my employee disagrees with his performance evaluation

A reader writes:

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

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

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

How do I address this difference of opinion on Carl’s performance? I have had multiple meetings with him, especially addressing the problems he has caused for the department by not thinking of the whole department when making decisions. Overall, he is a good employee who makes mistakes occasionally; he just is not as fantastic as he thinks he is.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 283 comments… read them below }

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I still remember when someone I had helped train went for an internal promotion. The hiring manager mentioned that he was said to have a tendency towards argumentativeness. He argued with her about it. He did not get the job.

        1. Soooooanon*

          We once had an internal applicant who went into the interview with the assumption that he was our best candidate, and that he was deciding whether he would grace us with his greatness and accept the role.

          He missed the mark on multiple questions (and greatly exaggerated his contributions to various projects), and did not even move on to the second round of consideration. He then tried to grieve the decision, and the union had to inform him that it wasn’t a unionized position so there was nothing they could do (oh, how I wish I could have overheard that conversation!).

          He finally requested feedback, and spent the entire call arguing that we were interpreting the job description the wrong way and that he does, in fact, have all the qualifications. We had to explain that we were interpreting the job description that way (which, IMO, was really the only way, lol) because that’s what we needed the person in the job to do and if he needed to interpret it another way, he did not have the skills we needed.

      2. Purt's Peas*

        I had almost this exact reaction when I was 14 and in summer camp–a counselor told me, “You’re being pretty contrarian today, huh?” and I literally responded “No I’m not!” before taking even two seconds to think about it. So, that’s Carl’s level at this point, it seems.

        1. Dagny*

          The problem with telling someone that they are “contrarian” or “defensive” is that it is not really falsifiable: if the allegation is incorrect or the person alleging defensiveness is actually being a huge jerk, there’s no way to refute it without also supporting it.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            I would apologize, thank them for their feedback, and ask them to elaborate. If they do so, I now have valuable feedback. If they can’t, then I know it’s about them. I also have refuted the accusation.

        2. Yikes!*

          Lol I love that you’re comparing Carl to how you reacted at 14 — I feel like that speaks volumes! When an actual child (well, teenager) reacts that way, it’s understandable, not that it excuses the behaviour, but your average 14 year old isn’t very mature, doesn’t really understand business norms, and generally argue… and I get wanting to be like “don’t tell me what I’m like” and wanting to be in control of your identity and stuff but yeah it’s not so understandable/excusable when your an adult

      3. Anonymous at a University*

        I have a colleague that does this:

        “Why won’t you discuss [thing they’ve already gone over 5 times] with me any more?”
        “You have a tendency to get defensive.”
        “I do NOT! Why are you saying that? Why are you picking on me?”

        There’s a reason that very few people regard her with any degree of fondness.

      4. Warm Weighty Wrists*

        Ha, reminds me of when I told a guy in college I didn’t want to go on a second date. He asked why, and I answered that he had a tendency to be condescending.
        Response: “I don’t think you know what condescending means.”

      5. an infinite number of monkeys*

        “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”
        “No it isn’t!”

        1. Mephyle*

          “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.”

      6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I once insisted I was more competitive than Jane – when another co-worker had just made a statement that Jane is very competitive…

      7. Andy*

        What would you expected someone who does not argue with colleagues often to say? As in, the way you evaluate his responses, he either have to accept that he has a lot of disagreements or is proving the charge by disagreeing with him.

          1. üpl*

            And the rest of the script?
            After they elaborated a bit, you are still in the position of either arguing back thereby proving their point or staying silent leaving the point to stand.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Story as old as time.
      “We’re not fighting” even though they’re screaming and practically foaming at the mouth, moments away from throwing things. *face desk*

      I’d be looking to get rid of someone who is this combative.

    2. Teapot Librarian*

      I’ve had this very same thing happen with one of my employees. In fact, I could have written this letter, except for the fact that I’m not good about the ongoing feedback piece, so the letter writer is a much better manager than I am!

    3. Lynn*

      I do feel like there can be some nuance to a difference of opinion among coworkers, but it seems like Carl is not going to be the poster child for the difference between a disagreement and a collaborative discussion.

    4. Red5*

      I literally have a guy right now who argues over whether he argues. I’ll tell him I’m not going to argue about how to do something with him, and he’ll say, “I’m not arguing; I’m discussing.” No, my man. The first time you were discussing. The fifth time I told you to do something, you’re arguing. It’s so tiring, and I usually just shut it down asap because O…M…G… It’s just, a lot.

    5. Middle Manager*

      My poor performer argued with me for the majority of her last evaluation about how they aren’t argumentative.

    6. Wintermute*

      It’s literally like the monty python sketch! “this isn’t an argument!” “yes it is!” “an argument is a reasoned series of statements, not just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says!” “no, it’s not!”

  1. Rusty Shackelford*

    Luckily, a lot of this seems to be pretty objective:

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

    “Carl, on five occasions in the last six months, you agree to switch shifts with a coworker but then did not show up for your new shift. You missed four appointments with customers. Obviously these are going to lower your scores.” (Did he know you were short-staffed when he made his appointments? Should he have known? I’m not sure that should be held against him.)

    1. Former fallopianite*

      If there is a shared calendar, then he should be consulting that and if not, why not?
      Also, remember part of his personal assessments is that everyone is a hero in their own story.
      In the personal assessment, is there a section that asks for what they see needs improvement, that they will then work on?

    2. Artemesia*

      What jumps out at me is that he is getting ‘meets expectations’ and ‘sometimes exceeds expectations’ when he is in fact doing a lousy job. Missing a shift, missing an appointment or more with clients — those add up to ‘fails to meet expectations’. Part of your problem is that you are apparently inflating his ratings because you are nervous about him. Classic squeaky wheel getting rewarded. And you seem confused about who is the boss. He doesn’t have to ‘agree’ with your assessment. He has a right to push back to some extent but ultimately you. are the boss.

      I would think clearly about the specific things he has failed to do and go into this assessment with at least a couple of ‘fails to meet expectations’ type ratings backed by specific instances. I don’t think you get to do the things you have listed and still be considered satisfactory. Alison is right — make the feedback super specific. ‘We cannot see situations where you fail to show up for a client appointment or fail to cover a shift you have agreed to.’

      It sounds like you are letting his aggressiveness shape your management of him.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        This is what stood out to me too. I get about half “met” and half “exceeds,” and haven’t ever had a conversation with a manager about improving my performance. I would only expect those conversations if I was on track to receive any “met some expectations” which is the step below “met,” or possibly “does not meet.” That suggests to me that Carl should have been seeing “met some” at some point. Granted this was based on a single review when he’d only been on the job for 6 mos, so maybe his performance starting worsening between that review and the year one, but the performance meetings should be setting him up to understand his performance isn’t quite at the “met” level for at least some aspects, much less exceeding.

        1. Artemesia*

          The OP might consider both lowering the scores to ‘doesn’t meet’ but also saying; when we met 6 mos ago I rated you a bit higher than you had earned because you were new to the job. This probably did you no favors because failing to keep a single client appointment is a big deal and now in the last 6 months you stood up clients twice, failed to cover shifts you had agreed to cover several times and have not paid attention to coverage when scheduling. This are important to the job and I need you to be on top of this going forward if you want to receive ratings of meets expectations in the future. I have pointed some of this out in out informal meetings along the way and it doesn’t seem you have taken this seriously.

      2. JSPA*

        Yep. It may be much easier to bounce one criterion up to “exceeds,” if anything is close, but be brutally honest on the “does not meet,” as well. It’ll average out the same, and he’ll get a stiff warning about not leaving people in the lurch.

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Someone as aggressive as Carl sounds like he needs to be put on a PIP.

        If he meets or even exceeds expectations while leaving his coworkers in the lurch on multiple occasions, it sounds like you’ve lowered your expectations to an unreasonable level. At some point, his coworkers will be wondering why he’s allowed to keep doing this. Humans will human, but there are limits.

        1. Jojo*

          Actually it sounds to me like he might be just out of school and expecting his participation trophy. He does not yet know how real life works. His supervisor needs to stop sugarcoating the situation.

          1. lailaaaaah*

            I feel like you’re making some pretty big assumptions age-wise here- I’ve seen people in their twenties with way more professionalism than this, and older people with exactly his standard of behaviour.

    3. Artemesia*

      Especially if this has happened before ONE failure to keep an appointment with a client is ‘doesn’t meet expectations’ on this front. Our minimal expectation in dealing with clients as you never leave them in the lurch. In 45 years in the workforce I don’t recall every failing to keep an important appointment. For some things a mistake or two is par for the course — not keeping appointments with clients.

      And the fact that there has been some feedback along the way is helpful. The biggest flaw in the OP’s management thus far is inflating the scores of someone who is not meeting basic requirements of the job.

  2. The Other Dawn*

    It’s tough when you have an employee who doesn’t agree with their performance review. Years ago at my previous company, an employee who used to report to me moved into another department. Given the company was tiny, she still sat on the other side of me and her new manager was a couple desks over. She got a good review from her new manager–all ratings were either meets or sometimes exceeds expectations. Well, she was Not Happy. She argued about it. She cried about it. She slammed doors. She then went home that night and, with her husband’s help, rewrote her ENTIRE review! She have herself “significantly exceeds expectations” in all categories. She brought it in and presented it to her manager, who promptly told her that her previous ratings stand and that’s the end of it. There was absolutely nothing to support her rewritten review. (Thinking back on it now, almost everything was an argument with her and she was quite precious at times, often using tantrums as a way to get what she wants.)

    1. irene adler*

      Hmm. As her supervisor, am I more likely, or less likely, to view her in a favorable light, given her behaviors?

      Rewriting one’s review is a thing? With reasonable expectation of having the rewritten piece replace the supervisor’s review? Learn something new every day.

      1. dogmom*

        At one of my old jobs, one of my coworkers allegedly succeeded in having our manager at the time rewrite his evaluation. I can’t remember what in the evaluation he disagreed with, but he argued with her and claimed he got her to “massage the language.” I’m not sure if that actually happened or if he was just blowing smoke, but that place was a special variety of toxic and dysfunctional, so it wouldn’t surprise me if she did change it.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          I will admit to having an evaluation re-evaluated once.

          My manager at the time had basically imploded and was lashing out at everybody. Essentially performance reviews were the last thing she did before being reassigned far far away from direct reports. My new manager who had been my grandboss (her direct manager) handed me the evaluation she had prepared, said “sorry”, and sat back to see my reaction. (She thought she’d be able to tank everyone’s evaluation and not have to have the face to face meeting)

          I thanked him, and promptly walked into his boss’ office to tell him I wanted another review. He was aware of what was going on with my boss and essentially sat us both in a room where we went line by line so she could remove the inaccuracies and could make corrections to the parts where she blamed me for her screw ups.

          I ended up, when all was said and done, with a meets and no lies. It was the best I could hope for in that situation.

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          Last year, my supervisor tried to have me help with my own evaluation. I was unhelpful. I apparently think your annual review should be focused on thinks you need to improve on and I was “too negative.” So he had to delete basically everything I wrote.

          I stand by my additions.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        “Rewriting one’s review is a thing? With reasonable expectation of having the rewritten piece replace the supervisor’s review?”

        In that woman’s mind, absolutely. Everyone’s mind was absolutely blown and we talked about it for YEARS, even after we no longer all worked together. She even cried to the CEO. He walked about of his office, which was next to my cube, and then walked back in with a box of tissues and the look on his face was priceless.

          1. AnReAl*

            Respectfully disagree. Cher knew manipulation was not a one size fits all tactic and tailored her approach for each individual.

            (That said I’m only a massive fan of the movie, haven’t found a way to watch the series yet so they might have retconned her character)

      3. J.B.*

        I once left long comments in the boxes disagreeing with my boss’s criticisms of me. I was young and they were actually valid criticisms to a point but she was vague and I was documenting. I was also in the process of switching to a different work group and she knew it. It was a very dysfunctional environment.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      Oh wow… now that’s a special kind of sunshine right there.

      I’ve had interesting employees at evaluation time, but nothing like this. On how to handle the run of the mill disagreements on performance. I will let the employee know they are able to add comments supporting their disagreement to the review but the ratings will not change. (our reviews have a place for employee feedback that is a mandatory part of the sign off process).

      This seems to allow the employee to voice what they disagree with and get it in the record. It feels like a good compromise.

    3. Mel_05*

      I’ve heard of people contesting portions of their review before – usually if it’s factually inaccurate in some way.
      But I’m amazed at the kind of thinking that comes up with, “Oh, I can just rewrite someone else’s review of me”!

    4. CatWoman*

      Wow. I mean…wow. I’m surprised it didn’t end up as one of those “husband calls wife’s boss” scenarios.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        We were surprised, too, that he didn’t call the manager or even escort her to work that morning. The woman was very immature for her age and it was clear she was used to always getting her way, being pampered, and being sheltered by her family and her husband.

  3. Jack Skell*

    I have had disagreements with evaluations in more than one company.

    In one instance, my manager did not understand parts of what my job was, how I did it, or how it helped the company. None of my other coworkers did either. The week after the evaluation, I took two interrupted weeks off, came back to a crap show, and arranged to have my manager spend time with me my first day back. There was a partial lesson learned, and there was better communication after that, but I still left months after that.

