help them identify resources for improvement, and provide as much encouragement as I can, but when they already think they walk on water, none of that makes a difference.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I had an employee like that a couple years ago. No self-awareness whatsoever. Disputed every review and piece of constructive criticism. Never made any improvements, because they didn’t think improvements were necessary. The kicker was when this person said they were “blindsighted” by their termination, despite being on a PIP and having weekly meeting to discuss the lack of improvement. Blindsighted!

      I can’t even begin to describe the relief I felt when that person left. It was really one of those cases where someone’s drama was worse than having one less person on the team.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m going to dispute the “to no avail.” The process worked — it brought to the surface that this is a serious performance issue that needed to be treated as such (which you were doing with the discipline process).

      1. PlainJane*

        You’re right. I should have phrased that differently. What I was trying to say was that using your suggestions didn’t change her behavior. But you’re absolutely correct–doing these things made it abundantly clear that coaching and changing the way I communicated performance issues wasn’t going to solve the problem, which was really valuable. I tend to beat myself up when I can’t help employees correct performance issues, but intellectually I know they have to meet me halfway–and she wouldn’t. And please know that I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on your advice. It’s excellent.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, no, I didn’t take it as an aspersion! I just think it’s so valuable for people to realize that even when something like this feels like it “failed” in one regard, it’s actually doing exactly what it should be doing in another.

    3. Ms. Didymus*

      My first performance review I delivered, my employee asked to attach a statement to it (which was permitted). She was unhappy and wrote, in all caps, “ANOTHER MANAGER WOULD HAVE DONE BETTER AT EVERYTHING.”

      Little did she know, the other managers had been slowly working on me to fire her for her crappy attitude. She didn’t last the next year.

  18. animaniactoo*

    I’m curious about whether it’s worth it to dig into a perspective shift?

    i.e. “Carl, on your self-eval, you marked yourself as a strong team player. But in the past 6 months, you have forgotten when you agreed to switch shifts with a coworker (hey, how many times did this happen? If it was one time, I don’t think it’s fair to call it out as a big deal here), missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed. Can you explain how you think those stack up with being a strong team player?”

    1. Artemesia*

      That is perfect. And missing ONE shift would not be a big deal if that were the only thing about letting co-workers down, but if it is just one more thing in missing appointments with customers, scheduling appointments when short staffed etc then it is not a one off — it is one thing in a long list of things and perfectly appropriate to include in the list.

  19. Not Karen*

    Be sure to provide specific and concrete examples. For instance, instead of saying “you’re not a strong team player,” say “you’ve missed #X of appointments in the last month.” The first is an opinion that can be debated; the second is a fact that you can prove (assuming you have time-tracking software).

  20. Elle*

    As someone who interviews candidates, I often wonder when I hear about these situations whether there were any “red flags” during the interview process. I’ve ignored a few of them myself, and have paid the price!!

  21. Rusty Shackelford*

    … he has left other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions, forgotten when he agreed to switch shifts with a coworker, missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed.

    I’m not being snarky, I’m seriously wondering… Are these your expectations? When you say he “meets expectations” in this particular area, do you mean you truly do expect a certain amount of this kind of behavior? (Because I’m sure there are positions where this *is* the baseline.)

    (sorry, accidentally posted as a response earlier)

  22. JS*

    Seems like this is more of an issue with management styles/experience and organization of the company than this employee.

    I wouldn’t hold him liable for “leaving co-workers in a lurch” since that is subjective unless there is hard evidence. It could be his word against theirs and everyone has their own office allegiances. Same with forgetting he switched shifts with a co-worker. I have had co-worker schedule meetings I was supposed to be at without sending me the invite, sending me the invite when I was OOO for a meeting I would still be OOO for and then turn around and blame it on me. There should be some tracking system, either via Outlook or other methods to document these other than verbal agreements. Verbal agreements without some sort of email documentation is reckless and disorganized.

    There is also no reason why with regular progress meetings OP and employee should be on two different pages still. There is a miscommunication happening which unfortunately lies on OP, the manager to rectify. It appears as OP is not being 100% forth coming with expectations or progress (especially since they are complaining about performance and then saying that they are going to give employee satisfactory marks). Either that or the actual measurement of performance has not been tangibly and objectively applied by OP to the work and OP is purely basing this on subjective notions. OP needs to be able to give examples of “this is what satisfactory, somewhat exceeds, greatly exceeds, looks like” to me.

    I’m not saying OP’s employee isn’t a lazy or bad employee, I am saying that given what OP has said they need to adjust their management style and address the miscommunication.

