Most people I know do not like the process of being
criticized evaluated; much less in the workplace. At least once a year, someone, likely your boss, gets to provide feedback on how you have fared. If you are lucky, this process is constructive and painless, where your successess are highlighted and rewarded and your few shortcomings discussed in a collaborative way. Many of us are not quite so lucky.
I am sure many social experiments can and have been conducted on performance reviews. I, for one, am usually amused by the use of euphemistic terms such as “Areas needing improvement” or “Development needs”. Rather than saying, “You just don’t cut it” or “Start looking for another job”, these terms are replaced with the aforementioned, even though every experienced person knows what they mean.
My particular beef with this process is how almost completely subjective it can be. No matter how hard you try during the year, you can never really score a perfect 10; unless your boss wants you to.
Let me give you an example:
Some employers use a forced ranking system where they list a bunch of attributes and basically grade on a bell curve. One of the attributes we are typically measured on is Passion and Determination to Achieve. This means that you stop at nothing to achieve your targets which by the way, get more unattainable each year. It may include employing tough tactics with your competitors, other departments and even your coworkers just to get ahead. After all, a forced ranking system means that if Joe is ranked 1st, Jane would have to be ranked 2nd or lower, so no ties. This attribute is the often most important and is usually rated highest which is no surprise: it’s how we achieve results.
Another attribute is Empathy which measures your willingness and ability to relate with others and help them solve problems, even sometimes at your own expense.
Is it really possible to score a perfect 10 on both at the same time?
One of my natural strengths has always been the former. Having been blessed with the competitive gene, I work extremely hard to achieve KPIs as this is how I am measured quantitatively. This may mean that I am not always available to chit chat and schmooze with coworkers. But it does mean that my numbers are met and often exceeded. However, rather than passionate or driven, I have been called aggressive, pushy, a bulldog and some other less than flattering names because I do not go out of my way to socialize and am more likely to go straight to the point.
Being a West-African woman adds another dimension. I was raised to distinguish between work time and play time. I was brought up to speak carefully about my personal life, divulging as little as possible and only to those who needed to know. So I may not be the loudest at the lunch table, nor will I be the one pretending to understand pop culture references that are foreign to me (hmm, I think I should do another post on this). Point is, I am pleasant without letting it affect my work.
Once, during a discussion on my performance and upcoming promotion, my White, male boss said to me, “You can definitely do the job but you just don’t smile enough”. This was hard for me to deal with seeing as neither him nor his boss nor anyone else at their level walked around the office all smiles. Why were the rules different for me than for them??
To further complicate things, I have observed other colleagues who would probably score very highly on the Empathy attribute be considered soft and weak and unable to lead. They too, have been passed over for promotions. Many companies pride themselves on valuing diversity, which is not only about skin color and gender, but also about personality types. Still, I find myself contemplating if there truly is room for diversity at the top.
So … what would it take for me to not only fit in but move up? Will my fate be determined by whether or not my boss likes me, or is there a more objective form of performance reviews?
Please leave a comment and let me know how you feel about the review process at your job. Is it objective, fair, easy to understand? Or do you find yourself wondering, “Who Should I Be This Year?”