    Now, I bring a copy of my job description to my evaluation meeting, and crazily enough, we find that there is a lot that I am doing outside my job description. I point out that maybe I should stop doing the things outside my job description, and focus on just the list of duties, so that I could get a better evaluation. That usually shuts them up.

    Yes, I’m a joy to work with and manage.

    1. laughingrachel*

      I agree! Disagreeing with your performance evaluation isn’t in itself a bad thing. That’s why there’s a meeting to go over it and they don’t just hand you the typed worksheet! It gives you a chance to calmly disagree and bring up reasons why you think it should be different! Then you can have a discussion from there, clarify expectations going forwards, ect. Obviously bosses can be unreasonable, but these discussions will usually let you know – like yours did! Sounds like you decided “out” was the best place to be.

      I think this dude’s attitude is what needs adjusting. If he thinks he deserves a different rating he should calmly bring up proof of some of his work he can point back to – not just argue about the “disagreement” word choice (which will never not be hilarious to me)

    2. lazy intellectual*

      I contested my job evaluation in my last job. I had concrete evidence that my manager blamed me for mistakes my coworkers made, and luckily in my last job, we got project-specific evaluations from clients and client managers, which directly contradicted my manager’s performance evaluation by being more positive.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think there are plenty of stories about needing to pushback on feedback, that’s for sure. Especially when you’re in a position that isn’t understood like the one you’re speaking of.

      But you weren’t nitpicking the whole “I don’t disagree with people, I disagree that I disagree with people!” ;) So you’re not the person this letter is aimed at.

      Luckily my bosses just assume I’m some kind of magical creature that should be praised and give me awkwardly too much of it at times. I had my last review that said “I can’t actually give you anything to work on…” and that manager is usually really good at figuring out SOMETHING someone can do better or at least work on to master or whatever. I was like “Heh…uh that’s lovely…I’ll pick myself apart and work on what I need to work on my own personal goals then.”

      1. Nessun*

        LOL yeah – I once had a boss put “how can you improve on perfection?” in his comments on my yearly review. He wasn’t the one who gave the final evaluation, so I just got that comment handed to me by a very bemused performance manager. My response was a) that a rather ridiculous thing to have in my permanent file, b) it’s not accurate as I am in no way perfect, and c) there’s nothing there I can even remotely use to plan for the coming year…so, thanks? And yep, went off to figure out what I could work on, on my own.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          OMG at least mine didn’t write it down. And ours are just one way to tie things to raises, so that was his way of saying “You’re getting the top raise because really, what’s my excuse not to?!”

          I’m still amused when people say I have fantastic communication skills, I think I kinda suck at them. So I’m constantly adding that as my “continue to improve” list. I get flustered. Sometimes too wordy [and nobody who is familiar with me here is shocked by that statement I’m sure]. Yadda yadda yadda.

          My new boss just said that now that he’s known me longer, he’s absolutely positive I’ll be successful in my degree program. And I’m like “Wow, way to hang the weights around my neck before I even begin classes!” [I have parents similar to this but if I do fail, they’ll easily blame the system, so thankfully I’m still going to be fine.] Bless their sweet hearts, I appreciate it and understand how some people can end up disillusioned by their “smarts” and “skills”!!!

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      The only disagreement I had over my performance evaluation was because my boss never bother to have a 1:1 with me until that point, when I found out he wasn’t happy with my work. I had to constantly ask for something to do, and they always were tasks outside my job description (like QA). I still have the impression I was placed in his team as a last resort, because nobody knew what to after the project I was supposed to be in fell through.

      1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        And before someone tells me why I didn’t ask before, this was in the early days of my career, and I had the “don’t ask questions, just obey” deeply rooted in my fresh out of school mind.

    5. NW Mossy*

      Is there a reason why you’re waiting until your evaluation to advocate for yourself? Bosses are evaluating you all the time, and even for those organizations that still do formal reviews, that’s often a 2-3 months process that culminates in the meeting with you. Don’t wait until it’s basically over to show your value!

      Also, very few organizations assess their employees solely by comparing performance to job description, so you may be misunderstanding how you’re being evaluated. When I did reviews, I had a whole page of considerations – how the employee performed compared to others at the same level (including employees reporting to other managers), results (what they did), behaviors (how they did it), performance to metrics, performance to goals, competencies (things like communication skills, critical thinking, etc.) and more. Job descriptions also tend to be really bad at encompassing what people do – they’re written by people who’ve never done the job, rarely updated, and often straight-up ignored for any purpose other than hiring.

  4. Bibliovore*

    My advice having supervised a Carl is change those meet expectations to “does not meet expectations” Because we do expect him to be a team player. We do expect him to be dependable. “missed appointments!” Focus on his review.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yeah, it feels like OP’s assessment of whether or not Carl is meeting expectations is in terms of things like “completes projects on time” and “does well at technical tasks,” when the other piece of an employee meeting expectations includes “taking other team members into account when planning,” and “remembers to show up for work even if his schedule has changed.” There are some very real ways in which Carl is NOT meeting expectations here, and OP needs to be honest both with themself and with Carl about that.

    2. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

      I have also supervised a Carl, down to the ironic word choice disagreements, and I have to say it took me a while to come around to the realization that some things need to be weighed more heavily. My Carl was well-regarded by our clients, very personable, and did the outside-office work well. That meets about 75% of the expectations, and he got enough kudos from others that on the specific part of the evaluation form that asks about whether he is efficient and effective in serving the clients, I couldn’t honestly say he didn’t.

      I know now that I should have fired him for the 25% of his job that was intra-office – he was more and more ineffective at as the months went by, didn’t learn from his own mistakes, protested that I made a lot of mistakes myself, and it added up to a whole lot of retraining, rework and overwhelm on my part. A PIP didn’t improve his performance but I couldn’t bear the thought of being a solo practitioner for months, with no assistance. He once accused me of redoing his correct work to add mistakes so that I could blame him for doing it wrong, and that should have been the end of it then and there. With friendly direct reports like that, who needs enemies? I found errors he made for almost nine months after his departure

      TL;DR Some people are a bad match for their jobs, even when they have shown they can do good work. That’s nice. Work elsewhere.

      1. Bibliovore*

        oh what you write is SO familiar. And my Carl despite being placed on a PIP during the evaluation period, wrote a glowing self-evaluation describing their “improvements” during the past 3 months. Angrily disagreed with my assessment, AND placed a ranting rebuttal attachment without any self-awareness whatsoever. I get hives thinking about the experience. The clean up after they left was a nightmare.

        1. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

          Oh, I am so sorry you had to go through this too. I warned my Carl multiple times that even if he stayed employed post-PIP, he should not expect a raise that year (he was mad the year before at the low cost of living adjustment we all got, so I thought maybe $$ would get through to him), and I thought he finally was learning how tenuous his standing was. He found another job just as his annual review came up, so he tried to parlay the job offer and his personal rebuttal into a counteroffer! I secretly laughed myself to abdominal pain at this lack of self-awareness.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I had one of these. In 18 months she only missed one deadline and her technical knowledge was good…but the reality was that she was unreliable, pushed worked off onto others, didn’t follow direction, manipulated conversations in a way that put all the miscommunication on the other person, etc. She disagreed with her “needs improvement” scores at 6 months and at a year in areas where I had solid examples. She agreed with the examples but not with the rating.

        I, like you, came to the realization that meeting deadlines and having technical knowledge were just not enough for her position and started holding her more accountable. When I did that…she quit! Like the same day.

        If you’re still reading, the way she quit feels very “Carl-ish”…Before she quit she asked for something that I could no way to accommodate and still meet the business need without increasing her teammates workload to an unreasonable amount. She started the ask with “I’m not trying to be difficult but…” When I offered a compromise that could work without causing burden on her teammates, she answered AGAIN “I appreciate your willingness to be flexible, and I REALLY don’t want to be difficult BUT…” and wasn’t willing to budge. When I said all I could do was the compromise, she quit within the hour.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          A prime example of how the word “but” simply negates the preface to your sentence.
          She claims she didn’t “want” to be difficult but she was prepared to be very difficult in order to get her own way, even leaving you in the lurch by quitting when you said no.

        2. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

          Oh my gosh, same day! I’m doing the Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy” to your accountability methods!

          It blows my mind how an employee can agree to the examples, but absolutely refuse to adapt to the realization that the boss wants it a different way, and that is the way that keeps you employed. I’ve done it myself for good change and bad. Both teach you a lesson.

  5. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    I’m interested in why Carl thinks he’s doing so well, when he’s not. Does he not understand his responsibilities WRT his colleagues? Does he think he’s actually handling disagreements in a constructive manner?

    I wonder whether Carl needs more coaching on the fundamentals of working with other people in the office. Not just generalities, but specific aspects of that.

    1. memyselfandi*

      I work with someone who has learned that if she talks in a loud, confident tone about how important what she is doing it, that people will believe her. She also talks very fast and can be vague about details which results in people filling in the blanks with their assumptions. At some level she really believes that what she is doing is far better and more important than it is.

      1. pope suburban*

        Oh, yes, the flim-flam artist. We’ve got one too, though in her case it’s less a loud, confident tone than it is talking down to everyone as if we’re children. The whole notion there is that she’s the only capable person, and therefore has to do *so very much* and is consequently always busy, and there would simply be no department without her.

        This is, as one might expect, b.s. I’m sure she believes that she’s the linchpin, but in reality? Her work is always late, never complete, and frequently riddled with errors. The rest of us are frequently busy taking up slack and dealing with the fallout. I mean I suppose the front has worked well enough that she’s ten years into the con, which is sort of impressive in a way? But all that is probably much more stress than being polite and doing the job would be.

        1. Artemesia*

          People like this can really buffalo a week manager too. I once worked with someone who was slightly my ‘superior’ in the hierarchy but not my manager who pronounced everything as if it were on tablets recently collected from the mountain. She often backed me down on things; when she spoke it was like she was slugging you in the chest. You MUST believe. Then one day she pontificated about something I was quite expert in and was dead wrong and from that day forward I understood that being loud and confident is not any real sign that someone knows what they are talking about. The insight has served me well since.

          1. pope suburban*

            I’m fortunate in that our shared manager sees right through it, and *his* boss is starting to get the picture too (She’s new to the position; the person who used to hold it definitely knew). It makes it marginally less irritating to be on the receiving end of the act- at least I know I won’t be saddled with blame for something I wasn’t involved with. There is immense value in knowing that just because someone *acts* like The Supreme Authority doesn’t mean they actually are.

    2. Anononon*

      I think part of it is that, to some degree, he is still being told he’s doing a good job. He’s still meeting expectations, according to reviews, which generally means that he’s doing everything he should be. This is why OP needs to consider revising her current review of him.

    3. hbc*

      Probably some form of selective memory and also that tendency to excuse our own actions because we know our own reasons. “I only rush in late about once a month because something unavoidable happens, but Fergus strolls in late like every four weeks because he just doesn’t care about being on time.”

      I’ve told this story here before several times, but I had a coworker confidently state that he’d never had a car accident. Another guy turns and says, “Dude, I literally saw you hit another car with your car.” Coworker wasn’t deliberately lying–he had Reasons why it happened that weren’t his fault, so that incident isn’t lodged in his brain as a car accident.

      1. nonegiven*

        >“Dude, I literally saw you hit another car with your car.” Coworker wasn’t deliberately lying–he had Reasons why it happened that weren’t his fault, so that incident isn’t lodged in his brain as a car accident.

        “So you’re saying it wasn’t an accident, you hit the other car on purpose?”

      2. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

        Yes it’s an unfortunate human trait to blame external factors when we talk about ourselves and internal factors for other people. The reason I trip on the footpath is because it’s cracked, the reason you trip on the footpath is because you are clumsy.

    4. Van Wilder*

      When I was young in my career, I was a bit like this. I was self-sabotaging and would half do the job because I never wanted to fully commit. Because if I didn’t truly want the job, I could pretend it was what I wanted when I ended up failing.

      At the same time, I had a fixed mindset and had been told from a young age that I’m “smart” so I thought all things should just come naturally to me and everyone should be grateful for the things that I do well. I gave myself great self-evaluations because it was insecurity masked as confidence.

    5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      I’m also wondering whether Carl is very inexperienced, very young or both; he seems to have a level of confidence in himself all out of proportion to his actual job performance record. Wonder where he got that attitude? Has he spent the past several years marinating in praise meant to bolster his self-esteeem / affirm his worth as a person / do anything other than give him a realistic grasp of his own ablities? OF COURSE all young and inexperienced employees aren’t like that! However, so many have spent so long being told how special and wonderful they are that it would be a miracle if at least a few of them hadn’t taken that seriously and absorbed it. (This does students no favor at all, but that’s a post for another day.)

      LW, Alison is absolutely right: Carl needs to be given a realistic review, complete with specifics as to what he’s doing right, what he’s failing to do and what he needs to do to meet and exceed expectations. And feel free to clamp down firmly on the arguing; your analysis of his job performance isn’t a debate session and you shouldn’t put up with Carl’s trying to turn it into one. Don’t let Carl hijack his performance review by trying to turn the tables – YOU’RE in charge, not Carl. BE the manager here! You’ll be doing yourself, your company and even Carl a favor by being firmly and confidently in control of the situation.

    6. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Does he not understand his responsibilities WRT his colleagues?

