This is the week that I dread every year. This is the week that I deliver performance reviews for each of my direct reports, seven in all.
I do my best to make this task easier by following all the leading management advice. I am a regular subscriber to the Manager Tools podcasts. (For anyone who earns their living managing people, I highly recommend this website. Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne provide loads of great practical advice for managers.) As a true disciple of the Manager Tools framework, I have one-on-one meetings with each employee every week. At these meetings, we discuss ongoing tasks, career development, SMART goals, and a variety of other issues. Because of these meetings, I think that nobody walks into their review to be blindsided by negative feedback.
I still dread the review process though. Mind you, some of the reviews are relatively easy, even pleasant. For strong performers, their review is simply an extended one-on-one meeting, with a fruitful dialog about personal and department-level goals. I find the reviews of weaker performers to be pretty straightforward too. With those folks, we have already discussed plans for improvement, and they already know where they stand with regard to their goals.
I find it most difficult to deliver reviews for the people who fall in the middle. These employees are usually described as “solid”. They perform their assigned tasks well enough. They are fairly reliable, have decent attitudes. However, they do not excel in any particular area. They are rather content to do what they are doing, but they have not demonstrated the ability to stretch beyond that. These folks often have fairly long tenures in the department and the company. They are “good employees”, but they are often left in the dust of the more ambitious, proactive newer employees who have made a big impact in a short time.
Reviewing the middle group is difficult because they often feel that good attendance and checking their tasks off the to-do list should translate to a stellar review, or a promotion. The fact is these folks usually get a decent review, but they are not often promoted. They are simply outperformed by their co-workers.
The middle-of-the-road reviews truly pain me. These folks certainly want to be promoted, and probably feel that they have “put in their time.” Unfortunately, they also fail to see why the person next sitting next to them is continuing to advance, while they stand still. They don’t always seem to recognize their co-worker’s initiative to improve their expand their skills and improve their performance, how they align their goals with that of the Director, and that their suggestions often make everyone’s job easier. I feel badly disappointing these people; I really like them. Some have been co-workers for many years; they are good-natured, funny, enjoyable members of the team. As we all know though, not everyone can be Captain of the team.
I gave a review like this today. I had to disappoint someone who probably feels like he should have been promoted with a bigger raise. The feedback I gave today was no different from feedback in the past, but I am sure that it stung a bit more today.
It stung me too.