Let’s Talk About: Performance Reviews

I don’t believe in formal performance reviews. I think they create an environment where employers risk not confronting unsatisfactory performance when it happens — or acknowledging great work when it is delivered.

At TerraCycle, our approach has been to build a culture where feedback is given often and evenly to all 110 employees. We do this through a weekly reporting process (a topic I blogged about a few months ago) that requires every department to submit a detailed biweekly report to the whole company (every employee). In other words, everyone in the company sees the same reports that I do. Then, as chief executive, I write detailed responses to the reports that are also sent to all employees. This process allows everyone to be evaluated, frequently and without prejudice, in full view of their co-workers. I greatly prefer this approach to a more formal, once-a-year sit-down. Someone who isn’t performing well needs to know about it in real time, and someone who is doing great deserves immediate recognition.

The Times’s Boss Blog this morning is discussing performance reviews. I also agree that a big annual performance review isn’t necessary, and it’s great that the executive at TerraCycle is so transparent with everyone about their performance, but I do think having an annual meeting with a superior is good—even if it’s informal. I think it can be difficult for a lot of people to figure out when they’re supposed to ask for a raise, and an annual meeting can open that window for them. I’ve had performance reviews where I did exactly that—ask for a raise after reviewing the great work I did over the past year, and I’ve received them. How have your experiences been?

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31 Comments / Post A Comment

aetataureate (#1,310)

At all of my jobs, the performance review was specifically for a pay review. I like it that way. My boss tells me things on the fly that I work on and improve, but there needs to be structure in place to implement raises and make formal promotions, especially if you work at a corporate place where they want to treat everyone fairly and on a similar timeline.

angela (#1,849)

Year-long feedback is important, as are yearly performance reviews. I do not agree with evaluation “without prejudice, in full view of their co-workers”. If an employee’s performance must be corrected or results in negative feedback, I strongly feel this should be done in private. Once the individual has been informed and offered an opportunity to correct their performance and/or contribute to an improvement plan, when possible, then the situation can be used as a training tool among all employees. Calling an employee out among their coworkers without first addressing the issue privately can lead to a hostile workplace.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@angela +1 for negative feedback being in private.

triplea (#1,234)

I work for a crappy company and after my first performance review they offered me a 4% raise and I was flustered and didn’t do the math and when I did the math, it came out to about a $400/year raise so I flip the shit out. And then this year I got another stellar review, asked for a raise, and was denied again for no discernable reason other than ‘oh well we can’t do raises at this point in time, I know it’s hard for you to live on your yearly salary lol’. Needless to say I am actively searching for a new job.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@triplea 4% of what? Is your annual salary $10,000? Because usually 4% is actually a pretty decent raise (in proportion to your current salary).

Lily Rowan (#70)

@bgprincipessa Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten a 4% raise just as an annual increase. (In the nonprofit world.) I have with a promotion, but I think usually an annual is 3%. Not that I’ve gotten many of those, either!

triplea (#1,234)

@Lily Rowan @bgprincipessa Haha like I said, my math isn’t that great, it could’ve been 2%. Either way, it came out to $400/year before taxes and I had been told at my interview that the average increase after a year of employment was more than this (exact numbers).

I like a yearly review, but it does not take the place of constructive correction during the year to keep everyone on track. I’ve been on both sides of the desk, and I find that as the reviewer it helps to concentrate my expectations of an employee and reminds me of his contributions. It gives the employee a chance to formally and without repercussions complain about his working conditions and lets me know what I need to do to make it possible for him to succeed. On the other side of the desk, I take advantage of the private interview to give my supervisor feedback on how he is meeting my expectations for support/criticism. I work now for A Major Retailer, and their review process is canned and nearly useless. I actually got dinged on my tiny pay raise for failing to perform functions which are not part of my job. A review can be a valuable tool or a piece of crap, in short.

I was in the middle of writing a comment about how I work at a super new start-up that’s so young we don’t even have performance reviews, but I just got an email from the chief strategy officer about a company-wide performance review on August 23. Guess I’ll find out how I’m doing in two weeks.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

Hmm. I’ve got an issue with this right now. I’ve been with my employer for 6.5 years, at my current position 4.5. In addition to the role I was hired for, I’ve absorbed a colleague’s duties when she went on maternity leave 3 years ago and didn’t return, took on a huge multi-year project successfully, which required learning a lot of new skills, and am now in charge of coordinating some reporting activities across multiple divisions. Not to mention getting work published at an international conference, which I paid out of pocket to attend. It’s a big job, and each year’s review has been great.

My boss is a good guy and said that he’s pitched giving me an unspecified raise (my first in this position) to his superiors, but they say no, that we can’t afford it, even though there seems to be money around for plenty of other things. They’re also not open to hiring anyone below/lateral to me to support this growing position. I’m wondering if they don’t understand how much work I’m doing, or if there are really are budget constraints. Or perhaps the fact that I can do it all myself means I don’t really need anyone else. It’s very hierarchical here, and I think asking questions of the higher-ups would be discouraged.