      A lot of people have the attitude that what happens when they’re out of the office or on PTO isn’t their problem.

      1. Amaranth*

        There are also a lot of people who consider ‘but I had a good reason’ to erase any inconvenience it might have caused.

    7. designbot*

      I would recommend providing Carl a verbal sketch of what the top score on this looks like. It might sound like, “people who receive this rating handle 20% more clients than you do, they never miss appointments, they consistently check the schedule for staffing levels before scheduling appointments or they reschedule where required, they chip in when other team members are overwhelmed, and their clients give me feedback like X and Y about them.”
      Until you do that, it’s all a semantic argument.

  6. Ominous Adversary*

    “Doesn’t agree with his performance reviews” sounds like the least bad thing about this guy. Why on earth does the LW think he is a strong employee?

    1. Paulina*

      My guess is that, like many other “good employee but” situations we see at AAM, he’s doing well with the basic tasks of the job. But he’s never going to improve if he won’t take feedback and approaches performance reviews the way that’s described. The working-with-others problems and missing appointments should be below expectations and also potentially affect other ratings; to be a good llama groomer employee you need to groom llamas well and also groom all the llamas assigned.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve noticed people have very low expectations of employees and people in general.

      Everyone who isn’t “fire him immediately” status, is “nice” and “usually a good employee.”

      Basically if you show up, don’t scream in someones face and smear your snot on things and can handle your core job duties you’re “nice and a good employee” to many managers. It’s a way to keep rather mediocre people employed out of the kindness of many people’s hearts.

      1. Bostonian*

        LOL my cat fails the good employee test because of the snot he gets everywhere. He’s great at helping me edit documents, though.

        Yeah, if the truly major issues only happen once or twice a year, I can see why OP would downplay them. Technically, this guy IS ok most of the time. However, the not being able to take feedback and self-assess properly is the biggest red flag of them all. A good employee who missed a shift and a client meeting in the same year would be mortified and making changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This guy seems to think it’s OK and he’s God’s gift to llama grooming.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          One of my jobs had office-cats. They were hard workers when it came to their duties with keeping mice out of the stacks…but they were awful employees, they would smear their dirty little murder mittens all over our office furniture and sleep in my in-box leaving that covered in murder mitten prints!

          They were nice to me…nobody else. So I gave them glowing performance reviews while my boss was always like “Remind me why we have these cats working here again?!”

          I don’t think that if someone isn’t CONSTANTLY doing something, it shouldn’t end up in a year end review. Oh you forgot you were supposed to cover a shift during the year? I forgot about it after we put out that fire originally. I’m watching you for a few months if that. As long as it’s not a pattern, I’m over it and I’m not bothering with a lecture.

          The OP seems to always need to correct Carl, so it’s like CARL COME ON, you are the problem here.

      2. Massmatt*

        Most people want to be nice, want to be liked, want to get along with people, and don’t like confrontation. Managers are no different than everyone else. But a manager has a duty to evaluate employees and make decisions based on actual performance and not “can’t we all just get along?”.

        I’ve had to put people on PIP’s, and fire people. It’s no fun. But the alternative is the dysfunction getting worse, and spreading.

    3. Van Wilder*

      We also don’t know the nuances of this workplace. It could be a situation with a really low bar and a lot of turnover. Although I think missing appointments with clients is pretty bad no matter what.

    4. J.B.*

      There are definitely people who are good with specific technical stuff, and getting individual things done quickly. If the workplace doesn’t value the soft skills tanking everything or review the quickly done documents in detail that can be left with this I think he’s doing fine but no way to articulate the problems.

  7. laughingrachel*

    This is where attitude and tone play a huge deal. I have gotten the advice to always rate myself one “unit” or whatever better than I actually think I am. I have gotten that advice for different reasons from different people and they ring true to me. I am a woman with a lot of insecurities, I’m living in a different cultural place in the US than where I grew up so norms are different, ect. Lots of young people get told advice like: be prepared to sell yourself, you have to talk up your accomplishments because if you just wait for people to notice – they won’t, let your bosses know about your wins, and stuff like that. And it is true to a certain extent!! It just sucks that it’s advice for people who tend to be more insecure, or to play down their own accomplishments because they were socialized that way, but gets applied across the board.

    So I don’t really think having differing options selected in a performance review is a bad thing. If I come in and I’ve given myself “sometimes exceeds expectations” in a certain area and you’ve given me “meets expectations”, that in itself isn’t the problem. It’s not even the disagreeing with the your result! It’s the “tore apart everything I wrote” combative attitude honestly. Like when those things happen, you just say “Oh I thought because of X, Y, and Z I was occasionally exceeding expectations – is this just a regular part of the role? Maybe we can clear that up in onboarding, I definitely got the idea it was extra.” or “I ideally want X results on my evaluations, what do I need to be doing differently to get there?”

    I think this is very much an attitude and feedback problem and I agree with Alison that maybe it’s more serious than you’re currently thinking? IMO it’s hard to manage attitude problems successfully. But I don’t have a lot of experience and have never been a manager, just worked with people with attitude issues and they are not pleasant coworkers in my experience. If they feel perfectly comfortable being combative with their boss, just imagine what they’re pulling with their coworkers. But maybe I’m just projecting due to bad experiences ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I’ve gotten the same advice on self-rating as well and applied it so that if I felt I was borderline, I would go with the higher rating. Our forms usually require some kind of justification for anything other than “met” so I would write that up before the review to remember what I thought drive a higher rating in case my manager didn’t know and was leaning toward a lower rating.

      I’ve won tie-breakers that way just by stating my case plainly and politely. It’s fine to have a higher opinion of your work if you can back it up with facts. Expecting top marks across the board while having demonstrable performance issues is not realistic, and someone who comes in with that level of disconnect in their self-assessment is the least likely to have a reasonable conversation about it.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty normal for the employee self review to be a little more optimistic and positive than the managers. Ideally they should be relatively close, but it is true that you should talk yourself up and point out the extra things you did that may have not gotten full notice at the time. If you think you really are good at something, don’t be modest, say so. So if you have 5 out of 8 as “exceeds” and your boss has 3 or 4 out of 8, that’s not a big deal. I’ve even had doing that work in my favor, with my manager admitting they totally forgot about x, since it happened at the beginning of the year.

      But yeah, the response to the discrepancy is the problem. It’s fine to disagree, or ask for clarification as to why your opinions are so far apart. That’s the point of discussing the review, to make sure everyone is on the same page and to get questions answered. If an employee is combative and aggressive about it, though, tat isn’t great and it doesn’t serve the purpose of the review. I don’t know that I have any earth shattering advice, but yeah, I would say focusing on the reaction to the discrepancy, rather than the actual discrepancy, since the reaction is what is going to keep that gap from closing.

  8. HailRobonia*

    I’ve never had disagreements with my performance review until recently, when I got a new boss. She put things in the review that were plain wrong, such as commenting on projects or duties that I was not responsible for, and including comments that were about my team as a whole, not about my individual performance (e.g. “the team needs to focus on being adaptable…” which implied this was a problem for me, and when I asked if she felt I had any problems in this area, she said no, I was exceptional in that respect.

    Luckily she was responsive to my feedback.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Oh no! The dreaded “team objectives”… I have worked in places where a certain amount (like 20-40%) of the review was team-based objectives in that everyone in the team had that objective and received the same score (in the same way as a group project).
      The numerical amount was important, as the process resulted in an actual numerical score worked out by “weighting” the objectives (e.g. this one makes up 10% of the outcome) and using a scale of 1-5 or similar to rate the objective, so you would end up with a composite score that was 10% * 3 plus 20% * 4 … or whatever.
      The annoying thing with the team objectives was they could only ever really get a “meets expectations”, rather than “exceptional” score, as they were things like “complete the Q3 and Q4 quarter-end processes within acceptable timescale and quality”. It felt like they were a deliberate ‘drag’ on scores, but I don’t know if others felt that way.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m screaming inside over the problem of people not knowing what their employees job even entails. Every manager here has to be able to do the duties of the people they’re managing to some extent. At very least they have all had extensive sit-downs and shadowing so they are aware what everyone does. Even in my messiest job to date, I came in and sat with everyone and told them I wanted to know their general daily duties and projects they’d handle. Just so I know who to speak to about things and how can I supervise them or give them the support they deserve if I don’t even know what they do.

      However the “ownership” at that shitshow literally told me that they didn’t know what my department did on a daily basis even though they were OWNERS and did some of the similar stuff that the front office was doing…*mind blown noises*

      I’m relieved that at least in your case the person was responsive to her screw ups. What a nightmare though, I’d be ashamed of myself if I made such a huge mistake and on written reviews!!!!

      1. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

        I can’t even imagine how much my morale would improve if my bosses could do my job. Wow. I have failed for years in getting them to shadow me even briefly. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m reminded of my exceptionally toxic boss from years back who liked to put impossible things in performance review objectives. One time I got ‘lose weight to improve health’ and ‘reduce errors in the software’ and since I was disabled and not a programmer I couldn’t do either!

  9. Vox Experientia*

    i struggled with exactly this same situation. the employee’s personal evaluation was almost all perfect scores, i rated him at essentially meets over all with a few meets and sometimes exceeds. he is a slightly better than adequate employee. you’ve got to stand your ground, and gird yourself to avoiding bumping up his scores to avoid conflict – that’s not fair to his coworkers. all you can do is stand your ground, give a thorough explanation of what exceeds expectations are, set high expectations. and one thing i said that seemed to sink in a little bit was something to the effect of “X, i see here you have evaluated yourself at near perfect in every metric, and that you exceed expectations in nearly all categories. i want to be plain in explaining that your expectations are too low if this is the case. Perfect means you have nothing to learn, you do everything as well as can be done, and you are essentially a perfect employee. Nobody, including myself, is perfect. You need to rethink what you think our expectations are and that needs to be reflected in how you score yourself. Your ticket completion numbers fall in the average for our team, we have had a few complaints about your customer service, and received no customer feedback praising your efforts as we often do with many of your peers. You rated yourself higher than any other member of our team, including team members you frequently reach out to for assistance on issues.” etc. he wasn’t happy, but he really couldn’t refute the numbers. the next year he toned down his self eval a decent amount (although still too high). but he’s learning.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Perfect means you have nothing to learn, you do everything as well as can be done, and you are essentially a perfect employee. Nobody, including myself, is perfect.

      I understand the sentiment, but does that mean you have a score in your rating system that is, in essence, unattainable? Not just “only a very small number of people will meet that”, but implied that it actually would never be given out.

      If that is the case, have you had any pushback about that I wonder? (I appreciate that you are probably just the person implementing the system as it is, rather than the person who thought it up in the first place, but as a manager you might have heard back from people about that.)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ve told this story before, but I had a grandboss who insisted it was completely inappropriate to rate yourself a 10 on our 1-10 self evaluation, because that implied you had no room for improvement. I had rated myself a 10 on attendance because I hadn’t missed a single day of work in the previous year, and I’d actually worked late and come in on weekends (when I wasn’t scheduled to work) to make certain tasks easier for my boss. Guess how often I ever did that again?

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Interesting – that it was your grandboss who said that, so I inferred that perhaps your immediate boss agreed with your assessment (because of the reasons you mentioned) but was then overruled?

          I’ve seen a similar thing happen – not with attendance, but with (let’s say) “average number of llamas groomed per day” where there was a target set of 10 llamas per day, the person had achieved an average of 15 llamas per day with no loss in quality, so they proposed and their immediate boss agreed a “greatly exceeds expectations” rating, because that’s a 50% over-accomplishment! There were a few other people in the llama grooming department with similar experiences, but I heard from one of them specifically as we were ‘work friends’ (I didn’t work with them, I was in a different department, but we chatted).

          Big Boss “re-configured” it to a “meets expectations” rating, because (I kid you not) “the expectation is that you will significantly exceed the target, so therefore significantly exceeding the target is meeting expectations”.

          They asked, understandably, what would be needed in that case to get an actual exceeding expectations outcome? I don’t remember the response, but it was a great big ‘dunno’ or something totally outside of any reasonably achievable result.

          Allegedly it was because of a “grading on a curve” sort of principle, where too many people had exceeded the target so instead of acknowledging it, they had to artificially limit it based on some other criteria!

          Unfortunately the usual advice may be to move on, but many of the “outperforming” people in that team were unable to, due to a combination of scarcity of relevant jobs in the immediate area and (as I perceive it) a kind of “learned helplessness” by that point, like “this is all I’ll ever be able to do”. It was sad actually.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Interesting – that it was your grandboss who said that, so I inferred that perhaps your immediate boss agreed with your assessment (because of the reasons you mentioned) but was then overruled?

            Yes. My boss was new (as was I) and hadn’t yet gone through a round of evaluations under the grandboss.

            Big Boss “re-configured” it to a “meets expectations” rating, because (I kid you not) “the expectation is that you will significantly exceed the target, so therefore significantly exceeding the target is meeting expectations”.


      2. Artemesia*

        There are so many evaluation systems where failing to get the top rating is viewed as failure, so when one or two assessors in the system argue that ‘well no one is perfect’ and so give 4s in a 5 point system to their top employees, they simply penalize them as the rest of the system doesn’t work that way.

