As a manager, I hate writing employee reviews. My loathing exists on a number of levels.
Time is a problem. To do a thorough job on a review takes a lot time, especially when you have thirty employees reporting to you. My first management job required reviews to be all free-hand. No check boxes for us. And they wanted a full page for each category of each review. Forget the time factor with those. The biggest problem was coming up with enough material for each section. For an employee who was severely underperforming or a superstar, I was ok. For anyone just doing a solid, run-of-the-mill job, I didn’t have enough content to fill all of the blank spaces.
My second management job at least had reviews with multiple-choice check boxes and room in each section for a couple of comments. Much better. The problem here? I took over the team one month before annual reviews were due.
It’s a little hard to write creditably about anyone you’ve only known for four weeks. To make matters worse, three members of my team had been seconded to another department months before I arrived. Management thought I should still write the reviews instead of their new temporary team leader. I thought it was a little unfair to me and the employees that I had to write reviews for people I had never laid eyes on. But hey, that’s just my opinion. (It was multiple decisions like that one that had me running for the door five months into my tenure. I don’t know why they were surprised by my exit.)
Having to answer to scores that don’t fit perfectly onto a bell curve is another fun part of the review process. Fighting against HR and upper management over unfair scores being forced onto employees is even more joyous.
None of those things counts as the biggest employee review headache. In any review process that has an official scoring system, such as a five-scale or three-scale ranking, the biggest headache is having 85% of your employees who truly believe they are above average performers.
For anyone a little slow at math, let me point out that the majority of people can’t be better than the average. Try explaining that to pissed off employees. If there is a high performance category, no one wants to be solid or satisfactory. Those are dirty words.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had the same conversation: if you are doing everything you are supposed to, that makes you a satisfactory performer. And there is nothing wrong with that. We’re thrilled that you can do your job competently. Especially in a call centre filled with boobs. (I don’t actually say that last part.)
No one ever listens. They explain all of the things they do that make them high performers. I patiently answer that each item they have listed is a regular requirement of their jobs. It gets me nowhere.
If you are a new people manager, know that someone will definitely complain to HR about you in regards to their performance appraisal at some point in your career. It’s a big hassle that includes HR combing through every check mark and comment you have made. For pissed off employees out there, know that almost all of these complaints will be rejected by HR. They too, will eventually determine you are average.
For those who may be wondering if I am one of those managers who hates giving out high scores, even in individual categories on one evaluation, I am not. I love giving out high scores. I love great employees. I enjoy telling them how great they are. I like to see how excited employees get when they see their scores and comments. I like telling employees about the nice cash bonuses they receive with their high scores. It’s one of the best parts of my job.
More high performers also result in fewer repetitions of the “you are doing everything you are supposed to” conversation. I love that too. I wish I had nothing but high performers to work with, but I must live in a place called reality.