Friday, November 21, 2014

Assessing Your Assessments

I don't know where you work. Maybe you don't even have a job. But if you have a job, I will bet that you get a performance review at least once per year.

It's that time of year right now where I work. Unfortunately, this type of process is extremely pervasive - almost all companies do it in some form. It is theoretically possible that you like it. Perhaps you always get good reviews and your boss loves you. I usually receive good reviews, but there are some parts of the system that still bother me.

We use a process in which employees are asked to submit written evaluations of the people they worked with closely that year. In addition to that, we submit a self-assessment. Our managers use this information to come up with a summary of our performance.

The first problem is that people just don't like writing reviews of their coworkers. We all drag our feet every year and miss the deadlines to turn in the reviews. Then our managers prod us until we do it.

The other problem with this is that it relies on everyone being very objective. Human beings are very bad at being objective. And for the most part, people don't like to write critical things about the people they have to work with every day. Even when the inputs we provide are confidential, word gets around and people have a way of finding out who said what. This tends to artificially inflate ratings. Maybe the guy in the cubicle next to you has some legitimate issues that need to be addressed, but you don't want him to be in a bad mood after getting his evaluation because you have to sit next to him.

You know, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. People might sometimes tell others verbally that you do a terrible job, but most people don't want to put that in writing with their signature on the bottom.

The last problem (that I'll mention today) is that when you write your self-assessment, you are probably saying really great things about yourself. You are awesome. You should be employee of the year. You are personally responsible for $12.4 million in sales this year. You can leap tall buildings in a single bound. What are the chances that you'll mention anything negative? How is that useful at all to your manager? Best case is that she agrees with you, but worst case is that she has to shatter your superlative self-image with the cold, hard hammer of reality. Nobody likes that.

For the record, I tend to be more critical of myself than most people. One year, let's call it 2007, my self assessment was due on a day that was going very badly. Things were broken, We were way behind schedule. Terribly over budget. Our project could be cancelled any day. How was I to assess myself for that year? I filled out the form with a single sentence: "This year I accomplished nothing of any value." The next day, my manager called and politely asked me to update the document.

If you agree (or not) with any of this, you might also want to read this article: Get Rid of the Performance Review. It's from 2008, but not much has changed.

And have fun writing those reviews!

Amphibian.com comic for 21 November 2014