        1. Pennyworth*

          The first time I bought stuff on eBay I took the time to score the two vendors. One kept me in the loop, messaged me about delivery details, the other left me in the dark for three weeks before the item arrived. So I scored the second vendor lower and received a very rude and angry response along the lines of ‘if you are going to rate me, it has to be the top score or it damages my business’.

      3. The New Wanderer*

        I think Vox was referring to the employee rating themself as perfect on everything, and that’s not really possible if there’s a reasonably challenging set of criteria.

        However, our system allows for “far exceeds” as our top rating and it’s hard to get that for even one item on the review, much less as an overall rating. Like, I’ve received patents and authored publications based on a work project and that is good for an “exceeds” but for “far exceeds” I would practically have to win a Nobel Prize while saving the company $Ms and speeding production by 10x. So to me, “far exceeds” is much more reflective of being in the right place at the right time and not necessarily a reflection of actual work quality because I don’t see it as sustainable. So it’s a way to recognize exceptional success, but it’s not useful (in our ratings world) in understanding true long-term performance.

        1. Wintergreen*

          And I would argue that if only a combination of exceptional luck and timing is the way to reach the top level, then it doesn’t belong on any evaluation. An employee should be able to get the top rating otherwise the evaluation process is demoralizing at best. It’s equivalent to telling people living in poverty in the US that they are average to better than average if you look at living conditions around the world. It doesn’t help the person working two jobs trying to keep their lights on and just pisses them off. Top marks should be attainable to all otherwise you are just teaching your employees to not bother doing anything but the base minimum.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            I agree if the system were like how Artemesia describes: some managers arbitrarily keeping people from a top rating because “no one deserves that.” That’s a lousy philosophy, like a professor who declares that no one can earn an A in their class because they’re such a tough grader. No, that kind of system should be set up with clear and achievable goals for each rating and if you do the things, you get the rating. The reverse system is like the 5 star rating systems for services – if you don’t give a full 5 star rating, their management treats it like they completely failed, which makes that rating system useless. 5 star *should* mean exceptional, not standard, and most service by definition cannot be exceptional every time. It devalues the ratings entirely and makes feedback irrelevant.

            Fortunately (kind of), the rating system I described is a forced bell curve, not a grading system where if you apply yourself you can always get an A. So for us, met expectations means you did your job effectively and accomplished your primary set of goals. This is where most people land and they get a decent raise and generally good feedback. If you put in more effort and do some extra stuff, you get “exceeds” which translates to a slightly better raise and better promotion prospects. Far exceeds is just there to capture the truly exceptional stuff, not as a performance goal per se because it’s understood that employees really aren’t expected to achieve that level on a regular or even occasional basis.

            Personally I’d rather have this version than one where managers never budge from the middle or one where everyone is expected to exceed, and therefore their best efforts are only rated “met” expectations.

            1. Ailsa McNonagon*

              I had a supervisor rate me at 2s and 3s (out of 5) on a reference for an academic placement. Some of the things she rated me 2 on were ‘gets on well with internal and external colleagues/ gets on well with patients/ is a supportive team member’ when I was regularly receiving thank-you notes from patients, had several colleagues from my own and other agencies approach our Operational Manager to say how helpful I had been, and I often volunteered to be on call over weekends/ holidays. When I asked her for feedback she said she was just a “tough marker”. I wasn’t accepted onto the placement.

              Guess who had ALSO applied for the placement, and who was accepted…?

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          We’re expected to get all 5s or 4.75s, the year you get a promotion and accompanying raise. That way they can support why you get the raise and promotion.

      4. Vox Experientia*

        no, for each metric it’s attainable. for someone to achieve that in every single metric? it’s theoretically possible, but anyone capable of that would quickly be promoted out of my team to another higher level team. and if he was anywhere near that we wouldn’t have been having that conversation.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Ah, thanks, that is better then!
          I totally agree that no-one would realistically be able to get 10/10 (or similar) on every metric, especially if they are broad-ranging as it sounds like yours are.

      5. Massmatt*

        This drives me nuts. Several places I’ve worked use a 5-point evaluation scale. 1 is terrible, 2 is bad (unless it’s someone in a new role) 5 is the highest.

        5 was literally described as “like getting a Nobel prize” and only a handful of people had ever gotten one even in a lone category out of hundreds of people over years. So we can’t use 5.

        If someone is given a 1 or 2, unless there’s an unusual circumstance, the question would be why are they still here. The only 2 I’ve given was on a PIP.

        So that leaves only 3 and 4. Not a whole lot of room for distinctions between employees there. And 4’s were rationed! “We can’t have too many 4’s! Those should be hard to get!”

        So, many managers just took the lazy way out and gave everyone 3’s across the board.

        Ratings scales where multiple ratings are actually or practically unusable are not useful.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      So much this.

      I’m getting echoes of “he never changes diapers and he won’t let me buy the kids new shoes when they grow, but apart from that he’s a Really Good Father”.

  10. Lil*

    Is it common for managers to only give “meets expectations” in all areas of a performance review, even if the employee doesn’t have shortcomings? I’m on my second manager that says they “do not give evaluations higher than meets expectations” for any of their direct reports, and I have to wonder if they’re being truthful, or just trying to spare my feelings of not “exceeding” expectations. These review meetings are always positive with only very minor issues with my performance brought up, if any.

    1. Mel_05*

      Some companies have that policy. A coworker told me that at his previous job they had that policy. When he asked why they said, “Then people will want raises” and he said, “Well, my people deserve raises.” There were no raises and, obviously, he left.

    2. CanadiEm*

      At my company we’re ranked on a 3-point scale, so everything is either Needs Improvement, Meets Expectations, or Exceeds Expectations. The understanding and practice is that no more than one or two people per department will get Exceeds on any given category, even Meets Expectations requires active effort in some categories.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        This is how my company does it as well. It sucks because if our entire group has really knocked it out of the park in a given year, the ratings on everyone’s reviews don’t reflect that (the narrative of the review might, but not the rating…and raises outside COLA are based on the ratings).

      2. TiffIf*

        Same here–last year my boss told me that only one person in the entire branch of the organization starting 5 levels up (hundreds of employees!) got “Exceeds Expectations”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’d LOVE to see the demographics on who within your organization over the years have been the ones who do end up with “exceeds expectations”. I bet it’s very discriminatory once laid out person by person, that system is how discrimination gets ingrained within an organization.

      3. NW Mossy*

        Yup – this practice is called “forced distribution.” It’s based on the idea that performance across a group is basically a bell curve, with a few people at the extremes of low/high performance and most people in the middle.

        And to spill some tea: because the absolute numbers for the high-performance end of the curve are so low, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re (in essence) competing for those ratings against people you’ve never met or worked with when the overall group size is large. It’s also common to see the same people showing up there year after year, because genuinely excellent performers tend to remain that way. They typically only get bumped back in years during or immediately following a promotion.

    3. Esmeralda*

      If you don’t have shortcomings and are doing what you are supposed to do, then you meet expectations.

      If you are also doing your work at an especially high level, or going above and beyond in some way, occasionally, then sometimes exceeds. If you are doing that all the time WRT the performance area, then exceeds expectations or consistently exceeds expectations.

      What are you doing that is “more”? If you’re not sure, ask your boss what “more” looks like. That’s where I’d start — how can I exceed expectations? what specifically do I need to DO in order to demonstrate it?

      Statements like “I never give ratings above meets expectations” — urgh,I HATE that. It’s a great way to kill the morale of your best performers and make them not want to do their best.

      The other thing I hate: Well, I expect everybody to be doing A+ work, so no one can earn “exceeds”. (That was my previous supervisor. I and a number of others were actively and openly job searching, and some of our top performers left.)

      1. lazy intellectual*

        I mean, I actually don’t understand the point of “exceeds expectations”. Employees should always be performing their best. And employees should be naturally progressing as they gain more experience and skills over time, contributing to process improvements, training junior staff, and other leadership duties, for which they deserve raises at minimum, and promotions at best.

        My last employer lacked transparency around what it meant to ‘exceed expectations’, and thus deserve a raise. We did client facing work. Doing anything less than stellar work wasn’t an option, because you want to retain clients! (And every client’s needs differed, so what worked for one client wasn’t necessarily the same for the other.) If employees wanted to take on different work or extra responsibilities, they needed permission from management, which wasn’t always granted. Basically what ended up happening was the only people who would get raises/promotions were the ones the managers selected for assigning extra work. There was no other way to prove yourself. Everyone else’s salaries remained stagnant. The team had really high turnover.

        1. hbc*

          You need a realistic expectation to start. If your expectation is “never ever have a bad widget come off the line,” then “meet” is generous and probably unattainable. If it’s a more realistic “<0.05% reject rate" or "no bad widgets get to customer," then you can find an exceeds where someone has 1/10 the normal reject rate or catches defects earlier in the process or something.

          Basically, if your scale can't tell the difference between your rockstars and your good employees, it's not a good scale.

        2. lazy intellectual*

          I should also add that everyone took initiative to contribute to process improvements and train new employees as needed. But we didn’t get raises for doing so. I would also bring up ideas to management all the time and they would get shot down (until my male coworkers brought them up.)

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is why most customer service roles are based on “client retention” and “quotas” about new clients, along with your complaint log.

          Certainly you expect everyone to be complained about a certain percentage because listen, there are unreasonable idiots out there who will never give you a 5 star rating, even if you saved the world right in front of their eyes. “Could have done better!” [Yes, I’m aware of many platforms and entities that see anything less than 5 stars as a failure, they don’t count, they are garbage and don’t get the point of actually collecting the feedback.]

          If someone is always coming in asking for Brenda to make their coffee, that says something about Brenda. If nobody wants Jed to make their coffee, what’s up with it? Sometimes you can see it’s because Brenda is beautiful and Jed is not. But you also have other ways of knowing how often Jed calls off, how often Jed gets actual complaints and so forth.

          The basics is “You can make the coffee taste the same, within a certain time frame.” Everyone does their best because that’s the core. It’s not about doing MORE work or different work or giving suggestions that are taken or not. It’s about the error ratios, also attitudes of course but that’s where the subjective nature comes into it which you want to limit that touchy-feely soft-skill stuff having extreme swing rates unless of course, again it leads to errors or performance issues.

          And no, you really aren’t all working your hardest. I’ve had plenty of customer facing folks who have to be let go or at least have to be watched closely because they have a tendency to be borderline rude if they’re having a bad day or Mercury is in retrograde or whatever their reason is. They’re may or may not be meeting expectations. we all get a slip up here and there but again, ratios. This is why you document things so you can establish patterns.

    4. Nikki*

      That’s been my experience at most places I’ve worked. If you’re “meeting expectations”, you’re doing everything in your job description and doing it well. “Exceeds expectations” means you’re doing things above and beyond your current job description. At my current employer, managers only give “exceeds expectations” to people who are ready to be promoted and it’s an indication to upper management that these are the people being considered for promotion.

      1. KRM*

        Same, at my previous employer. And importantly, those who get “meets expectations” would get decent raises and qualify for 100% of their personal bonus target, so you didn’t lose anything. You would only get more for “exceeds expectations”.

    5. SomebodyElse*

      You can see my rant below… but most employees are in the meets expectations category with higher ratings for one or two categories. I don’t believe in the rating on a forced curve ( nor does my company) but have found that when I objectively rate performance on goals and objectives that the majority of the ratings are meets. I will typically have one or two employees that legitimately rate exceeds, and I’ve had employees that rate meets one year, exceeds the next, and meets on the third.

      I would question a manager who says they don’t give anything higher than meets, because that is definitely not what should happen. One question you could ask is what specific things you should be doing to earn a higher rating. If they say nothing will get you to that, then you know they suck at performance evaluations (and probably managing) but if they give you reasonable specifics, then you can probably tell where your current performance is.

    6. Librarian of SHIELD*

      My organization is in the process of changing the performance evaluation structure, but the structure we’re moving away from is a 5 point system on paper. In reality, it’s actually a 3 point system, because getting a 1 or a 5 would be so extreme and so rare that it basically never happens.

      If you read the descriptions of what an employee would need to do to achieve each of the ratings, an employee getting a 1 probably should have been fired years ago and an employee getting a 5 is probably somebody we should notify the Pope about for potential sainthood. I’m glad we’re changing the system, and I hope that means the highest rating available is one that people can actually hope to achieve at some point in their career.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        This is one thing I wish my company would do (going from a 5 to 3 pt scale) your assessment of the 1 and 5 is spot on. I’ve never heard or seen anyone getting a 5 overall and if someone gets to 2 they are already on a PIP or the paperwork is being drawn up for the PIP. I guess theoretically if timing worked out a 1 is possible, but they are likely in the process of being fired when review time rolls around.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Our system is electronic, and uses a 5 point scale. There is something basically built in where an average around 1 or 2 I believe automatically forces a PIP and/or alerts management at least one level up if there isn’t one in place already. (I’m not on the manager level so I don’t know the exact workings.)

          On the other end, 5 is “significantly exceeds.” Having a couple of those is normal, but if you expect all 5s you should be performing at a rock star level and probably should have been promoted already. All 4s (“exceeds”) is not abnormal and being able to exceed the expectations for the role is highly encouraged by managers.

