is it true that nothing in a performance review can ever be a surprise?

This comes up here from time to time and I thought it was worth a post of its own: the idea that nothing in a performance evaluation should ever be a surprise.

It’s right in theory, but it’s not that simple.

It’s absolutely true that managers should be giving employees feedback throughout the year and shouldn’t blindside them with criticism in an annual review that they haven’t heard before. As a rule, managers should strive throughout the year to ensure that nothing in an evaluation will be surprising.

But it’s also true that sometimes this just doesn’t happen. Evaluations are a time when managers step back and think more deeply about how someone is doing than they might have done during the rush of day-to-day work during the year. They might see patterns that they didn’t realize were patterns until they do this reflection, or they might simply spot something that hadn’t struck them earlier — even if it should have.

To be clear, that’s not ideal. Managers should be doing this type of thinking throughout the year. But when you’re busy and managing multiple people, sometimes this is the nature of stepping back and doing the deeper thinking evaluations require.

It’s also the case that sometimes managers suck at giving feedback — and haven’t been giving it as frequently as they should or as directly as they should. And then evaluations come around and they realize they can’t realistically evaluate the person without raising an issue that didn’t get addressed earlier. The solution there is not “oh, well, I can’t mention it in the review because it wouldn’t be fair.” A review needs to be accurate and it needs to be comprehensive.

Reviews also need to be fair, of course. But the way to be fair isn’t to say “nothing can ever come up in a review that wasn’t brought up earlier.” Instead, the manager needs to acknowledge that they erred in not bringing it up earlier, and needs to resolve — both to the employee and to themselves — to give more timely feedback from now on, and then really do that. They need to use language like, “I realize I haven’t brought this up before and I should have. It didn’t strike me until I was looking over the whole year, but I will make sure in the future that I’m spotting and raising this kind of thing earlier.”

And if a manager finds themselves in this position, that’s a sign that there’s something in their management they need to fix, and they need to take that seriously.

So it’s true that nothing in a performance evaluation should be a surprise. But it’s also true that not everyone manages perfectly every time, and it will make imperfect managers even worse if they gloss over problems when formally evaluating people.

{ 199 comments… read them below }

  1. Beth

    Of course, this would be a performance review done by someone who is competent as a manager, who knows both how to manage and how to do a performance review . . . as opposed to a former boss of mine who used my review to scold me because it bothered him when I blew my nose, and I had to stop. I was very surprised when he said that.

    1. Katrinka

      Sounds like he was simpatico with my former manager, who was a master of the performance review negative suprise. She seriously thought it was motivating to get a “needs improvement” on your review rather than just bringing an issue at your biweekly check-ins.

    2. ClashRunner

      Exactly. I had a boss who told me my personality was a “real problem” for “high-level stakeholders”. This was never mentioned or addressed in a timely manner when the complaint was supposedly received, but only surfaced at annual reviews to deny me raises, promotions, and training.

    3. Goose Lavel

      I learned my lesson with my first review with a new manager with regards to negative, surprise review ratings early in my career. I transfered within my company to the Advanced Development Group (the most prestigious team in the company) and was blindsided by my poor review. My new manager waited until the yearly review to go over his expectations with me, which, to my horror, I found I was not even aware of them.

      Since then, I’ve asked each new manager for a one-month, three-month and six-month check-in/review prior to a formal 12 months review to make sure I was meeting expectations and to make course corrections where needed.
      All of my managers that I’ve had over my 40-year career were glad to provide this feedback in a more formal setting and it truly helped me to progress from a manufacturing technician to a senior engineering position.

  2. designbot

    I guess I don’t mind from either direction that the performance review is a chance to step back and evaluate a pattern, as long as the bits that make up that pattern aren’t surprising anyone.
    Yearly reviews are also a time when other managers start talking to you about your people. They might send notes to make sure to put in a good word or to follow up on a problem they’ve had with someone (which yes, the original problem should have been previously communicated!). It’s a designated time where additional info comes out of the woodwork.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Yeah, I was going to say that it isn’t always that the manager has noticed something but doesn’t talk about it until it’s the official time to do so. Sometimes it’s because a pattern of behavior has been happening that the employee’s peers or direct reports are able to observe, but the employee doesn’t do whatever that thing is in front of her manager.

    2. Beatrice

      That might vary from place to place. Where I am now, people are expected to raise issues as they come up or patterns as they’re noticed. It would be weird for someone to raise an issue at review-writing time just because it was review-writing time. I expect people to escalate problems to me about my team because they want them to be solved, not because they want someone to get a bad review because of them. And I’m expected to have ongoing discussions with my people about performance, not just annually/biannually.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Sometimes, though, people think “Eh, I’m not thrilled with X thing that Jane does but I don’t want to make a big deal about it” — but when Jane’s manager asks questions that specifically tie into that, they’ll give their feedback.

      2. designbot

        Sometimes they raise a thing the first time it happen, you address it with the person, and everyone hopes it’s been handled. But review time presents a good moment to check back and be like “hey, did that resolve the issue or is it still happening?” Sometimes our schedules are such that it’s not clear as to how much time might be needed to observe progress on an issue so reviews are a reminder to circle back.
        Conversely, I’ve also emailed other managers just before reviews to be like hey I just thought you should know that my team really enjoys working with Sansa, she’s a great collaborator in these specific ways. There’s often a culture of addressing problems between managers and I like to take a moment before reviews to mention when someone’s done particularly well and I think their direct manager should know it.

      3. PizzaSquared

        I’ve seen a few cases where several people had some relatively minor concern or piece of feedback that didn’t really raise to the level of bringing it up with me throughout the year, but they wrote it in their peer feedback. And when I saw the same thing consistently raised across 3 or 4 different peers, it became clear that it was something I’d need to address in the review. I don’t think anyone did anything wrong in that case. You can’t have employees going to managers for every little minor annoyance or complaint, and managers can’t know about these things if they don’t observe them. The combination of peer review as a forcing function to make people consider areas for improvement, and the ability to see many data points at once, can easily lead to feedback that wasn’t previously obvious.

        1. Beatrice

          Ah okay, that makes sense. My company doesn’t do formal peer reviews or comanager reviews. My department has a quarterly process where all the managers (8) sit in a conference room and go through their teams and talk through who’s struggling, who’s performing exceptionally well, etc. It’s considered rude to blindside someone in that meeting with a new employee problem, so generally if something was going on there would be a private discussion about it beforehand.

    3. Sleepytime Tea

      Exactly what I was going to say. We would have evaluation forms sent out to our peers or managers from other teams to fill out on us, which would go back to our managers to consider as a part of our review. If all of those came back with consistent feedback on something the manager wasn’t aware, then of course it would come up in a review. Especially when it comes to surveys like that which your peers fill out, it’s not shocking that not all those people would bring up issues to your manager directly until it was review time and they were specifically asked for input.

      1. Clisby

        This is how it was done at my workplace, too. Our managers had monthly 1:1s with us, and would bring up any concerns there. Of course they would listen to feedback from others, but they weren’t constantly surveying people we worked closely with – they held that until closer to the review time.

    4. Not Rebee

      Our company does calibration meetings with all managers to make sure that anyone who is not an independent contributor has the opportunity to raise any issues they’ve had with any individual contributor. Your manager presents you and their initial rating (basically a sales pitch to why you deserve at least what you’ve been ranked at) and then the floor is opened for comments. It has happened to me where a thing that does not bother my manager one bit, that no one had ever brought up to him before as having bothered them, came up and enough people felt the same way that my manager had to include it even though he did not personally feel it was an issue. I have mixed feelings about this – on the one hand, perception is important so this is good information, but on the other, if random other managers are able to raise an issue that can impact your rating even if no one in your chain of command thinks this is an issue… The only reason it dinged my review was because so many other people agreed with the annoyance so it turned into a big to-do.

  3. JediSquirrel

    I think we’re mostly thinking of negative feedback here, but the reverse can also be true: “You know, I didn’t get a chance to tell you this earlier, but the board was really happy with how you handled the Smith account.”

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead

      ^ This. I am pretty sure the only time I get positive feedback is during review and it is always a pleasant surprise. Doubly so when TPTB change my self-rating of “Meets Expectations” to “Exceeds Expectations”* based on it

      *I never exceed my own expectations and sometimes meet feels like a stretch

      1. NotAnotherManager!

        *I never exceed my own expectations and sometimes meet feels like a stretch

        I have the same problem, and I’m so grateful we no longer have to do ratings on our self-assessments because I’m harder on myself than any boss I’ve ever had. I am nearly always pleasantly surprised by my reviews because I tend to fixate on the things I haven’t succeeded on v. the ones that are successfully wiped off my to-do list (and my brain, because who has the mental space to store things that aren’t needed anymore?).

