Review Season


Ah, September.

The leaves are starting to show signs of browning along their edges, as if someone has taken a small flame and traced their outline, leaving the middle intact and in denial about the cooler days and weeks ahead.
Fall is in the air. Which, according to the Corporate Calendar Guide Book (there isn’t REALLY one of those, I think) translates to the dreaded Annual Performance Review Season. A.k.a Peer-Review-Bartering Open Season, or Management-Review-ButterMeUp Open Season, depending on what your role is at your workplace.

I knew the games had officially begun today when I heard two co-workers agreeing to give each other good reviews this time around…
Tentatively, and with a slightly questioning lilt at the end, “I’ll give you a 7!” Reassuringly, and with a satisfied confidence, “I’ll give you a 7, too.” Grins all around, one reviewer down, 6 – 9 more to go.

In my opinion, the review system used by the majority of companies and firms to evaluate employee performance (and potentially reward or punish them accordingly) is counter-productive, archaic, and a major drain on resources. The system is akin to a formalized popularity contest and attempts to apply a cookie-cutter scoring methodology to a wide spectrum of personalities, work approaches, and roles.
This results in reviews that reward the already “privileged” (i.e. the more senior, outgoing, well-known employees) over others. In a time where corporate culture has evolved to encourage and seek diversity, the review system seems hypocritical, by continuing to re-enforce conformity and an “ideal” employee profile.

Another result of the current state of employee review systems is a strengthening of the bell curve as a model for the competency of employees of any organization. For example, one system I’ve experienced has a scoring system that goes from 1 – 10, and requires employees who rate others at the 3 lowest or 3 highest points of the scale to provide written justification and commentary.
(Hello, Upper Management! You are now behaving like those professors at school who thought theirs was the ONLY subject you took, and the ONLY subject that deserved your attention, thereby assigning you a 60-hour work week’s equivalent of problem sets and papers, without any regard to your ability to ever complete your OTHER graduation requirements. Like eating to stay alive long enough to actually graduate.)

Meaning, most people are usually way too busy to voluntarily choose to provide written commentary on other people’s performance. (Granted, there are definitely exceptions and people who believe in karma, who would gladly give written commentary on your review. They are usually the ones who walk in with a plate of home-baked cookies every now and then. Befriend these superhuman beings!)
This is not to say that the bell curve wouldn’t have naturally occurred anyway, (who am I to go head-to-head with Harvard psychologists?!) but I still strongly believe we can at least argue reduced standard deviation.

NPR recently reported on the issue of Annual performance reviews, and you can read the transcripts here and here.

Contribute! How do you feel about performance reviews, and if you are in a company that doesn’t have reviews, please share with the rest of us what you feel are the pros and cons!

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