As things stand, I have it pretty good- I work in my field, make a good wage and have fair hours, but after so long and expanding my role so much, I would like to see more recognition than just a line on my annual review. But then again, everyone thinks they work hard and deserve more than they’re getting. Perhaps this is just the way it works.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@RocketSurgeon I believe they’ll wring as much out of you as they can for as long as they can, systemically.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

@aetataureate Sure seems like it. Perhaps I should start being less competent so I require support. Or just keep an eye out for a better job (which is what I’m doing).

aetataureate (#1,310)

@RocketSurgeon Yeah. I hope my answer didn’t seem pat, I think it’s just true of most places. We’re in a catch-22 where the economy doomsayers have us terrified to lose our jobs, so we work even harder than ever, but are not rewarded for that hard work and 110% and then hate our jobs and look for new ones. Employees lose every time.

mof (#342)

@RocketSurgeon I am in a similar boat right now. We just lost an employee and I have absorbed half of her duties. I am working two projects at once, only one of which is “my” project. I, like you, am working in my field, make a good wage, and have decent hours. I also was told by my boss that the higher-ups vetoed raises entirely this year due to budget constraints.
Like you, I am unsure of what to do in these situations. Last year, the raise was below cost of living. This year, no raise. I think it is due in part to a changing culture towards spending in the organization, but I am not entirely sure I believe that there are such drastic budget constraints as they are claiming.
I read articles that recommend demanding a raise and being firm, but employees are often not in clear cut situations where such an attitude would be appropriate. Even if you have a good job, go above and beyond, and are in a strong position to begin bargaining, it can still be difficult to know how to approach a situation where you feel you deserve more money, but have been told that the higher-ups have kiboshed raises. Do you take their word for it, year after year and look for another job? Or do you say something?
At a certain point employers should realize that consistently undervaluing good employees will cause those employees to look elsewhere. I am just not sure if, given current job forecasts, we will see that point anytime soon.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

@mof It’s hard to know how to move your cause forward, especially when the performance review, while solid, is basically just a paperwork requirement done for administrative reasons and doesn’t actually enhance your bargaining position. I just remind myself that it could be so much worse, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying to make a better move somehow. Good luck to you.

@RocketSurgeon I’m in a similar situation. I was hired at a junior level 2.5 years ago, and I had almost enough experience to bump me up to the intermediate hiring range, but not quite. Now I’m still a junior, but doing the work of an intermediate and training the new intermediate hires, who also get paid more than me. Every time I ask for a promotion, I get the run around with all these milestones I have to meet to be promoted, even though many of the newer intermediate hires don’t have those milestones either. Obviously, this is working out great for my employer, because they get an intermediate for the price of a junior.

@mof There ARE budget constraints – at the bottom. It’s quite common for the higher-ups to get extra pay raises/bonuses based on low payroll cost, which they get by screwing the peons. (Bitter, I know)

limenotapple (#1,748)

I don’t mind an annual performance review, but I feel strongly that nothing on an annual performance review should be a surprise. If an employee is surprised by something within the review, that probably means the supervisor hasn’t been communicating properly throughout the rest of the year.

limenotapple (#1,748)

@limenotapple Or it could mean that the structure of management is totally wrong for the organization, so that managers are supervising way too many people, or supervising people outside of their area (if a marketing person is supervising an engineer, etc).

aetataureate (#1,310)

@limenotapple this is an A+ point

ThatJenn (#916)

@limenotapple Yes, this. My current supervisor is awesome about this – she in fact promises us no surprises and gives us more or less constant feedback on our performance.

My last employer who gave reviews, my supervisor couldn’t be arsed to do it himself (he ran the company), so the out-of-touch HR manager always wrote and conducted my reviews – leading to reviews that were surprises and also very out of line with what my actual work performance was, since it was based on her perception (for instance, part of the review was a list of my three most major accomplishments, and she listed a very minor project I had done for her and left off everything from my self-review, everything my actual supervisor would find important, and everything the peers from my peer review would have listed).

Oh yeah… and I don’t miss peer review! Those were mandatory (even for the person who said she was uncomfortable with doing them and asked to be excused…), and we never saw the results of our peer reviews – they just sat in our Permanent Records silently.