        I will say that, when we did have to do numeric rankings, it was a master class in the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    2. hbc

      When you’re running around chasing problems, it’s easy to forget about the people who keep things running smoothly. I’ve tried to get better at stopping every now and then saying, “I know I spend more time on other people/projects, but I do notice and appreciate how you keep this going so I don’t have to worry about it.” I talk about how awesome they are quite a bit, but it occurred to me that I say it a lot to others rather than to them.

      1. JediSquirrel

        I agree completely. I have been on both sides of this, and I need to remember as a manager to spend time affirming my steady fliers who keep things on an even keel while I’m in between putting out grass fires.

    3. tamarack and fireweed

      Right. I think it’s true to say that “what comes up in the performance issue shouldn’t be a surprise” is a good general idea, with some systematic and notable exceptions.

      The most understandable exception that Alison raises — that managers are human beings, and the reflection and thinking they’re doing at performance review time has a chance of turning up something that hasn’t been addressed previously — should in the abstract end up in positive surprises maybe not quite JUST as often as negative ones, but a fair number of times.

  4. Kai Jones

    I have been surprised at how good my reviews are, because one of my bosses does not express that approval during the year. There are days I could really use it, too.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?

        Oh, but we gave you all those new scheduling and instant messaging programs to make all that work easier and faster! (without giving you time to actually learn them properly and so we can pile even more on you)

        My firm has had a lot of this in the past year or so, with the arrival of some young top managers who all want to make their mark with “innovations” and “initiatives” without having to do any of that expensive, pesky hiring to get enough people to do the work.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      That’s just as messed up as being surprised by negative feedback in a review. If your manager doesn’t communicate with you, how do you know you’re doing a good job (or screwing something up)?

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde

      My favorite was when I got an “above average” official rating on the evaluation but in the review the boss said, “you don’t deserve that rating.” Ok then. I was expecting worse since the boss was one that was never pleased. Weirder is that there’s a limited number of “above average” ratings that can be given out in a group so someone advocated for me.

    3. Old Millenial

      Ugh I hate that. I once had two bosses, don’t recommend, and even though on paper the review was very positive (4 out of 5) the verbal review was just awful. It was an hour and a half, with over 80 minutes of that being dedicated to negative feedback. One issue was that each time one boss brought up a negative point the other boss felt the need to add on to it. It was a confusing mass of negativity with no clear goals and I almost quit on the spot.

  5. Kristine

    I’ve been in my career for 16 years and have worked for 5 companies. I’ve never once received a performance review. Is this weird?

    I’ve never received a raise either, but that’s another story…

    1. Kathleen_A

      No, not weird, unfortunately. I’ve been with my current employer for more than 20 years, and in all that time, I’ve been evaluated maybe five times – and three of those were in the last three years. My husband has never been evaluated at any of his jobs.

    2. Catsaber

      My husband’s job had really lax performance review process until fairly recently, and I had a previous job where we didn’t have any reviews, period. The director at that job told us, “We don’t do reviews because we don’t want anyone to think they can ask for a raise.” That job was a real winner!

      So, not weird, but definitely not good…

      1. irene adler

        Yep-
        I haven’t had a performance review since 1989 (if memory serves). Exactly for the same reason:” reviews give people the idea they might get a raise. We don’t want that to occur here. Raises should be surprises. ”

        Raises, when they are given out, are not annual. The procedure consists of the CFO walking into your office holding an Excel sheet closely to her body. She then glances down, reads its, and says, “your new salary is $x”. Then she goes into a spiel about not telling anyone about receiving a raise, because, “Not everyone will get one this time around. So no telling!” Then she scrams.

        That’s it.

        No announcement, no predicting when this will happen either.

        1. Jadelyn

          …if you’re in the US, telling you not to tell anyone else about getting a raise is actually illegal. Sharing pay and benefits information with coworkers is a protected action under the NLRA.

          I mean, the whole attitude is dysfunctional as hell, but that last crosses the line from dysfunctional to illegal.

    3. Beth

      I’ve had only four or five reviews in almost 40 years of working. I have had exactly zero reviews that were done by someone who knew what they were doing.

      I sometimes wonder what a performance review done by a competent manager would be like . . .

      1. Kiwiii

        Since I’m new in a state position, I’ve had to have a review every three months. Had I stayed a full year, they’d have moved to annually (the job was fine, just not a great fit for my skill set, so I stayed passively looking). It basically consisted of figuring out if what I was doing matched what they anticipated someone who was in my position should be doing, if I was doing it in a way that matched their expectations, if either of us wanted me to change anything moving forward, and if I could be given any assistance either improving in the role or in my bigger career plans. It was usually filled with things we’d already talked about in our every other week 1 on 1s, but it was nice to get confirmation that we were on the same page. The only negative thing that was ever brought up was that I’m not always organized enough to hit deadlines (I get assignments from about 6 different places and had a tendency to just not do things I haven’t been given deadlines for), but we’d talked about that a week or two prior, and she’d done a bit of research into tools I might find useful. It was just like a more regimented 1 on 1, honestly.

    4. Yup.

      OMG where do I find one of these jobs that doesn’t do reviews?

      I’m not quite sure if my first “real” job out of school did reviews. I was randomly “surprised” by a raise twice. (Although not as secretive as the other person who commented about the Excel spreadsheet)

      The first time was “You’ve been here 6 months right? Well it’s time for us to give you a raise.” I had been there for 5 months but OF COURSE I was there for 6 months! *nod smile* The second time was with my boss going “Hey, so we’re really happy with how you’re doing X and Y. We’re also happy with this other thing. Starting from Z date, your hourly wage would be $W.”

      I got 2 raises in 9 months at that job but we were grossly underpaid. I left that job still underpaid. I worked there only for 9 months but my plan was to make it to the “magical one year.”

  6. Asta

    I got some surprise feedback in a review that was also inaccurate, and I’m still annoyed about it. It completely ruined my relationship with my manager at the time.

    1. Asta

      Just to be clear: I’m not one of those people who won’t take feedback.

      She was literally wrong about how this particular project was meant to work and told me off for not doing something that wasn’t what I was meant to do.

      1. tamarack and fireweed

        In the environment I was before this feedback would have gone into the official version of the performance review which lived in my file. In which case I’d have written a formal 2-paragraph response, which was to be added to my file. (And if the process included signing the performance review, I’d have refused to do so initially in an attempt to get this part changed in the official record. In the end, though, it’s usually inevitable to sign – and whether there’s a change depends with the manager’s clout in the organization and with their manager.)

    2. Snarkus Aurelius

      You’re not alone. My old boss mixed me up with the two other people who reported to her. It was really irritating. My performance review included things that were never in my job description.

      I wanted to correct her, but that wouldn’t have gone over well.

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House

      Yup, I’ve gotten that too. Or just simple character assaults, like “Someone once was unhappy with you so you’re a terrible person.”

      I don’t listen to performance evaluations any more. We all get an HR mandated 3, regardless of how well we did, that’s fine with me.

      1. London Calling

        I’m prepared for comments like that in my half-yearly review, as apparently it came up in conversation that ‘someone’ thinks I can be rude. I have said sorry and asked who it is so I can apologise but strangely that was then skated around. I’m inclined to think from the context that this was one of three things – gossip, projection or deflection – but thanks to AAM I have a LOVELY script all ready to deal with it.

      2. Baru Cormorant

        “We all get an HR mandated 3, regardless of how well we did, that’s fine with me.”
        I have adjacent questions about this kind of practice. At my organization managers have to fit their employees onto a bell curve (yes that’s not how statistics works) and must give the lowest rating to someone. But if people get that rating they’re not given merit/COL raises that year. It’s so baffling to me and I’d like to learn more about better ways to do this.

        1. ScarletNumber

          > At my organization managers have to fit their employees onto a bell curve (yes that’s not how statistics works)

          The point is that without this forced fitting, managers would have no motivation to rate anyone below average. SOMEONE is below average.

          1. MCMonkeyBean

            But it shouldn’t be based on an “average,” it should be based on how well each employee meets clearly laid out expectations.

          2. Soon 2be former fed

            Not necessarily if the group consists of all high performers and not some random hiring of miscellaneous people. I hate this way of thinking. There are probably no below average NASA scientists or astronauts.

          3. workerbee2

            But it’s not likely that job performance follows a normal distribution (bell curve), where the same number of people are underperforming as exceeding expectations. It’s more likely that there are a small number of underperformers, a huge number of adequate performers, and a medium number of high performers.

        2. MCMonkeyBean

          Wow, that’s horrible! We were limited as to how many people were allowed to get the best ratings (very frustrating last year when I had my best review ever but was told they weren’t able to give me a 4/5 because other people also had their best year ever so I’d have to settle for another 3), but I don’t *think* they were required to give anyone terrible ratings. That sounds like a horrible policy.