  23. Student*

    He’s smelled that you don’t like conflict. He’s set you up to expect conflict if you don’t give him great marks. His actions are the ones that make perfect sense here. Yours don’t – you reward the behavior you don’t want (trying to haggle on marks when you don’t think it’s merited) by engaging in it and letting it reframe your world-view of “How do I have a review where I can keep this guy from arguing with me?” instead of shutting it down and focusing on “Who are the most valuable members of my team that I want to retain?”.

    This is the kind of guy who can easily bring down a department’s morale if you let him run amok. This is bias in action – people who complain the most get the most attention regardless of performance; good performers who don’t rock the boat get overlooked in an effort to mollify the loudest. You are sitting in the center of this situation, looking for a way to mollify instead of a way to gauge performance. You have the power to stop it and reward the people who do good work for you instead of the people who loudly proclaim that their work is the best.

  24. Katie the Fed*

    BTW, OP – One other thing you might try. Before you have this meeting, practice with someone you know and trust. Have them be Carl and throw every argument possible at you. Since you’re a new supervisor, this is all new to you, which is why he was able to take control of the previous discussion and make YOU feel evaluated. It’s ok – it’s new and you don’t know how to do it. But have a practice round or two with a friend. Have the friend be the slyest butthead imaginable and try to change the subject, divert etc. And you working on staying focused; ie “I understand, but we need to talk about X.”

    I did this before my first disciplinary session with a particularly weasel-y underperformer and it helped a lot. I was much more comfortable in anticipating his shenanigans and heading them off.

  25. quix*

    I’ve always had two problems with this kind of writing system.

    First, it’s rarely standard across companies, departments, or whatever organizational unit. Some people decide they’re going to be the demanding boss and never give out the highest marks while others try to fit people into a bell curve and others consider “expectations” to be the bare minimum, and quality work exceeds that. There’s not usually any accountability making sure that managers adhere to a common set of standards meaning if you’re going to ever want someone to see your evaluations other than your direct manager you better hope you got lucky.

    Second, it often ends up in a silly semantic trap. If you’re expected to be an excellent employee who goes the extra mile to get things done, and goes beyond the job description, and takes initiative, and finds new projects, and so on, there’s not really anywhere to go from there, so your scale might as well really end at 3

    1. Argh!*

      Neither of those things happens in an organization where there are standardized standards and where managers are trained to do them properly. The best place I ever worked was a union shop, where each rating within each category was very specifically described

      1. JS*

        That might be because in your job its actually tangible things. In corporate jobs where there isn’t a task system or project management quantification and teams are broken up into small interdepartmental teams, its hard to quantify what is exceeding expectations and meeting them. I work for a VERY well known media corporation (mascot rhymes with licky louse) and 9/10 the people who end up “exceeding expectations” are the kiss-butts who spend more time brown-nosing and sucking up to the right people then actually doing their job. So-so/medicore and a solid employees who are reliable both are “meeting expectations” at my company.

        1. Koko*

          My work is not tangible and we still have standards across the organization, from communications to admin to IT to research, across offices in many countries.

          “Meets Expectations” means you’re doing well. “Exceeds Expectations” means you are doing unusually well and probably need to be promoted. “Doesn’t Meet Expectations” means you’ll be put on a PIP. Every year during review season, our HR department hosts a series of webinars explaining the process and they always clearly emphasize what the levels mean and that most people should expect to get “Meets” most years.

          I agree with Argh, all it takes is for HR/upper management to communicate that expectation to both managers and employees. If a manager was trying to give out a bunch of Exceeds for people just doing their jobs and couldn’t back it up with an explanation of why this person needs to be advanced because they’re *that* far beyond what is expected, would be stopped from doing so by their own boss. Second-level managers have to approve all reviews.

          1. JS*

            If HR can clearly explain what the different levels mean in regards to the job you do then it sounds like your work is pretty tangible and people’s work fits into the bubble of performance ratings.

            My company my departmental work is not tangible enough to differentiate a mediocre employee from a high performing employee. This is due to the nature of the dept I work in and the fact that although I have 3 other people on my team we all serve different functions and report to different bosses. There is no way to effectively rate our work or manage it in comparison to other people on my team (who do not do my role) or other people with my same role (who are not on my team and work on different accounts).

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Whereas I kept picturing Carl from “Up”, who was grumpy but didn’t seem like he’d give a fig one way or another about performance evaluations!