Edit: the only thing I don’t miss about Old Company is that I got raises there. Now I work for a public agency and there are no cost of living increases or merit raises.

limenotapple (#1,748)

@ThatJenn I don’t think I’d like the whole peer review system…seems like it could easily be misued for ax grinding

the company i work for is too disorganized and chaotic to provide annual performance reviews, which is exactly why they really need to have them. same goes for team meetings. ugh.

i would love to have a performance review because it would be great to know exactly what is expected of me. for that matter, an actual contract would be nice as well.

mof (#342)

I think TerraCycle’s methods could be dangerous, and could be annoying. I can’t imagine having weekly reviews – it sounds like a serious time drain for both the evaluator and the employee. And making everything so transparent just sounds to me like posting test scores on the bulletin board in elementary school. I think a combination of annual reviews and consistent, frequent feedback would be the ideal method. We do annual reviews and it’s a good time to ask about raises and discuss work in a more formal setting. We could do better, though, on fostering an atmosphere which values and promotes giving consistent, less formal feedback. If someone is doing well you shouldn’t have to resort to weekly reviews to tell them so. Likewise, if someone is doing poorly supervisors should be able to work with them on improving at any time.

cherrispryte (#19)

We do annual reviews at my job, and my boss takes it as a way to review the positives of the previous year – she calls out the negatives throughout the year, whenever she sees them, so the annual review is mostly positive. It’s kind of nice? Ish?
That said, we’ve had a pay freeze on since 2009 (2008? whenever the federal gov’t pay freeze went into effect, we decided to follow suit. cause bah. lost the annual 2% cost of living increase around then as well.) So while yes, for my first two years here, performance reviews were directly linked to raises (you got graded on shit, and your grade corresponded to the percentage of your raise) but no raises anymore, so no dice.

mouthalmighty (#165)

Performance reviews! Timely. My current employer is ridiculously lax about of a lot of things, including formal reviews. This is actually something I’ve been meaning to tackle now that I have the supervisory powers, so thanks for the reminder (as it were).

Kthompson (#1,858)

I’ve had three jobs, each did performance reviews in a drastically different way:

The first job I had, as a production worker at a small time newspaper, was incredibly informal. A year after being hired, my editor-in-chief called me into her office (which was in the middle of the newsroom and solid windows). “You’ve done a great job,” she said. “I got you a raise.” That was how it went each of three years. By the time I left I was earning $12.50 an hour, much better than the $10 I’d started out. Great job though.

My second job was a disaster. It was as a low level tech writer at a massive insurance company. My boss was a huge d*ck and hated me. The performance review was a long involved process where you had several different scales. You rated yourself, your peers rated you, and your five different bosses and team leaders rated you, and sometimes the ratings were 1 through 5 and sometimes they were A through D and whatever. Then somehow there was some sort of meaningless equation they put it through to determine if you earned a raise or not. I think I ended up with something like a .04 percent raise. More tellingly was the “performance review” with the manager of my department, who told me I was an aggressive bully, everyone I worked with hated me, and he was working on firing me. I left after 8 months total, after claiming harassment and getting nowhere, with a nice settlement.

Now I work at a fantastic medical publication and just had a performance review after five months. The two heads of the non-profit publication said they loved my work, they hoped I was happy here, to let them know if I had any problems, and here’s a raise. It went very well, took about half an hour, and no stupid rankings or equations or humiliating feedback.

bottom line: Annual reviews are good and smart, but not the way Job 2 did it. Please forget all the equations and rankings and paperwork. Just say, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

OllyOlly (#669)

I would love it if my company did more formal periodic reviews, can’t say I would be crazy about them being public. I just hit a year at my job and haven’t recieved any formal feedback about my work or performance since I started. I also won’t get a raise until January since they only give raises in January and only to people who have worked atleast a year(making it 18 mo. for me). It bothers me that I have no flexibility in this (and there will be NO negotiation if I do get one), but reading threads like this I am once again feeling lucky that my employer doesn’t take more advantage of me.

Oh the times that we live in.

guenna77 (#856)

it’s like you’re in my head. at my office, we all basically do our own perf reviews. after laboring over mine for the last 3 days, i submitted it not 10 minutes ago. all week i’ve been resenting this because it’s almost certainly meaningless (because of the questions themselves AND the level of attention that will be paid to them) and just feels like a giant waste of time. we’re actually asked to “Describe how well you performed your ongoing responsibilities”. what kind of info do they think they will get from this? no one who sucks will respond to this honestly, and anyone who *would* answer honestly about their faults is almost certainly awesome.

smack (#307)

What a total nightmare this guy’s plan sounds like. The thing is, nobody should EVER be surprised walking into a year-end or mid-year review. You should have informal followups with your manager throughout the year, and get immediate feedback if there’s something that needs correcting. The formal performance helps keep objectives realistic, job descriptions aligned, and plans for the future going. I see this as being some sort of horrible Machiavellian hellscape of rapidly shifting expectations, job descriptions, and competitive performance.

Maybe it works for people in certain areas where everyone can be compared to each other but in diverse groups where each individual is responsible for unique deliverables, oh hellz no.

This sounds like this guy is making up for the fact that he hires stupid supervisors.

His subject is good, long while I find this topic and I think it is here, world population day

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