    4. MistOrMister

      I was marked down in my last review for not knowing how to do something. That I hadn’t been trained on, in a department I had transferred into. I had consistently been getting exceeds expectations but this sup put me as meeting expectations and said, you don’t know how to do this thing (that i’d been asking to be trained on and was told they didnt have time to teach me) so until you do you can’t be marked up. Never mind that most people in the dept only knew how to do a couple of things and I learned EVERYTHING except this one thing over tue course of 6-8 months. I was livid.

      Review before that was mostly positive but a different sup put down for what needs improvement that once in a while I have a typo and my goal for the coming year should be 100% accuracy. I stared at her like she was bonkers, When you have to reach so far for a suggested improvement that you’re telling someone to be 100% accurate in a job where that isn’t strictly necessary (we had people review these particular documents because it was so easy to make errors), something is wrong.

      Certainly this kind of thing doesn’t have to be a surprise to sour you on a manager/supervisor.

      1. Kiwiii

        This happened at my last job! My manager was all “we want to give you more responsibility, but you haven’t learned all the things you were supposed to in this assignment” and it was like, an assignment where my “trainer” literally had had her full workload on top of what she was supposed to be training me on and so had time to train me and there was nothing that existed that I could reference to figure out if I’d learned all the pieces myself. Like I wonder why I don’t know the thing.

    5. Aquawoman

      Ooooh, I once got negative feedback and knocked down a ranking by my grandboss based on something that actually wasn’t my responsibility at all and that we’d never been trained or given any guidance on how to do. My grandboss said, “Well, I got criticized for it and it can’t just be my fault, can it?” And, yes, yes it can be and was his fault that he’d never communicated expectations or provided any training in the area to his managers.

    6. Yup.

      I was one told at a different job “We want to see you join the committees at our company.”

      Meanwhile, nobody told me about these committees or how to join them. I knew that people were part of them but 1 – I was not asked to join. 2- There was no announcement indicating any committee needed new members.

    7. CupcakeCounter

      I once got a lecture from my boss about salaried positions not being “9-5” but that we had to flex and make sure the work gets done. As I usually arrived before or at the same time as him, left after him, and usually had to do some work in the evenings (while his computer stayed docked at his desk) it did NOT go over well and I lost my shit on him.
      It did not bite my in the butt (that time) and I got a sincere apology. He explained that he’d been giving that lecture for 30 years in annual reviews because he usually had new grads who only lasted 12-18 months before moving internally or people who moved to the office from the manufacturing side and were used to shift work. Understandable but also drove home the point that this was someone who was in a “rut” and not going to easily adjust. I was right as he put in for retirement when he found out a new system was being implemented and I was leaving.

      1. MCMonkeyBean

        Wow yeah just giving the same lecture in every review regardless of if it is something you’ve actually noticed with this particular employee is really crappy! I’m glad you called him out on it!

    8. Media Monkey

      i got surprise feedback in my last job where i regularly (normally fortnightly at one to ones but at least monthly) checked in with my boss that there wasn’t anything else he wanted me to be doing or anything i was missing. we did 360 appraisals and basically everything that someone in my team said would be nice to have (standard feedback questions are what should x start doing, stop doing and continue doing), i got bashed with as something i should already be doing. I think my team would have been horrified as to how their feedback was used. As an aside, i hit all of the goals that had been set out for me in the appraisal 12 months before, but when i brought that up, was told it didn’t matter.

      so naturally i did the sensible thing and straight away started looking for a new role with a decent boss (which I am currently in).

  7. LadyByTheLake

    I would add a caveat “should never be a surprise” — employees should not be evaluated on tasks that they were never told to do or improvements they weren’t asked to make. For example, if part of an employee’s job is to provide a report by the end of every month and they provide it by the end of every month, it is not fair in the review to give them a low ranking because they didn’t provide the form by the 15th of the month when that was never conveyed to them as an expectation. Just sayin’

    1. LadyByTheLake

      In other words, it is fair in the review to ask them to now provide the report on the 15th, but it not fair to ding them because they haven’t

      1. designbot

        But I would say it’s fair to say you’ve realized you’re not happy with how something’s working and you want to work together to adjust the process. Some people may perceive that as a “ding” and some may not.

        1. voyager1

          Depends on how the manager delivers the message. But if a manager doesn’t communicate something a direct report can’t be expected to meet an particular expectation.

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

            Unless the manager gets mad because you didn’t think to ask them about the thing they never told you about.

    2. BethDH

      Yeah, I think it’s even more important that the criteria for evaluation not be a surprise than that none of the feedback be a surprise. At times, even if you’ve been getting regular feedback, the way it summarizes may be a bit different than you’re expecting.

  8. DANGER: Gumption Ahead

    For negative feedback is if something happens in the week of the evaluation that needs to be addressed. In my opinion, it would be OK to address it during the eval father than having 2 separate feedback sessions, especially if it ties into a known performance issue.

  9. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

    Back at ToxicJob, my manager was very big on saving up negative things until review time. Then she started adding things like the way I walked being disrespectful.

    Some other coworkers at this job experienced managers going to them at 360 review time and telling them the feedback they’d given on other people was too positive and that “we need you to say something negative about this person.”

    I don’t miss working there.

    1. Beth

      I’m beginning to wish for an open thread along the lines of Crazy Feedback In Reviews. Since my old boss hated me blowing my nose, I’d love to see what he’d think of your Disrespectful Walk.

      1. lnelson in Tysons

        That would be a great thread to read. Have a nice cup of coffee to enjoy while reading.
        Or maybe not. If something were really funny, I could see myself spitting my coffee out all over my laptop.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Right – I was just about to ask this. Never have I ever heard this before, lol.

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

        Yes, apparently I walked with my head tilted up, which is bad…because…reasons? I don’t know.

        I also got dinged for not making eye contact and talking to people when I walked down the hall. I tried to say that this was because 9 times out of 10 I was heading to the bathroom and didn’t see the point in conversation, but apparently that didn’t matter.

        I’d already made the decision to leave and had been put on a PIP anyway (this was a pattern at ToxicJob: older employees were put on PIPs, often for things that were hard to quantify like “insubordination” or after being put on jobs they weren’t well suited to and then failing). So until my quitting date (just before the PIP was due, meanwhile racking up as much PTO to cash out as I could), I always wore a faint half-smile when manager was around (I basically pretended I’d had half a glass of wine) and to combat the head-tilt thing, when I walked I pretended I was balancing a book on my head. The whole thing was so ridiculous.

          1. EmKay

            To not see the point in starting a conversation when you are on your way to the bathroom is a problem??

    2. AlexandrinaVictoria

      Um….did you walk with your middle fingers extended or something? If not….I got nothin’.

    3. Yup.

      That’s worse than my old manager saying I was “rolling my eyes” during a review.

      I told her that I was not doing that, it’s just me SEEING THINGS with my eyes and I asked her to tell me when she thinks I’m doing this thing. She pointed it out a few times and none of those times was I annoyed/purposely rolling my eyes.

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

        Oh, along with walking disrespectfully, apparently I looked up when I was thinking about something, which was bad. “You’re doing it right now!” she barked at me, and I finally just said, “I’ll take everything you’ve said under advisement” and noted my resignation date in my calendar.

        1. Cat Meowmy Admin

          Omg that’s ridiculous! I shared my own experience in a comment down thread including the boss’ statement “You’re like the bad piece of fruit that spoils all the other fruit in the bowl”. WTF does that even mean?!

    4. Dagny

      Yes, this – toxic managers bring up new things during reviews for the purpose of blindsiding their employees and being able to give an unnecessarily negative review to someone who does not deserve it. That’s the real issue.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

        At one time I was given a review like that. I refused to sign it. I said if I had to reply to it – it wouldn’t be good for any of us – my director knowing that there was one foul incident that my manager pulled, and the director stupidly backed him up on it.

        HR got involved. I was called into a meeting with the director and HR – thought I was going to be fired, and then it turned out that HE was on the hot seat. The review was expunged.

    5. Pebbles

      You were employed at the Ministry of Silly Walks and refused to do anything but a straight line?

  10. MOAS

    So funny this came up now, my coworkers and I were just talking about it.

    I’ve had 4 annual evaluations and 2 coming up now (1 for me and 1 for my reports). For mine, I’m not sure I would call them surprises….I’d say 99% of it was on point, but maybe a small thing here or there that I hadn’t really considered or I hadn’t realized were a big deal. I think it’s such a small example that I really cant’ think of what it was.

    Our eval process this year has changed — HR didn’t bother to communicate with us about it; we finished the reviews and many got rejections. This is the time when we give people their raises and promotions. For hte ones we want to promote, we ended up having quick informal conversations with them to inform them of it so they know where they stand. Some think an hour should be set aside while others say 15-30 minutes is enough.