    7. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

      Lil, I’ve had the same experience as you. I’ve worked at 2 very large companies now with very standardized performance reviews, and they were almost note-for-note the same, as were my manager’s comments to me about it. If you are doing a perfectly good job, you are meeting expectations and hitting some “slightly above” here and there. Truly exceeding in all aspects of the job is very rare.

    8. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Yup, I worked somewhere with that policy. Show up when you’re supposed to, do your work well? Meets expectations. Show up only half the time you’re supposed to and do no work when you’re present so you r coworkers are scrambling to pick up your slack? Meets expectations.

      If you scored exceeds, you’d need a raise, and we can’t have THAT now can we.

    9. lemon*

      My last company was like this. We used a point system 3 was roughly “meets expectations,” which meant you’re doing what’s asked of you and doing it well. 4 was roughly “sometimes exceeds,” which meant for people doing a little extra. 5 was roughly “always exceeds,” and was for people who are performing at the next level and probably need to be promoted. Hardly anyone ever got a 1 or 2, which meant there was a huge gaping chasm between a 3 and a 4. The guy who shows up late every morning, goes on 3-hour lunches where he gets drunk, and then spends the rest of the day IMing his coworkers? He’s a 3. Someone who is improving processes, creating new documentation, and increasing KPIs is also a 3, because “you’re just doing your job.”

      Not a very motivating system at all.

    10. RussianInTexas*

      In my previous job we had scale 1-5, with 1 being you are up for being fired, 2 is you are up for PIP, the rest:
      3 – Meets expectations – basically everyone.
      4 – Exceeds expectations – only 2 people were allowed per department to have this score, because the budget only allowed for two people to get merit raise per year. The managers would move this grade around so every year a new person would get the raise.
      5 – LOL, what are you, a CEO?
      The explanation was told me in confidence by the manager, but we did all figure out the budget restrictions.
      It was all demoralizing to say the least.

    11. Glitsy Gus*

      I have had several managers who go in with the attitude “well, no one is actually perfect, so ‘always exceeds expectations’ is basically impossible.” That’s always a hard thing for me as the one being reviewed, because, if I’m doing a good job and I’m a benefit to the team, I want to be told that and it should be reflected in my review. Also, often, the main gauge for raises, bonuses or promotions is how many “consistently exceeds” do you have? If your manager thinks that’s an impossible task, you will never have any! It sucks!

      It’s especially hard if your boss thinks that way, but other managers view that highest rank as “this person is my power player on that task” as opposed to “this person is perfect.” Because that means others have higher “rankings” than you even when you are doing just as good a job. I do wish there was a better, more objective way to handle this. At minimum, I do think companies should try to set up a standard for what each category means, and have all of them be achievable. What’s the point of having a rank that is unachievable?

    12. Massmatt*

      Terrible managers. If no one can be recognized for excellence, why should they excel?

      These are the kinds of places that talented people leave and mediocre (and worse) people flock to.

      Employers and managers think they “have high standards” so therefore everyone “meets expectations” is (they say) considered “good”. But if this doesn’t qualify you for raises, and if people that do well get the same evaluation as mediocre employees, the standout employees will move on. “high standards” need to be incentivized or they are just nonsense.

  11. Boring username*

    I’m dealing with an employee who is really defensive all the time and got even more defensive when I talked to him about it! Its exhausting having these conversations.

    I might consider working with your employee to com up with three lists of behaviours – underpants. meets expectations and exceeds expectations – and explicitly put things like missing shifts or whatever in the underperforming category so he can clearly see what good looks like.

      1. WFH with Cat*

        Oh, darn. I was hoping “underpants” was deliberate.

        “Starting today, we’ll be using the categories Tuxedo, Casual, and Underpants in all employee reviews ….”

        See? It actually makes sense!

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I like this. Especially if the written review uses emoji to indicate whether the employee is Tuxedo, Casual or Underpants in the various categories.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I kind of like “Underpants” as the minimum required level of work performance. When the underpants come off, you’re out, Carl. There’s a limit.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        And the best part? In British English, “pants” means “just terrible, the worst”. (It comes from “pants” being their word for what Americans call “men’s underwear”, and then a phrase from sports teachers that may not be used anymore? “If you forgot your uniform you’ll have to play in your pants!” Which was COMPLETELY puzzling to me as an American for quite awhile.) So actually, “underpants” sort of works?

        1. londonedit*

          I don’t know the exact etymology, but I feel like ‘pants’ is quite a recent addition to the British lexicon. My parents definitely wouldn’t describe something as ‘pants’, and I’m not sure younger people would? But people around my age (late 30s) would use it with some regularity. Maybe it appeared in the 90s? I don’t think it quite means ‘just terrible, the worst’ – it’s a bit lighter than that, akin to ‘rubbish’. It’s a more polite and mildly humorous way of saying ‘that’s a bit crap’.

    1. CanadiEm*

      Having examples for people in general that would count in each ranking of each category can be really useful, especially for people new to the company or new to working in general. I know I’ve always appreciated that as a way to calibrate my own expectations.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        For our goals portion we were instructed to also set the benchmarks for the 1-5 scale. Our managers get input on it as well, but it helps to think about what constitutes raging success (or failure) vs simply getting something done. And for those with unrealistic expectations, the manager can step in and adjust their scale.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Same, although we basically write up the word as Met and then add on extras that would result in Exceeds or (rarely) Far Exceeds. It’s implied if you didn’t at least do all the Met stuff, you’d get Met Some Expectations, but that could be balanced out if you did the Exceeds things.

          I think this is a really useful level-setting exercise anytime employees do a self-rating as part of an annual review. It would highlight any potential disconnects between an employee’s (overly inflated) view of their performance and what the manager sees, but also helps the employee make sure that extra work is captured if the manager doesn’t happen to be aware of it. (This happens a lot at my work since managers don’t always assign all work to their reports.)

    2. JobHunter*

      “You received an Underpants rating because you are less supportive than our customers expect, Carl.”

  12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Aside from Carl, who sounds perfectly horrible, two points I’d like to make:
    1) For my own self-evaluations, I admit I have developed a habit of giving myself high marks (within reasonable limits) across the board, because I noticed that, no matter the mark I give myself, my manager would always feel the need to bring it down by a point or a half-point. As much as I like to offer a critical overview of myself, I don’t want to critically-review myself into a “Needs improvement” and out of a job. I’d rather give myself an inflated 5 and have it come back as a 4, than give myself a 3.5 and receive a 3 back. Then again, unlike Carl, I’ve never argued against anything I received back.
    2) Where it says that Carl has scheduled appointments when the team is shortstaffed – are these personal appointments? If so, can I gently push back on that? Like, my car doesn’t ask me if my team is shortstaffed before it decides to break down. My body does not ask me about my team’s workload when it gets sick. I have in the past moved my planned Dr appointments a couple of times because of the workload. (“I have an important meeting that just came up at work on that day, can we move my appointment to next month.”) The end result never failed to be that, by the time the next month rolled around, an even more important meeting would come up and would of course overlap with my new appointment time. It’s almost like my workplace would’ve been better off if I’d kept the original appointment in the first place, because I can never schedule and plan for a work crisis.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      It didn’t occur to me that the appointments Carl was making could have been personal ones. Being in the same sentence as missing appointments with customers, my brain just sort of interpreted it as “makes appointments with customers when we are short staffed,” but I’m willing to consider that I was wrong to interpret it that way.

      If we are talking about scheduling personal appointments rather than customer appointments, it’s worth it for a supervisor to consider the nature of such appointments. For example, if Carl scheduled a dental appointment when the team was short staffed, was it a routine cleaning that could happen anytime, or was it an emergency root canal that couldn’t wait? I don’t think I’d lower his evaluation score either way, but if it was the non-emergency option I may mention that while his PTO is his own to use as he needs it, the supervisor may not always be able to approve it for non-emergency situations when the team is already short staffed.

      1. AnonInTheCity*

        Well, hold on. Usually routine dentist appointments are scheduled six months in advance. Was Carl supposed to know that the team was going to be short staffed on that particular day when he made the appointment? Or if “short staffed” means they need to hire more people, should you really be expected to put medical appointments on hold indefinitely until the team is fully staffed? Routine appointments are important so that you don’t NEED emergency root canals.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          But if he had an appointment scheduled, he shouldn’t be agreeing to switch shifts with Parker, he should be saying he’s not available.

      2. TTDH*

        Yeah, if by “appointments” the OP means something that Carl is using PTO for, then the fault for being short-staffed is really on the PTO approver.

        1. Me*

          And greatly depends on how far in advance the leave was requested approved. If it was done in a timely manner it’s not Carl’s fault that the day he requested off for happens to be short staffed nor is it the PTO approver’s fault. It’s just stuff that happens.

    2. Tabby*

      Yeah, this. This is why I have stopped rescheduling dr’s appts around my dogwalking boss. She’ll settle, then suddenly move stuff and expect me to reschedule, even when she has a month’s notice NOT to ask me to take on extra. Like girl no, my health is more important than your boat party, I’m not doing that.

    3. Amethystmoon*

      I try to schedule medical appointments on evenings and weekends. Same with the car. There are a few places open Saturdays in my area.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        There is no dr office open on evenings on weekends in my area. Doctors are apparently people too, and don’t like working weird hours. Any decent car shop I’ve taken any of mine to had 8-5, Mon-Fri hours. I am not taking my car to a quickie lube place just so I don’t miss any work. Thankfully, everyone at my work has always seemed to understand, because they have to make the same kind of appointments for themselves too.

  13. SomebodyElse*

    I’ll also take this opportunity to voice the following:

    “Dear managers at large,

    You are not doing yourself, your employee, or your employee’s future manager any favors by inflating their ratings. If they are meeting expectations, then rate them as such. If they aren’t then mark it that way and work on it. The one thing I hate about taking on new teams is level setting after years of inflated performance appraisals. You will one day bite yourself in the nether region because you will be in a position to initiate performance management on an employee and will have to answer the question, “They rated so high in the last evaluation, what has changed” And you won’t be able to answer that things have been a problem for a while. It sucks for the employee who gets a new manager that evaluates accurately, suddenly they have gone from exceeds to meets, and they are wondering why when their performance likely hasn’t changed, but they are now being graded accurately.

    Guess what, most employees are overall average and exceed in one or two areas! That’s ok, that’s what average means :)

    Please oh please, just evaluate accurately and give clear indications of what you expect at each level”

    and now I can step off my soap box.

    1. DarthVelma*

      And I will step up to take your place on the soap box to ask managers to also not do the opposite – never rating anyone as exceeds expectations no matter how well they’re doing.

      My agency’s definition for “exceeds expectations” is written so that it’s practically impossible to get. It’s terribly demotivating at the best of times. But I work in public health. In the middle of a global pandemic. We’ve all been working our butts off for the last few months – and still no one got “exceeds expectations” on their review this year.

      And I will now cede the soapbox.

      1. Argh!*

        Exactly. What are expectations for if you can only get a raise by exceeding them?

        And when you do exceed them, what happens if you happen to report to someone who is insecure and feels threatened by your success?

        You don’t know why I said that. :-(

        1. MayLou*

          At my school we received two grades on our reports (these weren’t grades that affected anything, they were just feedback to our parents – actual grades were based on exams). One was for effort, one for achievement. I never got a high achievement grade for PE (physical education) because I was not athletic or from a sporty family. But I also never got the highest grade for effort either. One year I challenged this, and the teacher told me that the highest effort grade was reserved for people who took part in extra curricular clubs and played on the school teams. I pointed out that those clubs weren’t part of our class, so not relevant to our grades, and also that they would likely lead to higher achievement by boosting their skills and fitness, so participation in clubs was already being rewarded in the grades. They didn’t really admit that my point was valid, but on my next report… I got the highest grade for effort. I’d like to think that they changed the entire system based on my sound logic, rather than just placating me, but I’ll never know.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Yep, I’m dealing with this at my job. I have been doing three people’s jobs for two years, and have always taken on extra the entire time I’ve been here. I do it well, too. I have yet to receive even one “outstanding/exceeds expectations” on even one category. It is so demoralizing. It’s especially demoralizing because help the managers in my office have the attitude of “nobody’s perfect, so that’s really an impossible rank” while others view that as the “you are the best at this on the team/this is an adjective that I think thoroughly describes you” so on some teams you can get that high ranking and on some you can’t.

        So yeah, managers, be honest, but in being honest, don’t be miserly either.

    2. Wintergreen*

      Be careful you don’t lose a bunch of exceptional employees because you decide to take “average” too literally. Especially if basic raises are tied to evaluations.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        What an odd comment… what indicates from my statement that I don’t rate exceptional employees as such? Really the whole point of my statement is to rate accurately.

        What I am saying is that I’m not going to rate a good employee as exceptional. I’m going to rate them as good a.k.a ‘Meets expectations’

        1. GothicBee*

          I think Wintergreen overstated it when they said exceptional, but I feel like they have a point. If getting a raise is tied to evaluations, you do stand to risk losing employees who are actually good at what they do but don’t necessarily exceed expectations (assuming they are shut out of raises by being rated meets expectations and not exceeds expectations).

          1. SomebodyElse*

            At my company “Meets” qualifies for a merit increase. Falling below meets will disqualify a person from a merit raise (as it should in my opinion).