  26. DMC*

    I have to echo the advice not to inflate the evaluation. It will end up being a document you may have to rely on if Carl decides to dispute his termination. As an HR person, I despise having to defend a termination for poor performance when I have nothing but good evaluations in the employee’s file. Evaluations need to be honest, or they end up doing more harm than good.

  27. Oignonne*

    As other commenters have touched on, I think you may have a much more serious problem than finding a way to tell an employee he’s only good, not stellar. Obviously only you have a full picture of this employee, but based on what you’ve said, I’d be considering whether or not I could even keep this employee. Not responding well to feedback and failing to meet what would seem to be basic expectations multiple times are serious concerns.

  28. TheBeetsMotel*

    This is timely – my company recently lost an employee who was incredulous that they weren’t a manager yet, when their training (and, most importantly, motivation to train) and competency was roughly half of where it should have been, especially as a long-term employee. It’s amazing how different our self-perceptions can be, compared to how others see us. A little scary, in fact!

  29. FCJ*

    “…tore apart every thing I wrote because he did not agree with some of my word choices (such as using the word “disagreement” when talking about how he handles differences of opinion with coworkers).”

    Seriously? OP, I hope your wording here is intentional and that you get the ridiculousness of that situation. This guy sounds like a piece of work, and it’s time to lay down the law. If he has substantial, factual considerations that might alter the way you view his work (e.g., maybe he’s occasionally left the team in the lurch but he’s more often the one who enthusiastically covers for his coworkers’ emergencies), maybe that would justify another look at your ratings. But he doesn’t get to quibble about wording. Shut it down.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Obviously she gets the ridiculousness of the situation, and she never once indicated she was open to adjusting his scores, or didn’t know she needed to “shut it down.” She wrote in for advice asking HOW to do it. It’s really easy to say “oh, just stop that in its tracks” but when you’re a new manager it’s actually kind of hard because people are super wiley about wresting control of these discussions from you. It takes practice. I’ve been there. It’s a skill you have to learn like anything else.

      But berating her about doing the very thing she wrote in to ask for help doing – it’s really not that helpful.

      1. FCJ*

        I guess I came across a little harsh, but I’m totally on OP’s side. I wasn’t intending to berate. However, I didn’t see her asking for advice on how to shut it down. I saw her asking for advice on how to mollify him. She’s giving him “meets expectations” when he apparently doesn’t and also doesn’t seem interested in responding to development conversations, and at this point all she wants is for him not to argue with her (about the fact that he’s argumentative!). I’m saying she has the power and the right to do a lot more than that, and she should.

  30. Ms. Didymus*

    I don’t know if you have any flexibiliy in how you do evaluations, OP, but my company does them in a way I really like.

    We don’t have ratings. We have three questions:

    What went well?

    What didn’t go well?

    What is the focus in the next year?

  31. Kelly*

    I have had to keep detailed notes of dates and situations to read back to an employee regarding why they are being evaluated the way they are on a particular section of the review. It gives them the opportunity to see why they are being given that rating rather than hoping they’ll remember on their own – especially if they disagree. It does help soften the blow – a little.

  32. stevenz*

    Keep in mind that these processes are at best imperfect and at worst destructive or manipulative. There is a reason everyone hates performance reviews. Most reviews that have meets expectations and other such categories suggest specific accomplishments are “expected” and it’s clear when they are not. It’s perfectly natural that an employee and manager have different expectations and sometimes the manager’s are incomplete, flawed, unrealistic, or unnecessary. I believe that these processes do call for give and take, and some attempt at establishing mutual trust. Once it gets to an us and them mentality, you’re sunk. Most employees – the one who lacks power – will push back against what sounds like an unfair or ill-considered review. (I’ve been on both ends of this.)

    The best solution to this is to do away with performance reviews once and for all. (Back in the day there were no such reviews and things worked fine. Performance review was done on a minute by minute basis through normal office interactions.) However, that doesn’t help OP’s problem. If you have the confidence to do so, depart a bit from the company line and try to be honest in a human – not managerial – way if you think this person will respond appropriately to it. “Look Charlie, I know that some of the things I assigned you aren’t your favourite things to do/I haven’t been as clear as I could have been/I don’t agree with some of the changes that have gone on around here either/whatever. But we’re a team and I consider you a valuable member of my team, so we do need to agree on how that will work best.” Put it it in the larger context of the work and don’t make him feel like crap if you avoid it. But I don’t see any big red flags about his suitability as an employee so threats or PIP aren’t appropriate at this point. And remember, just because you two don’t get along, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad employee – or you a bad manager. Good luck, and remember, human values first, company values second.

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