  11. Whoop De Doo

    Once a year, we get rated on a 1-5 scale on a variety of topics like “work quality”, “communication” and “teamwork” BUT it is rated to how well we measure up to the Company’s “Standard” which is made of 12 things employees are supposed to strive for (one of which is “projects poise, grace and elegance”). In my first review I was told that no one gets 5, and the only person who would get a 5 is the founder/CEO of the company. My managers also don’t give out a lot of 4s either, since the CEO would require them to defend it. A 3 is “meeting the standard” which is considered “fine” but that you should work more towards upholding the company standard. Since we have no other reviews and managers don’t give feedback throughout the year, you never know what they are going to say. We are “like a family” so they want us to uphold the Standard since that is what sets us apart from other companies.
    They try to use it as a selling point to get more business, but the clients we do have just think it’s weird and didn’t choose us because of it.

    1. Media Monkey

      poise, grace and elegance? what industry do you work in, as unless you are a dancer i can’t see why that would be relevant!

  12. Sarah-tonin

    At one of my first jobs ever (a library page/shelver) my boss gave me a performance review. This was already out of the ordinary as my position didn’t have performance reviews (before or since then) and I don’t know why I got one that year. I was also a substitute in youth services, and a lot of the feedback had come from the youth manager, who was not my direct boss, so I don’t know why the youth manager wasn’t the one giving me my “review.”

    She told me some stuff that in retrospect wasn’t really that bad. But this was the first time I was hearing of it, and I really wish she would have brought up that stuff earlier, so that I wasn’t hearing it for the first time in my “performance review.”

  13. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    I agree to a certain extent, but if the feedback is negative and something major, and the one being reviewed has absolutely no idea about it, that’s a big problem. Either the manager sucks at managing, or the employee is clueless. I don’t care how busy you are, if there’s a major issue that needs to be addressed with an employee, you find time to address it, you don’t spring it on them at their annual review.

    I had a terrible manager who, during my first annual review, mentioned that I missed deadlines. That’s not something I do so I questioned it. She mentioned one thing that she had asked myself and a co-worker to complete. We had gone to the team lead because the directions weren’t clear and the team lead never got back to us. While we messed up in not following up with the team lead, manager made it seem like I chronically missed deadlines. Looking back I wished I had refused to sign the review until she made changes to it. It didn’t have any major impact for me, but it pissed me off because I pride myself in being organized and on time.

    1. NoSurprises

      I hate to say it, but the “clueless employee,” as you state it, can be a big part of the problem. I had a finance manager on my team who was great at almost all of the technical aspects of her job, but needed to a do a lot of work on the relationship-building side of things (I had gotten emails out of the blue from directors of departments I personally never worked with to tell me that her terrible attitude was alienating their employees – note, that’s directors, plural). We talked a lot, both when I got those emails and at other times, about how she needed to be less defensive, more open to others’ opinions, willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, etc.

      When it came time for her review, I reiterated these issues as areas for improvement – she, in turn, continually pointed to her exceptionally low error rate and very high transaction processing rate, and the fact that our budget was always perfectly balanced. I told her, again, that I really appreciated all of that, but that it wasn’t nearly as helpful as it would be coupled with her making a concerted effort to build solid working relationships with others throughout the organization.

      Two weeks later, when employees got their letters informing them of their raises, she was SHOCKED to have gotten only 2% (in a year when we were instructed to get to a 3.5% average) and, yet again, pointed to her technical proficiency. Things were escalated to our ED, then to HR. That was 2 years ago, and she still grumbles about it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Yikes! To be so obtuse, yeah you have to be great at the entire job, not just the portions you want to be [or the ones that come easy to you]. We have it in our job descriptions that you’re expected to work well with others and would have fired her for this with all those complaints, she’s lucky the only repercussions were a lower than average raise.

        1. Cat Meowmy Admin

          Exactly! It’s the “whole picture” thing. I recently had to ‘remind’ my boss that he not only hired me to do my job well, but also that I’m also expected to get along politely and professionally with others. Yeah. I had to remind HIM of that. (And I was subtly referring to another employee anyway, while acknowledging those expectations for myself.)

          1. Soon 2be former fed

            This is what is wrong in may workplaces. Playing well with others is valued over excellent work. I’m not talking about rude offensive behavior, just personality diferences being miscategorized as deficiencies.

  14. NW Mossy

    The one surprise-in-a-review I remember was a promotion – same role, just a more senior level with more pay. My then-boss and I had a good chuckle about it, since in her mind it shouldn’t have been a surprise because she’d been very positive about my performance along the way, but in mine it was because I hadn’t been at the organization long enough to know that review time was when promos were decided. Lesson learned, and now I make a point to make sure that my directs know how the promo process works!

    1. HailRobonia

      The same thing happened to me; it was more of a “reclassification” since I had been effectively doing a higher grade of work for quite some time. The biggest surprise was that the pay increase was retroactive for a few months!

    2. Environmental Compliance

      My last review was a surprise like that! Boss had always been very positive, and at my annual review surprised me with a 8% raise, because TPTB wouldn’t approve a 12%.

      I was very pleasantly surprised.

  15. Eeether Eyether

    Years ago when I worked a large law firm as an admin, HR would give us our performance reviews. The attorneys were not “allowed” to give us any information about our review ahead of time. It was designed that way to deliberately catch us off guard. Luckily, I worked with attorneys who thought for themselves and told me what was in my review ahead of time.

  16. Zephy

    OldJob had employees and their managers both independently fill out a questionnaire about the employee’s performance, and the actual review conversation was basically comparing their answers. Except the employees didn’t really have a rubric, as it were. I was only ever given maybe two metrics by which to judge my own performance (basically gross sales and returns), and those numbers were always presented relative to the rest of the department and not relative to any particular target, so I didn’t know what a “good” rate of sales or return percentage was, just where I ranked in the pack. There were a lot of variables that made it difficult to fairly compare any given two staff against each other (full-time vs part-time schedules, some days were consistently busier than others, some people tended to take shifts in areas that moved their particular stock more or less quickly, sometimes one person started a sale and someone else finished it, etc). And then I moved into a role where nobody else was doing exactly what i was doing, in exactly the same way – it was still basically sales, but with several more steps and factors that weren’t always within my control, so I had no idea how to fairly judge my own performance. My boss always assured me I was doing great and didn’t have any actionable feedback related to the job itself, just personal preferences of hers about how I did unimportant tasks, and admonishment about ever expressing frustration with frustrating parts of the job.

  17. auburn

    In my experience giving reviews, I’ve had several people tell me that they had never heard feedback before about an issue that comes up in their review when I know I’ve given it. For some reason, the formality of the review process is sometimes the first time they really hear what I’m saying even if I’ve said it 10 times before. And I don’t think it’s that I’m not clear or direct all those other times.

    1. goducks

      I’ve had that happen, as well. Sometimes employees will ostrich pretty hard.
      I even had an employee on a very clear and concise PIP with objectively measurable benchmarks for progress fail to perform through several weekly check-ins, say to me when I termed him, “wow, this is so out of the blue!” Uh, no. We met weekly for the past 4 weeks and each week we discussed how you had not completed some very specific tasks, and that it needed to change because your job was on the line. How you’re surprised by this is a mystery.

    2. Close Bracket

      For those people, document your feedback. Follow up conversations with an email. Reference the conversations in the review. You might not solve the problem of feedback not sinking in (although you might—sometimes getting it in writing at all makes it sink in in a way that talking didn’t), but they will not be able to claim they didn’t know.

    3. BethDH

      I was briefly one of those people (though I think I covered my surprise when I found out). It wasn’t that I was surprised by which metrics I was doing well or poorly at, but things that were taking a lot my time and attention (and that I was doing well at, per the feedback I had gotten during the year) were not the most important things in the review. I have tried to be more aware of the way my objectives fit larger org needs since then, and I should have been able to figure it out then. Still, it would have helped if my manager had done a little more big picture feedback through the year. I was very new to offices, and I just didn’t get that the things that took 5% of my time might be more important overall than the thing that took 40%. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was pretty common.

  18. Kimmy Schmidt

    In your industry, are reviews generally/always/never/not-officially-but-yes-unofficially tied to raises?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      In our company, not industry though since it’s a huge one that doesn’t have a lot of particulars that span each entity, the reviews are indeed always tied to raises.

    2. Cat Meowmy Admin

      At my previous jobs in various industries (I’ve always been an Admin), reviews were generally/always tied to ‘merit increases’ as they called them. Usually 2%-3% annually. Every few years, there might be an additional small COL applied at another time of year for all employees, but it was unfortunately infrequent, and never seemed to catch up to the true COL expenses we all endure.

    3. MCMonkeyBean

      At my old job they were explicitly tied to raises and bonuses. We would be get a rating on a scale of 1-5 and there was a matrix that showed clearly how each rating impacted what bonus and raise you were eligible for.

      I was told and my experience supported that most people get 3’s most of the time. A 5 was super rare and they were apparently limited in how many 4’s they could give (I think I actually only got a 4 my first year because I guess their expectations for me as a straight-out-of-college hire were very low so I really exceeded them. Once they had a better idea of what they could expect from me it was pretty much all 3’s).