        2. Wintergreen*

          Look at it this way, if a manager has spent the time and effort to curate a team of exceptional workers (and rates them as such because they are exceptional) and then retires. A new manager comes in, looks around and would rate them “accurately” as average or meets expectations if they were following your description above of not over inflating reviews. Because in a team of exceptional workers you have to be a fricking unicorn to go above and beyond the average. Can it be done? Yes. But it is demoralizing as hell and, if it was me in this situation, I would feel unappreciated and start looking for another job. It will only be after the exceptional workers have left that new manager would realize they were in fact exceptional. So be careful of not going into a new team and telling yourself that everyone can’t be exceptional so these past reviews must be over inflated.

          Do I think someone who shows up and does their work exceptional? No, I agree they are meet expectations. But the employee who shows up, does their work with high quality and/or high quantity should be recognized just as much as a unicorn’s one time brilliant idea. The problem is they aren’t because they are often lumped in as overall “average” of just doing their job.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I think you are reading way too much of your experience into my comment.

            For the third time “Rate Accurately”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I find that it’s not even the managers fault all the times. I’ve heard nasty nonsense around AAM about how some organizations STILL only “allow” you to rate a certain percentage of your team “exceptional” and SOMEONE always has to be deemed “needs improvement” or some…*lots of swear words* “unsatisfactory”. Even though they are fine, even above average.

      But I agree with you fully, managers need to have full charge of their reviews and they should have clear expectations that people can know if they’re being met or exceeded!

      1. SomebodyElse*

        That practice really sucks and I’m not sure how organizations retain good employees.

        I was a little miffed a few years ago when I was called into a calibration meeting to discuss the ratings I gave employees. But after going through it, I’ve done a 180 in my opinion. In my company, after the evaluations are prepared you sit with the other managers in your department and go through the ratings with your HR partner. Managers are challenged on the ratings they give employees to make sure that there isn’t inflation/deflation going on.

        There is a look at the percentages within each category, but the first thing that is stated is “We just look at the percentages, there aren’t any rules about how many employees can be within each group”. Some years I’ve had 50% of my team in the exceeds… other years it’s closer to the 20% norm. I’ve never been told… “Nope sorry you have too many over achievers… knock someone back to a meets”

        1. Andy*

          > That practice really sucks and I’m not sure how organizations retain good employees.

          There are tricks. For example, you consciously hire new people to be “the fall guys” to keep stable people safe. You hire someone who does not look so strong in interview or just dont pay much attention to that person and then blame lesser results on them. Also, since team sees new person as competition from day one, new person wont get much support from collegues.

          You dont even have to do it as conscious plan. Pretty often it happens by itself, because new person is perceived as competition already during interviewing and because new person is outsider.

      2. NW Mossy*

        Yeah, this happens when the methodology forces you to rank people in order. In some ways that’s good, because it keeps new starry-eyed managers from giving everyone a 5 and nudges managers to give out that 1 even if they’d rather dodge their personnel problem.

        What it doesn’t do, though, is consider that the distribution of high-performing employees isn’t even across managers. It’s a chicken/egg problem because good managers tend to accumulate good employees as a direct outcome of their skill in hiring, development, and retention, while bad managers do the same in reverse. This is easiest to see when an existing team changes hands and there’s a big quality difference between the old and new manager – suddenly, their staff get wildly different ratings even though they’re the same people doing basically the same job.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I can see the theory behind it and why it would be seen as good for that purpose. However in reality it has to be a hybrid. It often leads to discrimination as well, when someone has to be at the bottom, you have to resort to some really petty crap to rank people.

          This is the problem with the human aspect of everything, it’s always going to be pulled down by the unconscious biases of the world. And that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be avoiding when we’re evaluating people as employees!

      3. Arvolin*

        And that’s been known to kill morale and break up top teams, because somebody has to, by fiat, get a low score. It also means that the best way to get a good raise is to subtly sabotage other people. People will often do what they’re rewarded for doing.

      4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        they should have clear expectations that people can know if they’re being met or exceeded!

        That was my problem with my last review; plenty of platitudes on what’s important, but zero measurables or standards. Turns out management’s standards were far lower than mine were; I got coached on self-confidence because my personal standards are significantly higher than the company’s.

        Example: My supervisor gave me a 4 on Leadership, because I’m continuously trying to improve processes and innovate. I gave myself a 1 because I’m completely and utterly impersuasive in actually having anyone follow my lead.

      5. MayLou*

        This is almost exactly what was done with GCSE and A level exam results in the UK this year because the actual exams were cancelled due to covid, and there was absolute chaos.

    4. alwaysanon*


      I’ve been that manager that has to explain to HR how an employee is not performing and needs a PIP and they’re looking at me like what did *I* do to make them perform so poorly. Uh no, their previous manager refused to rate them accurately and they’ve been skating for *years*. Grr!

    5. Van Wilder*

      In my job, you kind of are doing yourself and your employees a favor by inflating your ratings.

      My workplace has people who were all high achievers in school. They all get upset if they don’t get the highest scores and they all compare reviews with each other. The reviews are very inflated in my office. Compared to the LW, if I gave someone “meets” and “sometimes exceeds” that would be considered a pretty mediocre/bad review.

      It’s annoying but the reality is that the reviews are project-based. If I give my people lower scores compared to other project managers, they’re going to be unfairly hurt with lower raises, just because they worked on my project instead of another manager’s. That will make fewer people want to work with me. So, the system sucks but that is the system.

      That said, I try to give fair feedback and definitely don’t shy away if there’s truly a performance problem. But the scores are all a little higher than what they should be.

    6. Anon for This*

      Depends on office culture. Where I work you have to be in real trouble not to get the highest rating, but the wheat is separated from the chaff by the narrative. If there are no examples to show how the person is wonderful, we all know they are a problem. (For those of you seeking references, we are also one of those places that will only confirm dates of employment.) So when someone shows you an evaluation that says they walk on water, don’t take it at face value, look to see if there are examples.

  14. BenAdminGeek*

    I had a coworker who rated himself in the top box for everything, every year. He told our manager that he did that because he viewed evaluations as a negotiation- like, my boss and him were supposed to dicker over scores and finally land on a score they could compromise on. He was a brilliant guy, but really obnoxious. This is the same guy who used to carry on arguments with his employee about the merits of the ACA before it passed.

    He did teach me a lot about how not to act as a manager and employee, so I guess I should be grateful there.

  15. Governmint Condition*

    Where I work, employees can file letters of their own with their performance evaluations stating where they disagree. The purpose being if a situation related to the performance evaluation ever ends up in front of an arbitrator, they can read both opinions to help make a ruling. This is probably only done in government work.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      No, it’s done in the private sector as well.

      What HR departments are careful on are “purpose pitches”. If you understand baseball, a purpose pitch is one usually thrown inside the plate (close to the batter) to get him off balance.

      Out of the blue – I went from “exceeds (or meets high) expectations” after four years to “meets”. WHY?

      Well my attitude had changed. But with good reason – and I won’t get into that here, but you’d be aghast at how the conflict came up. There was an incident – a rather vile one – that I tried to forget.

      I refused to sign the review. Refused. And said “If I signed this, I’d be forced to reply to it. And if I had to reply to it, which I don’t care to do, that wouldn’t do ANY of us any good.”

      My manager was too dim-witted to pick up on what I was saying. The director was in the room – and he backed down from it. I’m sure after I left the room, Director-guy told manager “He’s a techie. He’ll find another job quickly. You and I are trying to climb the corporate ladder – this will definitely set us back. What he was telling us is that if we decide to flush him down the drain, he’s gonna pull us with him.”

      I’m sure the director discussed “yes we’ll back you, and you’ll save face but if Anon-2 tells what you did to him, you’ll never go up the chain and I won’t either, he may get fired but we’ll be in deep s**t.”

      Finally had a meeting with HR and the director. I thought I was going to be fired, but one minute into the session HE was on the hot seat. I just said I want to go forward and work. In spite of the stinkin’ raise they gave me as the result of this.

      Or words to that effect.

      1. Argh!*

        You’re very fortunate. I asked how my raise was calculated four years ago and was told, “You’re lucky to get any raise at all.” I haven’t gotten a raise since then.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Gah! I hate it when an informational question like that is taken as a challenge. (Of course, probably they didn’t have any good methodology to point to.)

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Need to expand upon that a little further.

          Someone might smile and appear to accept that explanation – but might also decide to move on, she’s not moving ahead as expected and yes, you’re moving the goal posts further back. And she’s picked up on that.

          Then what do you do if she leaves? Try to fix everything retroactively? Immediate promotion? If you’re a manager and are in a place where there’s an “off budget slush fund” to fix situations like this – shall we call it “an emergency raise”??? — then you’ve got a chance to repair this – or, you can throw your hands up and say “oh well, win a few, lose a few haw haw haw”…

          Be careful what you write in those reviews – because if you falsely downgrade someone – you may be painting yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of.

  16. emmelemm*

    Like others, I am confused about how Carl “meets expectations” at all. Missing appointments with customers is surely a “fails to meet expectations”?

  17. Ms. Stemba*

    Part of it could be people not understanding the performance review rating process. In my old position managing a big team, we had to get way more explicit that most people get a “meets expectations”, and very few exceed. Especially for new grads, they were conditioned to think that meeting expectations was Bad. The more open we were with the process, the easier it was to align manager reviews with self-reviews.
    My favorite was lots of the new kids rating themselves as significantly exceed expectations on goals like “complete training on time.” You either met that or you didn’t – you can’t exceed that one.

    1. Sara without an H*

      The part about the new graduates doesn’t surprise me. Grade inflation has been a problem at colleges and universities for decades, to the point where it’s become almost impossible to give a student a failing grade. The new grads you work with probably view “meets expectations” as the equivalent of a C, which is no longer considered an average grade, but a bad one.

      1. Artemesia*

        The average grade in colleges for a long time now has been a B at least. When I was an undergrad, in my large state flagship the average for women was about 2.55 and for men about 2.4. i.e. C+. Today averages for students run about 3.3. A lot of colleges have had to recalibrate their Latin honors for graduations when 90% of the class was graduating cum laude and up. Now they tend to do it many places by %. so a college student sees ‘meets expectations’ as a C which is a ‘fail’ in their experience.

      2. Paulina*

        I’ve had students argue that they should get 100% for answering all the questions with basically correct (but not particularly insightful) answers. Nope. Meeting basic standards is not perfection (though my 100% level is also a bit below outright perfection).

        Some of these “consistently significantly exceeds expectations” levels discussed sound like they could use a bonus-mark system, 6 out of 5.

        1. Andy*

          Frankly, if they answered all questions correctly then they should have 100%. If you want more then your question asks for, then you are asking wrong question. The basic expectation on test is that it should be clear what one have to do to get full points.

          1. MayLou*

            You can answer a question completely accurately and cover all the main points without providing any insight or evaluation. An essay on the causes of world war one, for instance, could be accurate and factual and hit all the commonly-acknowledged points and be totally unoriginal, while another could do an in-depth analysis of the relationships and pressures involved and how things might have been different. Are you really saying both should get the same grade of 100%?

      3. Ms. Stemba*

        Totally agree, and we had to have that exact conversation with some new grads – meeting expectations is a good thing, and not like a C in school. This is another example of how school doesn’t translate to working norms.

    2. Argh!*

      Where I work, we have state-mandated “merit” in which only a few outstanding people (in theory) get big raises. In actuality, the suck-ups, sycophants and go-along-to-get-along people get the big raises, and the people who consistently perform to spec (and make the suck-ups look good), the people on the spectrum, and anyone who takes FMLA gets tiny discretionary raises or no raise at all.

      In some departments there is grade inflation, and everyone gets a big raise. In other departments, a few perennial favorites can count on a big raise no matter how badly they perform their actual job duties.

    3. Eastcoaster*

      +1 This! I’ve had teammates who were very frustrated with “Meets” and expected “Exceeds” on every rating for just…meeting expectations. I don’t know when along the way “meets expectations” became a bad thing! I think also in my organization we had a lot of managers giving out 5’s (All Exceeds) to teammates for ‘meets’ work just to get them the highest raise. Then when they were accurately rated, they were very frustrated since for years they’d be getting ‘Exceeds’ and now were told they were ‘meets.’

      1. Ms. Stemba*

        We had to calibrate our ratings at multiple levels, from the team of 30 to the department of 200, so this didn’t really happen. Managers within teams had to be pretty consistent, and you had to be prepared to justify giving someone a 4 or 5.
        I do not miss that performance review process…

    4. Elsajeni*

      On the other hand, if you have goals that it’s literally impossible to “exceed expectations” on — attendance, punctuality, completing required training — “exceed expectations” shouldn’t be a rating option for those goals! You’re not wrong that learning “meets expectations” is a good rating is part of this, but why put people in a situation where the form tells them they’re being judged out of a possible, say, 35 points when the actual highest achievable score is 31?

  18. Dasein9*

    The first time I got to rate an employee, she really was excellent at her job. I wanted to give her all the highest marks. My own manager put a stop to that and had me give her good marks across the board. Why? So the next time, the employee could get good marks, with one or two excellent ones, and the time after that, another rise or two in marks. That way, when time for promotions, raises, or references came along, we could point to evidence of steady improvement.

    I shared this information with the employee. She understood and strove to make sure that increases in her ratings were earned. Writing references for her later was a true pleasure.