  19. Shay

    I was mid-way through my first week at a new job when they began their annual performance review cycle. (Of course I was not part of it)

    BUT …

    A junior researcher, with the company for approximately three years, said that he was hoping to be promoted as part of this review and really looking forward to his scheduled meeting with his manager. He was fired.

    I was unable to determine if he’d been warned or been on a PIP but even if he had been, it clearly didn’t register because he confidently thought he was about to be promoted.

    I stayed around another couple years, learned something un-mentionable (for fear someone reading this blog will see it), and moved on.

  20. Brady B

    A colleague and I share a direct report. We both started in the middle of the year, me with about two months before the performance review process began. Unfortunately, the previous manager ignored many problems, so while there were some problem areas identified prior to the review, there were a few items that were more of a surprise as we worked on the review. It was not ideal but at least the employee now has a job description (they did not have one previously, which was ridiculous), and clear expectations moving forward.

    1. Cat Meowmy Admin

      Thank you for being a good and competent manager! I would value this so much in a manager. Much respect!

  21. voyager1

    I will trade corporate america a surprise on my review, even a bad one….. in exchange for never having to do another self appraisal again.

    Those really suck because the manager just skims them and then reviews you how she feels.

    I did have a former manager tell me once my self appraisal was very lacking… AFTER I had turned in my 2 week notice. She was a real peach as you can imagine.

      1. voyager1

        Oh it was hard to keep a straight face. She was just itching to give me a slamming review and I denied her that pleasure. Apparently she is still there and turnover in the department has been terrible.

    1. "Senior" Software engineer

      I dread those things. I lost my previous because my writing anxiety got so bad that I handed in a mostly-empty self-appraisal.

    2. Soon 2be former fed

      Self-appraisals are a joke. It just gives the manager something to argue against.

  22. lnelson in Tysons

    I agree with Alison that nothing in a review should be a surprise if one has a good manager who commutes regularly.
    I’ve had several reviews where there were no surprises because the manager and I talked a lot. And about the job, not just gossip/news/whatever.
    But I have worked with clueless people as well as bad managers (let’s just say bad in communicating for the moment) and in those instances, there were surprises in the review whether it was due to a manager never mentioning before that something wasn’t right or the employee’s light bulb just never went on. It was a complaint at one place that I worked that many employee felt that they never got any feedback.
    Nevermind an arrogant employee who simply doesn’t believe that he could ever be in the wrong/not doing something correctly/etc.

  23. IWishIHadAFancyUserName

    Performance reviews at my organization are such a waste of time.
    My performance eval form is 9 — yes 9 — pages long. Half of each page is space for supervisor/evaluee comments. But comments are allowed only if you score a 1 (needs improvement) or a 5 (exceeds expectations). Otherwise all anyone’s allowed to do is circle their score number, sign their name, and date the form.
    We can write comments separately and take them to the meeting to discuss, but not. one. thing. goes on the eval form. So no year to year record, nothing official to refer back to from the prior evaluation.
    I think it’s ridiculous. On the other hand, the eval meetings are brief.

    1. nonymous

      At my org anything besides the fully successful means the supervisor has to defend the decision in person four levels up because the Associate Deputy has to present it formally to her grandboss. Plus it doesn’t affect COLA or raises, so what’s the point. Apparently there are only so many exceeds allowed so there’s definitely some politics involved too. My experience is that if the supervisor is in the first/last 5 years of their career there’s no chance of them wasting political capital on this.

      1. Soon 2be former fed

        It’s all politics. My manager says your rating can’t be higher than his. WTF. It’s all nonsense.

  24. Arya Parya

    I had a manager who did management by exception. Basically he wouldn’t manage unless he really had to. I had lots of surprise feedback at my annual reviews. If I asked for specific examples so I could onderstand the feedback better and do something with it, he never had any. I’m glad he isn’t my manager anymore.

  25. Lexica

    In my latest performance evaluation, I got rated lower on a couple of categories than I usually do. Reviewing it with my manager, she said “You can leave a comment responding to that if you want.”

    “No, it’s legitimate criticism,” I said. “I was going through a bad slump around then and dropped a couple of things.” (“Bad slump” = struggling with severe depression.)

    “Yeah, I noticed that. Glad you seem to be pulling out of it,” she said, and we continued going over the evaluation.

    Okay, but um… you’re my manager, wouldn’t it have been good for you to say something at the time? If I’d heard something from her like “Lately your performance hasn’t been as good as it usually is; is there anything going on? Do you need assistance or clarification?” it would have helped me realize that I wasn’t doing as good a job of keeping my nose above water as I thought I was.

    She retired at the end of that month, and I’m glad. I like her as a person and as a coworker; I think she wasn’t good as a manager and was increasingly sliding into senioritis/DGAF/short-timer syndrome toward the end of her time here.

    1. JediSquirrel

      Part of being an effective manager is providing timely feedback.

      I once worked for a person who watched me do a task several times without saying anything. On the fifth or six time, she blew up at me for doing it wrong, saying “I thought you would have figured this out by now.”

      Not giving appropriate feedback when someone isn’t doing something right is the same as giving positive feedback on it. It sends the wrong message, and is unfair to the employee.

      1. Zephy

        It stands for “don’t give a f***” – so, not caring about doing her job well or not wanting to devote a lot of time and energy to doing so since she’d be leaving soon.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Ah yeah, I agree that this sounds like she just phoned in that last review cycle and decided to stop managing. It’s just obnoxious that she decided to not address it in the moment and just tack it onto her last review before shuffling out the door.

      I once had a question in an interview how I’d deal with someone who started to show diminished performance as you described. And my automated response, despite never having to even deal with it before was “I’d talk to them to see if something was going on, see if there was anything that was weighing them down personally or perhaps they have too much work on their plate as well, etc. that may require more assistance on my side, etc.” It’s really pretty standard for anyone who actually wants to manage people well and also not just treat them like little robots to have a discussion when it comes up not just wait until I can drag you threw the mud.

        1. Cat Meowmy Admin

          Lmao! “The beatings will continue until morale improves” I see what ya did there! ;)

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin

        And strong agree, TMBL! When I was an Admin supervisor, that thinking was also my MO, as needed, if another Admin was showing diminished performance. Exactly how I’d want to be treated too. :)

      1. Elsajeni

        The “senior” in “senioritis” refers to being a senior in high school or college — the meaning is “someone who knows they’re going to be out of here soon and isn’t making much effort anymore,” not anything to do with age.

  26. Hiring Mgr

    Not to derail, but there’s an underlying assumption to this question, which is that performance reviews are thoughtful, necessary, and taken seriously by employee, manager, and the company. Do people find this to be true at their workplaces? (I never have fwiw..)

    1. Argh!

      Where I work, salary increases are tied to evaluation scores. I take it very seriously. My supervisor, not so much. The money for salaries comes from one pot, and my manager makes twice what I do. Ergo, kiss up, kick down is a valid method of building up a retirement fund.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Like anything, it depends on the manager. If you have a good manager, generally yes. If you have a bad manager, generally no. But yes, let’s not derail on it.

    3. Close Bracket

      My managers say they take them seriously, but I do not bc the feedback is so bad, both in the actual feedback (be more enthusiastic!) and how it is delivered (withholding direction, silently judging me for months for not getting in on my own, and springing that on me during the review).

    4. Powercycle

      Where I work upper management makes a big deal about performance reviews but reality is they’re basically “rubber stamped” and then ignored.
      Kinda insulting when one year I was busting my butt going above and beyond doing the jobs of two people and only got ‘satisfactory’ ratings. Nice…

  27. Argh!

    There are two types of rules or standards: the official line, and the wink-wink-g’head type.

    If you don’t address things during the year, you’re essentially communicating the wink-wink standard. If others get away with this, then it’s the communal standard. It doesn’t matter if everyone gets a ding on their performance evaluation. If I thought I was doing fine, and didn’t see that my performance was not meeting workplace expectations, I’d be hopping mad if my supervisor zinged me with a new one. As someone in a protected class, I’d also consider suing.

    There are many, many reasons to be honest with employees throughout the year. Legal liability would be a big one.

  28. hey

    Ultimately it’s a general rule of thumb, not a law. There are best practices and shite practices, in the same company. In my group, I get a heads up a month before to review last year’s and see how I did regarding goals and overall work and suggest goals for next year. Then a couple days before, I get a PDF to review. Then meet with my manager and discuss each section and next year’s goals.
    (twenty years ago) The group adjacent to mine in work and location had a boss who determined that reviews were for the purpose of showing where the employee was weak, or failed. My friend said his words were something like, “I’m not here to cheer you on and tell you that you did a good job. I’m here to tell you how to improve.”
    Plot twist: That group is now part of my group and he’s gone.
    So yeah, there’s no federal or state oversight to prevent a jackass from jackassing or a boss determined to boss very bossly to undermine the whole process, but in a healthy workplace, it’s a great way to quantify both hard and soft skills.

    Oh and one more thing. Two times over the decades I made rather huge mistakes. They weren’t listed on my review, because they were handled at the time and not determined to be indicative of my being a failure as employee or a person. They happened. We dealt with it and moved on. Overall year: win.

  29. Earthwalker

    A manager should also be able to provide an example of whatever failing is described in general terms. “Missing deadlines?” Name one. “Poor teamwork?” Describe an incident of that. My biggest peeve with surprise evaluations is when I get some vague feedback (“too democratic”) and the boss cannot explain what that means or how it applies to me, and why it reduces my ranking. That it’s a surprise is bad enough. But how should a person change if the feedback is so vague that it serves only as a useless scold, providing no direction for improvement?

    1. voyager1

      Oh I got one in this similar line:

      Annual Review 2017: Told I wear my feelings on my sleeve (verbally), when I asked she said it was “just a feeling she had about me.” She had written something similar in the review but I don’t have it in front me.

      Annual Review 2018: (Written) Employee is the best at taking feedback and always changes procedures/processes without pushback or needing to extra guidance.

      Y’all I have not changed anything about how I communicate with her or my team. LOL

    2. JediSquirrel

      Yep. Vague feedback does not provide employees with anything they can take action on. Specific, timely feedback is part of being a good manager.

    3. Cat Meowmy Admin

      Thank you for stating this!! Yes, *specifics* are necessary for successful feedback and improvements. Vague observations are a confusing waste of time that produces zero “measurable results”! My biggest pet peeve about performance reviews. I’m not a mind reader and guessing games are useless. Give me something I can really work on, and we both succeed.

    4. EvilQueenRegina

      My ex coworker once got told off in his appraisal about the way he had spoken to people sometimes – he asked for specifics, but his manager wouldn’t give him any so he just said “right, then I’m going to ignore that”.

    5. the w.e.n.u.s.

      A very vague review a couple years ago is the reason I started reading AAM! My manager basically said, “People have said Things. So try to work on that, ok?” Without concrete examples, I couldn’t understand the full context of what happened to correct or defend myself at all. And then, the following year, she wrote “Great improvement!!!” when I hadn’t changed a single thing. UGH.

      I’m still mad about it, but at least now I understand WHY it was so frustrating to hear!

  30. Candy Clouston

    The performance review process with which I’m most familiar involved all the department managers meeting and discussing all the department employees. This was partly to justify salary allocations to supervisors. But it also meant I got feedback like “[This female manager] thinks you need to smile more.” (I’m female. It wasn’t a customer-facing job. This happened several years in a row.) One of my supervisors later confided to me that I was being seriously undervalued. I did much better in a smaller adjacent department.

  31. Close Bracket

    How about, “very little in a performance review should be a surprise?”

    Honestly, I’m a little tired of the “silently judging someone for months for not meeting a yardstick you never them about then blindsiding them” model of reviews. No secret yardsticks. Tell me the expectations.

  32. FaintlyMacabre

    I’m still bitter about the performance review where my raise got dinged due to my “problematic” lateness. Yes, I was frequently five to ten minutes late. I was also working overtime every day, as I was doing two peoples’ job as there was a hiring freeze and we weren’t allowed to replace a person who quit. And then I would get scolding emails from our corporate overlords about how due to the financial climate, overtime is discouraged and talk to my manager about it. So yeah.

    Go above and beyond, but as I’m burning out and spending each morning in the car dreading work and trying to convince myself to go in, the 2 or 3 hours of overtime a day is apparently not enough to make up for a little tardiness. That was a slap in the face. And boy howdy, they had mega egg on their face when I quit about a month later!

    1. Deejay

      I once had a manager who got an earful from the Managing Director’s CEO about coming in five minutes late. He hit back with “I didn’t see your car, or anyone else’s, in the car park when I left work TWO HOURS late yesterday”. She didn’t say anything more after that.

  33. msk

    I only had a problem once, when I had a hard-nosed manager take over our group. She complained in my review that I always responded by email whether she had asked the question in person or via phone call. She was someone who had a problem keeping on top of email because of the volume she got. As the boss, I thought she could ask for responses by any method that worked for her–carrier pigeon if she preferred, but she had NEVER told me that in normal operation. Our company gives us the opportunity to post comments on a review, i.e. in rebuttal or explanation. I was encouraged by another manager to do that, as the word was that HR looked over those comments. I think it was actually a good thing that I spoke up as my manager seemed to step back a bit. She could be a bully that respected someone fighting back more than she would someone rolling over.

  34. wondHRland

    Had a boss with several people doing the same role (think HR managers of Mfg locations), would cut/paste from the self eval to the mgr eval (as well as from one employee’s review to the next).

  35. Grand Mouse

    I’ve never had an annual review, so what is special about them if you get frequent feedback anyway?

    I’d like to get an official review, but that could just be my anxiety that unless I pin down my manager for thorough feedback, I am not doing well and missing things

    1. designbot

      When they’re productive, they’re a great time to talk about your goals going forward or bigger picture issues, like what a path towards advancement might look like for you or shifting your focus to a type of project. Or if you’re not performing so well, getting specific about what needs to change and how the company can support that.

  36. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue

    Would have been nice if I’d gotten any kind of evaluation or feedback before they told me to get out. Of course, they wanted me gone no matter what.

    1. Cat Meowmy Admin

      I hope you’re finding some peace and your journey will be prosperous. I read your comments on open threads and my heart goes out to you in solidarity. Wishing you all good things!

      1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue

        Thanks! I’m getting a little better. Had multiple interviews this week, maybe I’ll get one of those.

  37. Spongebobette

    I have a story for this. Years ago at my former job, I was in a team of 6. Four of us had worked together last year very well, so we assumed we would do great this time. Well, we had no leadership and no systems in place, so we did not. Specifically, I tried to fill the leadership gap and I became very controlling. We began as a team in August, and in January a meeting was called to discuss “how things were going.” Well, it ended up being an intervention meeting for me. One of my teammates started screaming and swearing at me about how awful I was to work with, and our supervisor did nothing to stop him. I started crying hysterically. Everyone is the room- there were 8 of us- took a turn saying what I was doing wrong that year. I was so upset I barely even remember the meeting, so that technique didn’t work! Not to mention it was traumatic. Two other people at the meeting spent all weekend crying they were so upset. I tearfully told my supervisor during one the later meetings that I don’t disagree at all that I was struggling and needed feedback- I was and I did! But it was handled just so terribly. I told the grand boss, and we ended up having a series of meetings with my coworkers and direct supervisor. Neither my teammates nor my supervisor every talked to me during the prior months about their concerns. Apparently she just thought they would handle it on their own. The year ended well and I am on good terms with everyone now, but it was a terrible experience. I am very much a proponent of employees that are struggling getting feedback in the moment. That meeting, which wasn’t even an evaluation, was most certainly a surprise.

  38. LQ

    I had SURPRISE review this week. My boss was behind and had to get them done so he just grabbed me for 15 minutes after another meeting and was like we are doing your performance review now. While I was shocked by how good it was, I likely shouldn’t have been. There was nothing in there my boss hadn’t said (and considering that it was pressed for time, he actually did spend some time thinking about it and had some examples of good work I’d done to call out). And while it was higher than I’d have expected and I could come up with a dozen reasons why I would have guessed it wouldn’t have this high, the surprise was really on me for not listening.

    There is no way that there aren’t folks on the other side of the coin who have had bosses say something over and over and they would still be surprised. Oh you mean you really do think I’m excelling in this role when you just promoted me and are talking about what the next promotion means for me and are giving me giant, hard and good projects? Oh you mean you really do not like that I don’t show up on time when I’m required to be here to answer phones at 9 am you actually mean it even though you started asking me to come in earlier and told me that if I didn’t start coming in on time you’d put me on a pip? WHAT?!

    Not all surprise is the fault of the boss…a whole lot, and it is worth stopping hard if you’re surprising someone because it likely wasn’t as clear as it should have been. But it’s a good moment to stop and go…have I been listening?

  39. Theory of Eeveelution

    My manager used my last performance review to spring on me that she thought I was “emotionally unintelligent” and not a good culture fit for the company. She is no longer my manager, thank god, but, WOW. I just smiled and nodded, but I’m honestly still angry about it. If you really wanted to read into it, she’s white and I’m not.

    1. LQ

      Flames worthy.

      Culture fit can have something to it but so much of the time it’s used for “not like me” that its worth throwing out the whole concept if we can get rid of the racism and sexism and gross shit it’s used to hide.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Woah, I can’t wrap my mind around the stories we’re getting in here about the awful, crude and cruel things that come out of managers mouths. I’m glad she’s not your manager anymore but she shouldn’t be anyone elses manager either, vile.

    3. Cat Meowmy Admin

      I would have glazed over at hearing “emotionally unintelligent” O.M.G. And nothing else would have registered. That was cruel and insulting and WTAF level. I’m sorry that happened to you and I’m glad she’s no longer your manager. I don’t blame you one bit for still being angry about it. (Relatable to an extent as I’m still angry about my own from 10 years ago.)