    It sounds like Carl wants to be given top marks across the board, but that would actually indicate that he’s not well-suited to the work and might not have room for growth there. What he wants would be bad for him. It also sounds like Carl isn’t as interested in learning, growing, or improving as he is in his scores.

    1. Argh!*

      When raises are based on evaluations, this is not truly fair. Also, when does the expectation for improvement end? Do you have to downgrade every category just a little bit for 5 years? 10 years? forever? When does “encouraging” turn into goalpost-moving, which is very discouraging?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Hell no. This isn’t acceptable.

      You don’t need ‘marked improvement” simply for promotion. Being consistently “above the mark” is what you need as well. Lots of people backslide, you need consistency and improvement WHERE WARRANTED to show your fit for promotion.

      Your manager is wrong. If that’s actually what your company wants to see for promotional reasoning, they are wrong as well.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I haven’t shown “Marked Improvement” for like a decade now it seems like, I keep getting raises/praises/promotions if they’re available [limited actual upwards mobility, small company standard stuff]. So I’m just straight cackling out how batty it would be to expect someone at the top of their game to improve! That’s not good for retention!

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      That can’t be the best way to encourage someone to improve, or even demonstrate improvement. It also opens up a risk of creating succession planning problems. There’s a point where asking someone to be increasingly awesome can lead to them basically reshaping their job description to suit their strengths, and that means that you may need to figure out how to replace a unicorn.

      This is an argument for having a bunch of levels within a position category (and overlapping salary bands) so that you can have different goal posts without moving them in a way that discourages people. That way you can make a case for giving your Llama Groomer I the excellent rating they deserve while giving them a lot of room to grow into the slightly more demanding expectations of a Llama Groomer II.

      If part of the issue with giving high performers high marks is that you want to make sure that raises only reflect improvement, this arrangement makes it easier to promote someone without giving them a raise. People always freak out over a promotion without a raise, forgetting that this setup often gives you more headroom to get raises in the future.

    4. steve*

      and this right here is why so many dont trust managers judgment and performance evaluations. your employee deserved the highest marks but you gave lower than she deserved because you want to show increase over time. but who is to say the next year your employee will be better, they could be worse for any number of reasons (personal, health etc) and now they get bad marks without the steller marks from the previous they deserved to even it out. give your employes the reviews and marks they deserve when they deserve them any less make your crappy manger undeserving of the job. holding out in hopes they are even better the next year is crap in may opinion, and you and your manager are bad for doing it. managers are so quick to give you a poor review but hesitant to give you a great review because they have to do extra work to justify it. you did you employee a diserves by bowing to you boss and frankly should be ashamed

  19. Lifelong student*

    My favorite performance review story- I was being reviewed and was handed the document. I read it completely in a few moments- I have always been a speed reader. When we began to discuss the items, the reviewer took much umbrage because according to him, I was responding without having read the document!

    In another case, I received all “meets expectations.” As far as I am concerned that is considered average- like a C in a course. I was not happy – I have never gotten lower than a B- and those were rare!

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      I think you point out a big problem with a lot of review systems. No one really defines what “Exceeds expectations” means vs. “meets expectations.” Like you said, for most of us the middle rank, regardless of what it is, is kind of viewed as a “C.” If that isn’t the case, if it’s higher than that, like, you really are doing that perfectly well, so more like a B+, that needs to be made clear to both the manager and to those being reviewed. A large number of review issues can be resolved just by making sure everyone is using terms the same way and viewing categories with the same parameters.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Er, to clarify, Most of us who grew up in the American school system will view any middle ranking as a “C.”

        No disrespect at all to Lifelong Student, but the folks who I’ve had the hardest time with when it comes to understanding this, especially regarding reviews and feedback, it’s those that always got straight As in school. There aren’t grades anymore, and it is no longer individual achievement, but team output, that matter most. This is a big focus shift for a lot of high academic achievers. It can be very hard to explain that it really just doesn’t work that way anymore, especially when they are just out of school. Yeah, your personal performance matters, but not more than the good of the team, and the metrics are very different. Being just OK at something isn’t necessarily a bad thing out in the working world.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      So to #2, apparently, management sets their own standards for an evaluation that can vary from one company to another. We’ve had ours drop down by a couple of points across the board over the years, because, one year, our managers were told that “only god gets a 5” and to give everyone a 4 or less (I think a 4 is an exceeds expectations and a 5 was something above that?), then a year or two later, they were told to give everyone 3s across the board, because “hardly anyone ever exceeds expectations” or something. I just roll with it. If you were the only one who received all “meets” and everyone else got all “exceeds”, then that, of course, would be different. But the odds are the manager is doing what they were told to do.

  20. Argh!*

    One of my disagreements with the way performance “metrics” are usually done is that they are not at all metrical. “Consistently” means 100% of the time to some people and 90% of the time to others.

    So if you really want compliance with your expectations, those expectations should be explicit, especially when you are documenting performance deficiencies. Also, there’s a bias toward the negative in terms of what a supervisor sees, and what a supervisee hears. If Carl forgets an appointment once in a year, and someone else forgets an appointment once in a year, why is Carl being downgraded? If everybody makes no more than one “oops” in a year and Carl messes up a couple of times per month, that’s something Carl will understand.

    Documenting that you’ve talked to someone is only partly helpful. If you merely rubbed his nose in his mistakes, all you’ve done is created a resentful supervisee and a contentious relationship. If you have discussed good things, pointed out an improvement (even if minor), made black-or-white statements about expectations, or made attempts at coaching, that will be much better for proving that Carl really did have a chance to improve.

    1. Glitsy Gus*


      It is very possible Carl is totally in the wrong here. It does sound, at the very least, that he is not handling his frustration well, which is a problem. That said, OP should double check that they aren’t looking at Carl’s record more pessimistically than others due to the fact that they already have a bit of a contentious relationship. They should also make sure that the expectations are clear, so if you do have an issue with someone first, that it’s addressed in the moment, you shouldn’t be springing stuff on him in the review that wasn’t discussed at the time, and that you can show the metrics (“Carl, I know no one is perfect, but you missed 5 client meetings this year. That’s the highest on the team. 1 is considered acceptable, but 5 really isn’t.”)

      OP, you may be doing all of this, if you are, great! Keep it up. But it never hurts in this kind of situation to take a look at yourself too and see if there is anywhere where you can make things a bit easier for everyone.

  21. Miss Muffet*

    why is it the lowest performers ALWAYS think they are the biggest rock stars, and want to quibble with every damn thing in their review?! I have had a few of these over the years and it’s remarkably consistent. (And the really good ones will always downplay their achievements and you have to convince them to toot their own horns a bit more!)

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think they end up as low performers *because* they think they’re rock stars. It’s sort of like the opposite of Impostor Syndrome. Someone who feels like they’re not very good at their job is always going to be looking for training and growth opportunities. Someone who thinks they’re already as good at their job as it’s possible to be will look at those opportunities as a waste of time and effort, so they won’t learn or grow.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      It’s the Dunning–Kruger effect. “It […] comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.”

      That’s from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article. I’m not going to link here because it will just make more work for Alison, but you can look it up easily. But it comes down to: dumb people don’t know they’re dumb, and smart people know how much they don’t know.

    3. jsv*

      The first time I was evaluated at my job I gave my self only slightly above average scores on my self evaluation even though I knew for a fact I was the highest performer because I didn’t want to come across as being too full of myself. The next year, I had to evaluate my own employees and one of the lowest performers gave himself all “Exceeds Expectations” in every category. Where do they get the confidence?

  22. chaco*

    I had an internship in college for a terrible boss who used employee evaluations (among other things) to manipulate his staff. A big part of what we did involved producing promotional materials and when I started there they didn’t have much of a system. An event would come up, somebody would say “oh we need to make a flyer/brochures/posters” and design and print it at the last minute. Social media was an afterthought if it even occurred to anyone to post at all.

    My first year, I found all sorts of ways to improve our processes. I cut the printing & assembling time for our weekly newsletters from 5 hours to 1, then used the extra 4 hours to figure out how to pre-schedule social media posts across platforms, which increased our digital engagement by over 90%. I said “hey, why don’t we make a list of all our events for the next few months and what kind of materials they need so people can work on designing them when they have downtime?” and pretty soon we had materials ready weeks in advance instead of cramming them in days before.

    Come employee review time, my boss rated my productivity 2 out of 5. I was shocked and brought up all the stuff I’d done and the ways I’d substantially improved not only my own productivity but also the processes used by the whole office. I asked how anyone could score well on that metric if substantial changes only warranted a 2 and he said scores were relative to his own perceptions of an individual’s ability. He said if two interns had equal output but one seemed more capable, the more capable one deserved a lower rating, and that since I was clearly good at improving systems he really would have liked to see me update all of the processes in the department to ensure even the projects I wasn’t directly involved in were more efficient. I asked him how to improve going forward and he said to get a better score, I would need to get the other interns to improve their productivity on tasks they worked on independently (even though I, an intern, had no supervisory responsibilities whatsoever and didn’t necessarily even have overlapping work hours with some of the other interns).

    I was livid and told all the other interns what he had told me. They were also pissed, because every single one of them had been rated 3-4 out of 5 and hadn’t been told anything about needing to improve their productivity, let alone needing to have another intern coach them about it. So instead of getting his most productive employee to go into overdrive attempting to outdo herself for a mediocre score, he ended up with a whole staff of pissed off interns Very Seriously asking for “productivity feedback” after every single project for months.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That piece of trash boss that you had was actually bombing your review because they were terrified of your perceived capabilities. He gaslighted you. Like he gas lit the hell out of you. Just reading this comment I feel flames on the side of my face.

      I’m glad you knew he was terrible and you have found yourself in better work environments afterwards.

      1. chaco*

        The longer I work in normal workplaces the more insane that one seems. I still don’t understand how anyone decided that he would be a good supervisor, let alone of interns who are supposed to be learning workplace norms.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Lots of times this kind of doofus falls into that role, they aren’t given it because they “earned” it or “deserve” it.

          Some people are also good at sucking up and kicking down, which is what could be going on here. He felt powerful to manipulate frigging interns. Look at the big sack on, Braaaaaaaaaaaad, he beats up them middle school kids while he’s 27 kinda stuff.

          I can look back now and see a lot of bad choices and you have to just remember that life isn’t fair, bad behavior is rewarded for no-good-reason. You have to seek out the good people and leave the slobs wherever you’ve found them.

    2. Paulina*

      What, you as an intern were supposed to take over how the department did everything? There are lots of places that would fire you for trying. Apparently you were supposed to read his mind as well. “Expectations” can only count if they’re clearly expressed or easily inferrable. Once you knew that he had hidden expectations, it’s quite reasonable that the others kept querying him.

      1. chaco*

        Yeah, the secret expectations came up for multiple people because they would think they were doing great and then their evaluation would be completely unexpected and there would be all these “issues” (which were typically unrealistic or nitpicky). A few of us just constantly asked him for feedback after that, but to no one’s surprise he never actually had any negative or constructive feedback day to day.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Our highest ranking individuals are all over 55, so no, age discrimination is not always a thing.

      I say this as someone who had a father forced into retirement when he “aged out” of his job. It’s a thing. But it’s not something you should be actively expecting unless you see other signs within your organization that says such. Dad knew that’s how they treat the older people, he wasn’t surprised but naturally was just as pissed as anyone should be in the situation.

    2. Xavier Desmond*

      I’ve never seen the value in asking employees to rate themselves as it inevitably leads to this sort of conflict. It’s ultimately the managers decision anyway so why bother with self assessment. Genuinely interested to hear if anyone thinks asking employees to rate their own performance is beneficial.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I know that the first time I was asked to self-rate (as part of the eval system in a large corporation) it was eye-opening to me. I learned a lot about how to view myself from the outside, and I learned how HARD it was to remember everything I’d done thru the year, and therefore how hard it might be for my boss to do so.

  23. Xavier Desmond*

    I’ve never seen the value in asking employees to rate themselves as it inevitably leads to this sort of conflict. It’s ultimately the managers decision anyway so why bother with self assessment. Genuinely interested to hear if anyone thinks asking employees to rate their own performance is beneficial

    1. noahwynn*

      It is beneficial from my perspective because it can highlight areas we greatly disagree on and we can discuss them. Sure, it is ultimately my decision, but if I put “does not meet expection” and the employee puts “exceeds expection” then there is a wide gap and we need to work together to figure out why. Maybe I’m not providing sufficient feedback to the employee or maybe I don’t understand that the portion I see an issue with isn’t in the employee’s realm.

      Also, frequently evaluations are used to justify raises. In that case as both an employee and a manager, I want to give the employee the opportunity to tell me about the projects they’ve completed or ways they’ve improved themselves or the company. Sometimes employees do awesome things and it is easy to forget them when you’re doing an evaluation a year later.

  24. Helen J*

    The evaluations at my employer are a joke. They are 9 pages long , very repetitive and even the most mediocre employees get a good review. My direct supervisor knows this and he said I should just copy & paste my “goals” every year. I have done that for the last 5 years and no one has noticed (he has but he’s ok with it). We don’t get raises dependent upon our evals. It really seems like they are just a box to check.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is an issue in many places as well. They really should just not waste the time doing evaluations if they’re not holding any kind of review or standards! It actually does them a disservice and can cause issues when someone needs to be terminated or if someone should be promoted.

      I always read the reviews and compare to previous years to make sure things aren’t you know, copy/pasted like that. It’s not constructive and can lead to disputes in the long run when Jane never gets promoted but all the Jims in the world are bypassing her or if Tommy needs to be let go but where’s the documentation that he’s been slipping in performance?

  25. Not So Super-visor*

    This reminds me of the guy that I had to put on PIP who wanted to discuss his perceptions about my shortcomings as a manager and in the company culture rather than discuss the issues with his performance. I kept trying to redirect the conversation as his complaints (which were petty and unrealistic) were not tied into the reason that he was being put on PIP (poor performance, rudeness to customers, tardiness). I kept telling him that those issues were not what we were there to discuss, and he kept trying to deflect. We ended up terminating him because he doubled down and escalated his performance issues following the meeting.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      Can’t remember where I read it – something like this:
      To err is human. To double down and really err, in a spectacularly bad fashion, has to be the most human trait of all.

  26. Mocha Latte*

    We have quarterly reviews at my place. Someone on my team (she’s not my direct report–her manager is) thinks of herself as a rock star that does no wrong. She definitely does a great job, but she does have room for improvement from time to time (as we all do at some point). The comments she gets are always complimentary, accurate, and any constructive feedback is pretty mild, but she argues it every single time. In the end she’s fine with it, but it’s exhausting for my senior person, and me by extension. I sometimes feel like she argues the ratings just for the sake of it. I really dread the one coming up, because she isn’t meeting expectations this time around. She knows it and has made arguments, mostly blaming another department, but we have documentation to back it up and it’s not the other department’s fault.

  27. HR in the city*

    To me it appears that Carl is thinking that there isn’t anything wrong with his behavior (even though he is told consistently that there is) because the performance evaluations say meets or exceed expectations. This employee needs to be rated lower on performance evaluations. I have seen it over and over and over again where an employee is able to make a write-up go away because their performance evaluations paint them as an excellent employee. So the employee is able to argue that it was a one time mishap even if the behavior is on a consistent basis. The best thing to do is to mark the performance evaluation so that it mirrors reality and also document document document. The longer the horrible behavior continues the more it will effect co-workers. People will start to leave if the bad behavior continues because it show to them that nothing will ever be done about Carl.

  28. Happy Pineapple*

    Fortunately I’m not Carl, but what do you do if you don’t necessarily agree with your manager and your manager also can’t articulate what you need to change? My last two performance evaluations have been good, but my manager will make notes such as, “Needs to be more proactive.” When I ask for an example of what that looks like in my role, he just says “I don’t know. Just be more proactive.” Yes, but how? “I don’t know.”

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      People quit managers more than they quit jobs. In your scenario, I would be looking for a better manager to work for, either internally or externally.

  29. Batgirl*

    Carl, the main goal you have to meet is being more self reflective. Dropping the ball is something we all do occasionally, it’s denying it that makes it a big issue. I need you to welcome criticism as an opportunity. Is that something you can do?
    If necessary add: “This combatitiveness is really worrying and is the main cause of the problems, because otherwise you have plenty of potential. The next time we meet, I want to see that you can self reflect enthusiastically in response to constructive criticism. This is a basic requirement of your role and it’s non negotiable.

  30. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Overall, he is a good employee who makes mistakes occasionally; he just is not as fantastic as he thinks he is.

    I don’t see that supported in the rest of the letter. He sounds more like an albatross around your team’s collective neck.

    Everything is still in the “meets expectations” or “sometimes exceeds expectations” range, but I have a feeling I am going to have a fight on my hands, especially since the scores on the performance evaluation directly determine raises.

    Money brings out a lot of bad things in people. I know I’d be concerned if I thought my review was going to result in a poor or no COLA, especially with the current environment of unacknowledged inflation. Also, I’m sure you’ve heard that “Anything less than perfect is a PIP” or the like when it comes to customer feedback from the transaction. I know, personally, that I’m afraid to give an employee a 9 out of 10 for fear she’ll be flogged, figuratively or literally. Also too, I’m sure you’ve heard of “leadership” that believes purging the bottom 10% periodically is advantageous.

    That said, I’m in a position where I can only get a 2 or 3 on a scale where 1 is “outright failure,” 2 is “struggling,” 3 is “adequatish,” 4 is “above and beyond” and 5 is “structurally load-bearing.” We have one designated member of our team who handles the #4 and #5 tasks. Carl may well just not be to the point in his career where he realizes the numbers are subjective, even if the supporting evidence is objective.

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

    With these, dates are helpful. It’s harder to argue with numbers than board assertions. E.g. “Sola, you’re late frequently” won’t have nearly the impact that “Sola, you were more than 15 minutes late in each of six different months last year.”

    Even though I felt I gave him pretty good scores (everything was “meets expectations” or “sometimes exceeds expectations”), Carl was very unhappy that he did not get anything in the highest range (“consistently exceeds expectations”) and tore apart every thing I wrote because he did not agree with some of my word choices (such as using the word “disagreement” when talking about how he handles differences of opinion with coworkers). At the end of the meeting, I felt like I had been evaluated.

    My condolences on feeling evaluated. Is there a 180 degree review or some mechanism in your company where you feel threatened with retaliation, or do you fear Carl’s departure? Because my blunt answer here is “You are the boss; that makes you legislator, judge, and jury. Carl’s ‘Protest/Complaint/Conversation’ needs to be met with dixi* and nothing more if you don’t agree with it. Change a ‘meets’ to ‘fails to meet’ every time he brings it up again.”

    Truly, I think your solution involves onboarding Carl’s successor.

    *Literally “I have spoken.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      That said, I’m in a position where I can only get a 2 or 3 on a scale where 1 is “outright failure,” 2 is “struggling,” 3 is “adequatish,” 4 is “above and beyond” and 5 is “structurally load-bearing.” We have one designated member of our team who handles the #4 and #5 tasks.

      That doesn’t seem right. No matter what your tasks are, you should be able to perform them at a 3 or higher.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          The most senior member of our team has about a decade more experience with the company than the next person, and it’s within the last two years that he’s ceased to have more experience with the company than the rest of the team combined. A lot of his credibility was established in the olden days.

          Now, when something new, challenging, interesting, or important comes down the pike, it’s assigned to him. Older things that used to be new, challenging, interesting, or important are offloaded to the rest of the team if necessary, as are things that come down the pike that have been solved before. So if anyone’s going to get a 4 or a 5 for developing a new system that improves productivity, automating a process, creating a new product to offer, etc, it’s our Sr. Developer by design. The rest of us are expected do what’s already been done before to his standard works, and are in line for meeting expectations by following instructions.

  31. Gallery Mouse*

    Oh boy – do NOT let this employee bully you into a better assessment of their performance.
    I cant tell you how many times I’ve had to go back to en employees performance file during a termination only to find that their manager was too chicken to be firm and honest and caved and left a glowing review that then ends up biting the company in the @$$.

    Our lawyers roll their eyes every time I call them now because that is typically the root of all of our legal issues and problems – the managers either didn’t document the behavior properly or gave a good review to a terrible worker who we then had to terminate (with a hefty severance).

    I’m sure the rest of the comments share this sentiment and best of luck!

  32. Bopper*

    Has anyone mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect yet? I think Carl is suffering from this.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.

  33. YetEvenAnotherAlison*

    I am going to offer another view. I have had the unpleasant experience of working for someone that did not like me. He asked me to “make up” data on a government deliverable and I refused to do it. These reports were his responsibility and he had not done them – so I had to take time to reconstruct them. This made him very angry. On my review he talked about how slow I was and how I took for ever to do these reports. You bet your backside that I was combative……I first told him that he could change the rating the nice way or I would go upstairs. He also made lots of nasty comments in my review – it was clear he did not like me. (He also did not like me because I refused to be a party to his berating of others for sport – one time I just walked out of his office with him mid-sentence while he went on and on after I asked him to stop) I also told him that if he was going to make a comment on my review – it needed to be based on my performance and then backed up with examples. He did not make changes so I went over his head, told the story to his superiors and had proof of his not doing the reports. I went to HR as well and told them that if he retaliated against me – and nothing was done – I was going to a lawyer. I was so angry I was shaking – and since this was very out of character for me – HR knew I meant business. If you lie on a government report you are finished in my field. He was fired. My rating was changed. I have never had an issue with a reviewer at this company again. This guy was well respected and thought I was not going to push back – and in doing so, I established myself as someone that you do not pay with and needs to be respected. There are managers that use reviews as tools to destroy confidence and drive people out or settle their own personal wars with others.

  34. I take tea*

    But “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / When you’re perfect in every way”…

    (Check out Mac Davies It’s hard to be humble, if the quote isn’t familiar, hilarious song. As long as it’s satire. Not so fun to meet these guys in real life.)

  35. Dagny*

    This guy is a piece of work.

    Nevertheless, proceed normally. Many companies have a formal or informal process to dispute performance evaluations. If he continues to fight back, explain that process and let it play out.

    This is valuable. Bosses who are racist or sexist will use the performance review process to ‘prove’ that they have substandard employees and thus deny promotions or raises and to set the stage for a termination. This process allows the wronged person to get their own say in. But if the employee is actually completely out to lunch, resistant to feedback, and clueless about how his own shortcomings are problematic, this process documents that, too.

  36. Amethystmoon*

    Funny, I learned to always set my scores on average, especially with a new boss. Usually I will get a few exceeds expectations, but it’s been years since I have gotten anything below average. I have a new boss this year, so we will see.

  37. Nacho*

    I used to have similar views to Carl (though I was a lot less vocal about them) until I finally realized that no matter how good I am at my job, I have to actually go above and beyond the requirements to exceed expectations. I could be the best lama groomer in the company, but if I’m expected to groom lamas, and that’s all I do, then I’m not exceeding those expectations.

  38. My2Cents*

    I am commenting really late so I know no one will see this, but I think one thing my company does really well is articulating what a 5 or exceeds expectations or excellent looks like and explaining they are uncommon, or at least not the most common. Many people, especially those relative fresh from schooling, are used to getting As and being seen as high performers, and I think a mental reset is helpful when entering the professional world.

  39. Hmmmyeah*

    I think the OP can also treat what the employee is saying as if he’s saying “I want my ratings to be at exceeds”. Then she can respond “I understand that’s where you want your ratings to be, so let’s talk about how you can get there”. And “let’s focus on what you can do to get your ratings to that level for your next evaluation. I would need to see XYZ.”

  40. boop the first*

    Ah, interesting insight into That Coworker. There is always one, but I always just assumed that they didn’t care. There was only one I worked with who talked endlessly about how great they were. He was from Huge City, and like everyone from Huge City, he constantly talked my head off about how lazy we are and how much better, faster, stronger people are in Huge City. He talked about how he was such a godsend, a real blessing, a breath of fresh efficiency and work ethic in a workplace full of sluggish losers.

    The guy couldn’t do a damn thing right, was constantly late for shifts, caused giant bottlenecks in the work flow, and wasted so much time trying to schmooze with people in areas he would have preferred to work in. I think eventually he no-showed and that was the end of him.

    It kind of messed with me, though, because I also think of myself as being a model employee. I’m aware that it means I’m a people-pleasing pushover, which works really well for predatory employers, but how do I REALLY know? I keep a text from my ex-boss begging me to come back, in case I need it, but they all generally treated me like garbage, which doesn’t sound like something you do to people you actually want to keep around.

  41. AnamorphicAmoeba*

    I was curious about how his scores are still so “high” when OP pointed out some shortcomings.

  42. Massmatt*

    we are to take LW’s at their word here but from what you say it REALLY doesn’t sound as though Carl is a good employee. It sounds like he has serious problems (missing client meetings, missing shifts he agreed to cover) and is extremely combative and resistant to feedback. The latter signs were all there during his probationary period. Honestly, IMO he should probably not have made it through the trial period, and now is going to be a huge time sink.

    Depending on what your organization requires, it could take years and hundreds of hours of work to go through the process of getting rid of Carl. If he gets put on a PIP, he might improve just enough to survive, only to regress again.

    It’s too late to redo Carl’s probation, but think about this next time you have a new employee. If they are not a good fit for the job, then the probation period is the time to cut them without a huge hassle and time commitment. That’s what it’s for.

    The last time I had to get rid of someone it was an endless series of meetings, documentation, etc. For a few months about 10-20% of my time was wasted on this. Time I could not spend meeting clients or developing better employees.

  43. OP*

    I sent this letter back in 2016, and was not expecting to see it in my feed again now. All of the comments here have hit the nail on the head. I did let not only Carl’s aggressiveness, but also how management and his coworkers saw his performance, affect my management of him. I was new to management and was honestly a bit intimidated by him. Things did get better in some respects after this letter, but ultimately Carl did decide to leave about 6 months after his first year performance review, which was best for everyone.

    That performance review was rough, but I stood by what I had said and my managers signed off on it, so I had backup. Before Carl left, there was definitely a marked improvement in his performance, which I think shows that I was on the right track.

    We work in a very small, close-knit field and so have crossed paths with each other very often at professional events. I will say that Carl has matured quite a bit in the last 4 years (his position with me was his first full-time position in this field after grad school, which probably influenced a lot). I wouldn’t say we are close colleagues, but we do have a fairly good professional relationship now. (And yes there have been apologies.)

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