  40. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    Ultimately, it sounds like the answer is really… no, things in a performance review should not be a surprise, but given the choice between omitting important items that have not been previously discussed or bringing up surprises, it’s better to err on the side of giving a thorough review even if it does mean some surprises for the reviewee.

  41. Decima Dewey

    In my library system, it’s an actual rule that nothing in a performance review should come as a surprise. One branch manager I had got dinged for having a messy workroom. She objected when it came up in her review. Her boss told her that she could see the workroom was messy, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Branch Manager’s response was “get out of here before I hurt you.” I heard this from the Branch Manager herself. I wouldn’t have thought that threatening a little old lady with osteoporosis was an acceptable reaction to a performance review.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Sure, you can SEE the mess and if nobody says “that’s a problem” then duh, how would you know it’s a problem?! *mind blown* So the lady was wrong to assume she should just know better. You still have to point out the “obvious” to make sure they know your standards, ffs!

      My desk is messy right now, if someone just came in and dinged me in a review for it without saying it was against protocol, I’d be ticked too. Not to the point of threatening anyone that’s gross but I would be on my way out the door given our styles not meshing at all of course. I don’t do blind sided reviews and assumptions!

      However threatening anyone is grounds for termination even if you’re under a union contract usually o.O That’s so icky and toxic.

  42. Pebbles

    I had a manager who sprung on me in my annual review that I was online too much. Never defined what “too much” equated to, and I am often online to look up code snippets, researching things related to my job, etc. No idea how much of what he observed was time on AaM and Facebook vs. sites I needed to do my job. Never in our weekly 1-on-1s did he ever bring this up with me. What really concerned me is that he told me he asked some of my coworkers if I was getting things done in a timely manner and at a quality level, and everyone told him that I was. So it didn’t appear to be affecting my work, and we couldn’t talk about it when he had ample opportunities to bring it up, but it had to be documented in my review.

  43. Mina, The Company Prom Queen

    I once worked at a company where everyones’ performance review was pretty much a list of all of their shortcomings. I was warned by my colleagues, though. I had received feedback on something minor a few months prior and fixed it. Sure enough, it went in my review anyway. They also included silly things like the typo you made in one document draft (that was found in the proofreading stage and promptly fixed before it went to the client) and any vague character attack they could conjure up. Then, they handed you a comically low raise. They did this to everyone. It’s one thing if your boss discusses areas in which they’d like you to develop and improve, quite another when they crap all over you and call it a performance review. Glad I don’t work there anymore.

    1. Cat Meowmy Admin

      Relatable! That’s the worst. When a problem has been corrected or an issue resolved, that should count for *positive* achievements. It’s not motivating to not acknowledge someone’s concrete resolution of problem(s).
      Constructive criticism with specific examples are needed to lead to successful results and improvements.

  44. Elizabeth Giddy

    My husband was once told he acted like an “abused child” in his annual performance review. I was floored that someone would make such a gross statement during a review, especially if that person had at one point been abused. He quit a month later, no regrets.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      W.T.F I’m so glad this had the happy ending of “he quit”. I hope he quit without notice either. Ew these tacky nonsensical jerks.

    2. Close Bracket

      I was told I was acting like a victim once (not during a review, but still). That was a seriously dysfunctional workplace, so what did they expect? Oddly enough, that was the best direct line management I’ve ever had.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        FML this reminds me of the time someone asked one of my workers to do something. My respond was “he can’t actually assist with that specific task, it physically hurts him given the setup of the task.” and the response was “He needs to pitch in, we all have to pitch in.”

        There’s a special place in a warm place for these horrible people.

        1. Cat Meowmy Admin

          I like to fantasize about the beauty of karma (and hope to witness it) when horrible people like that get their come-uppins, eventually suffering the type of physical pain and discomfort that they dismissed on another person. They deserve their own hellmouth.

      2. Cat Meowmy Admin

        What a horrible thing to say to you!! And how insensitive- what IF you (or anyone else) were actually a victim and/or had experienced child abuse or domestic violence, or anything along those lines. I cannot stand that kind of offhanded diminishing of what those words truly mean for people who’ve been there. (I have been there – luckily I survived a horribly abusive ex, but the repercussions/ptsd are real AF.) Using those words flippantly can be a trigger for others who are still struggling with the aftermath.

        1. Elizabeth Giddy

          Wow, sorry to hear that Cat. I definitely agree that saying something like that is a trigger and extremely sick to say to someone in general. To add a little context, she was telling my husband he acted like an “abused child” whenever someone criticized his work, which is a gross comparison to make. Why not just say defensive? This place had a toxic work culture and I wish he could have quit right then and there, but I had just gone back to school and we couldn’t afford to lose his income at the time. This is also the type of place that proclaimed to be like “family.” He still has trauma from working there.

          1. Cat Meowmy Admin

            Thanks Elizabeth:) I read your initial comment and really felt bad about what was said to your husband, that’s terrible, and I understand that toxic “faammmmilyyy” work environment (in it right now myself). Understandable that your husband still has trauma from that. And their awful comment says more about them than it does about him. I’m so glad for you both that he’s out of that situation. :)

      3. Jennifer Juniper

        @Close Bracket: I’m guessing you tried to disagree with them or complain about a legitimate problem instead of taking the blame for something you didn’t do.

    3. JediSquirrel

      I am so sorry for your husband. That is AWFUL, and comes from a terribly privileged and prejudicial point of view. I sincerely hope he found something much better and that your family is in a much better place.

    4. Cat Meowmy Admin

      Wait….W.T A.F. ?!?! What a horrible thing to say, and I’m glad your husband is outta there!! They clearly showed who/what they really are.

  45. Cat Meowmy Admin

    You know what? I’ve pretty much expected that there might be some surprises in my annual reviews. But never-have-I-ever anticipated being blindsided the way it happened twice at OldJob. (I worked there for 10 years; finally begged to be laid off during the numerous ‘staff reductions’ during the recession.) Still bothers me almost 10 years later:
    I had consistently received high ratings on my work product, collaboration with teams, received a promotion. I was actually hoping for some constructive criticism for my growth-learning. However, that was substituted with frankly, totally subjective personal criticisms such as:
    *”Cat Meowmy, you’re like the bad piece of fruit that spoils all the other fruit in the bowl”* and *”Wellll Cat Meowmy, Not Everyone Likes You”* and *”You’re too stuck up because you prefer to shop during your lunch break/ lunch with your friends, rather than join us for lunch; so you think you’re above us but you’re not eitherrrrr”* (I didn’t join them so that I could be in the office covering, enabling them to go to lunch together. If I was rarely invited, it was usually a last minute after-thought as they were headed out the door.)
    These statements alone left me off balance enough to just sit there stunned while it went on and on- I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve maintained a kind and helpful demeanor with everyone I worked with, fostering great relationships.
    The clincher was the *snarky smirks* from EVP and VP and direct Manager that accompanied the subjective statements. I added my own carefully worded rebuttal to these same written statements in my performance evaluation. I kept my emotions in check about the unfair and unnecessary personal judgements, and stated that I would have appreciated more constructive feedback on areas where I needed improvement.
    Apologies for again being TL;DR – it still bothers me to this day and I wish it didn’t. This topic hits home for me.

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin

        Thank you :) It’s the kind of thing that I internalize and try to make some sense of it, figure out what the specifics are (there were none). And the “bad piece of fruit” thing? WTF does that even mean? Makes no sense! But I’ve decided that it says more about them than it does about me.

  46. Domino009

    I’m a park ranger. I once got a surprise ding on a performance evaluation for walking the trail once a day.

    Let me do it for a whole year without saying anything. I had no office so I didn’t have any other place to be/work most the day.

    Also…isn’t that literally my job?

    1. Cat Meowmy Admin

      Duhhh… whattt?! You’re there doing your job at your work site! What did they expect you to be doing, and where?! Seriously!

  47. Mockingbird 2

    This happened to me twice at the same job. This was a job where I had multiple mid level supervisors and then an overall manager. The first time I had a formal evaluation from one guy reported to my manager and had to have a special meeting about it. I had received ZERO feedback at the time about doing poorly. After this I received very positive feedback from others about doing well in the areas I needed to improve upon. The second time (same person), I received feedback and acted upon it but then my formal evaluation was completely different and very negative. I had to ask him to meet with me and this time he was actually forthright about what was going on and I asked for specific suggestions for how to address concerns. I heard through the grapevine that he was impressed by how I did, he did not tell me this directly and I received a very mediocre, but acceptable, formal evaluation. I was done with this guy so didn’t ask to meet with him again but he was super buddy buddy towards me after. So weird. This whole process really made me feel awful. And while I definitely think there was some bias/personal preference involved (like I said I got positive reviews from others), I did actually learn a lot from this guy once he gave me real advice. Just wish he had done that earlier instead of knee jerk reporting up the chain or passive aggressively slamming me on written evals.

    I understand noticing a pattern maybe from different reports but if you notice something in the moment or sense a pattern may be starting to evolve earlier, please don’t be afraid to give honest, timely feedback. As Allison says it’s a kindness. (And to employees — if you’re not getting good feedback don’t be afraid to ask for it and push for specifics! Learned this the hard way!)

  48. Feline

    Nothing in a review *should* be a surprise, if your manager communicates with you between reviews. But it *can* if your manager chooses that time of year to tell you things they didn’t communicate months ago. I’ve seen a review blindside a coworker with a PIP. I get that the less-than-communicative manager saw it as an opportunity to get all the paperwork out of the way at once, but while it must have seemed efficient, it’s not the best way to communicate dissatisfaction with performance if you only do it once a year.

    My current employer has gone to a quarterly review system to force those managers to relay feedback more frequently.

  49. dedicated1776

    I took a job four months ago that manages a team of five. Our company is still growing and getting HR processes in place, so performance evaluations are very much unenforced. Long story short, I just did a performance review with a lot of areas for improvement for one of my reports and I felt terrible that it came as a surprise to her. But the fact of the matter was I couldn’t avoid the review just because the people before me didn’t have the guts to deal with it! I told her in the review, as Alison suggested, that going forward I would be very honest and direct with her and it was a failure on the company’s part that the issues had not been addressed with her before. After the fact, I feel I made the right decision. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and say it, even though it sucks.

  50. Katie

    This is timely as my company is just going into review season and I just completed the written portion of my team’s reviews today. While I don’t think anything I say to them should be a surprise as we do regular check-ins year round, I do have one employee who seems to become delusional around review time each year and surprised when I talk to her about areas where she fell short or needs to work on, despite us having these conversations throughout the year. In her self-appraisal this year she said she met all of her goals when she actually didn’t meet any of them (and they are based on clear metrics so this isn’t subjective). Our raises are tied to our review scores, so I know she’s just trying to get a raise but… she didn’t earn one! So I’m preparing myself for a conversation where she will act surprised and disappointed.

  51. ITisnotEZ

    In a previous position, I was lead tech for a technology migration. This took place in June-August, and we had completed the project ahead of schedule and with minimal production impact, scheduling around staff availability.

    In December I was having my annual review, and I was anticipating a promotion and a decent merit increase, per our previous, albeit informal, discussions. I was quite gobsmacked to find out there was a verbal complaint about me from three months prior during the migration. This was the first time I had heard of it, despite weekly meetings with my boss. Well, no promotion and the minimum merit increase. I ended up leaving about 6 months later and this had a lot to do with it.

  52. EvilQueenRegina

    My ex line manager “Umbridge” would be all sweetness and light in my reviews. However, I recently found out she was giving negative feedback about me to my coworkers behind my back. She said something to my coworker Minerva about how “I couldn’t help Minerva with the finance because she said I didn’t do it properly” – Minerva is adamant she never said that and Umbridge never said that to my face. The only thing I can think of is that she was referring to a minor fixable mistake from four years previously – nothing else had ever been raised with me about finance by her, and it was something I’d moved on from at the time. At no time did she ever even suggest training and just chose to write me off. I later also found out she told my coworker Bellatrix I wouldn’t cope with being promoted and would find it too stressful – nothing of the kind was said by her to my face.

    Umbridge eventually resigned after a long period of sick leave following a formal complaint by Minerva (long story) but it reached the point where I requested to be managed by someone else if she ever came back.

  53. Clisby

    I’ve never been surprised by a negative comment in a performance review, but I have been gratified by positive comments. In my experience, my reviews were not based only on my manager’s observations. Every one of my managers actively sought input from people/departments I had worked with, outside of my own team/group. That was a big part of my evaluation.

  54. Who Plays Backgammon?

    I don’t know what, if any, training my firm gives to new managers on doing evaluations, but my old boss must have been hiding behind the door during it. I didn’t rebut her horrible remarks for years because I was afraid of retaliation, but in the last two I responded in writing for the first time. Last year’s “eval” just slammed me, and it was right out of jr. high.

    I just got a new boss who was a manager at her previous firm. Hopefully she’s not so clueless. BUt I worry that my old boss unloaded all her crap about me onto new boss.

    Evals are a crap shoot depending on the quality of your boss, and it kills me that so much of an employee’s future can ride on them.

  55. Jennifer Juniper

    If an employee is blindsided by a boss’s concerns, isn’t that partly the employee’s fault much of the time? The employee must have a sense of how well they’re doing, provided the expectations have been clearly laid out.

    1. Jennifer Juniper

      Of course, this is assuming the workplace is functional and nontoxic. If the workplace is dysfunctional and/or the role’s expectations have not been laid out, all bets are off.

  56. In a Field of Thorns

    Like many of you, I was blindsided by a negative performance review—my most recent one, in fact. This bomb dropped after I had asked my manager in August 2018 if I was on track to get at least a “meets expectations” on my next review, and she replied “yes” that I would. Come February 2019: bombs away! Nothing significant happened between August and November, when she submitted the review. So, yep, in my book that’s called a lie.

    Some of her complaints concerned tasks she never informed me were my responsibility. Others touched upon a disability I have, of which she has been informed but summarily dismisses. Overall, she has given me the impression I am not qualified to do my job, even though I have been doing just fine in the same position under different supervisors for many years. Yet, I have lost total confidence in myself—I feel gaslighted, as if I don’t really know what my real abilities are anymore. This has never happened to me before.

    I am moving on to a new position, and was pleasantly surprised that the seminar I gave as part of the interview process was so well received. Is my soon-to-be former boss the outlier? Or will my new boss quickly determine that I’m no gem of an employee? I am wondering if doing an “autopsy” on the terrible review would help me understand what happened last year and help me devise ways to prevent it from happening again. My current boss is very passive-aggressive and probably won’t be forthcoming with helpful information, but her boss might be. Worth a try? I dunno.

    1. In a Field of Thorns

      Addendum: I know my current boss will not be helpful, as I’ve tried several times to discuss the review with her. She clams up and gives me the cold shoulder.

    2. Doctor Schmoctor

      Ouch.
      See my comment below. Similar things have happened to me. The boss gave me a task the day before it was due, and a month later complained that it wasn’t good enough.
      The worst is if they always give you positive feedback, and assure you that you’re doing a great job. You know something is off, but you can’t exactly say “no, I disagree.” You see other people getting all the nice projects and promotions, but when you try to talk about it, they assure you that no, it’s just your imagination. I had a discussion about this with my new boss just last week. I sent him an e-mail with all my facts, clear examples of cases where I was pushed aside, where promises were made and not kept, where I was deliberately kept out of projects and explicitly told not to attend project meetings, but still blamed when things went wrong. Then he said there have been many complaints about my performance, and little improvement from my side. This was honestly the first I’ve heard of it. How am I supposed to know you’re unhappy with my performance if you keep telling me everything’s fine?
      Why can’t people just talk? If there’s a problem, say something.
      I hate this company. I’m looking for a new job.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

      “I am moving on to a new position, and was pleasantly surprised that the seminar I gave as part of the interview process was so well received. Is my soon-to-be former boss the outlier?”

      Probably not. Happens more often than you think. At one time I worked in a group of three – coming up for review – boss wanted to promote someone outside the group into ours and put the three of us on what would today be called a PIP. Two of us said “screw this crap” and we were out of there in two weeks (one guy less than a week) — and the third guy, they had to call a truce to get him to stay, as he was also on his way out the door.

      ” Or will my new boss quickly determine that I’m no gem of an employee? I am wondering if doing an “autopsy” on the terrible review would help me understand what happened last year and help me devise ways to prevent it from happening again.”

      If you have moved on to a different and new boss, it probably won’t be much of a factor going forward. But DO take means – act defensively – to make sure they don’t do this again.

  57. Doctor Schmoctor

    Also, if there is a problem with your performance, the manager should address it immediately. Instead, they say nothing, leaving you to believe everything is fine, until a month later, when suddenly you get a written warning for non-compliance.
    By that time, you can’t clearly remember all the details of the task you apparently screwed up, so you can’t effectively defend yourself.

    And by “you”, obviously I mean “I” and “me.”

  58. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    YES it can be a surprise — these “surprises” happen most often

    – when a manager has to grade people on a curve he/she has four or five good people and someone’s gotta take the hit
    – when a manager wants to promote a buddy over the most qualified person, he’s gotta take someone out
    – as a prelude to layoffs.
    – to justify a manager’s mistake after the fact

    Also – a review sometimes is written such that – your best employee does his work, goes up and beyond, etc., so the review process is used to attack his character. The words “poor attitude” can throw a potshot at someone’s career, and the employee has no defense for it, even if the charge is egregiously false.

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