The dreaded performance review

One of the greatest terrors of the American workplace — second only to the 10 percent pay cut and corporate downsizing — is the annual performance review.

Performance evaluations were invented by highly compensated experts in the field of employee mind-control. As far as I can determine, they serve several purposes:

• To scare ordinary, hard-working people out of their wits

• To scare ordinary non-working slackers out of their wits

• To make sure we grovel at raise time and bring the boss a Bundt cake

• To encourage us to do more of the boss’s work so he can get a hefty Christmas bonus and spend the holiday at St. Barts with Rihanna.

Every manager knows the performance evaluation is a necessary corporate evil. It’s a time-honored capitalist tool used to justify raises that are sometimes so small they can barely pay for the Happy Meals at your five-year-old’s birthday party.

They are also important when you have to develop a “paper trail” so you can push someone out the door who has gray hair and gets paid too much. Then, you can hire someone who has moussed hair and is a lowly compensated member of the Millennial Generation … or a robot.

The benefit of robots is that you don’t have to give them performance reviews. They just need a reboot from time to time. Plus, you can fire them without a paper trail.

The only thing worse than the routine performance review is the notorious “360 review,” which is generally reserved for managers. In a 360, the people above, below and around the manager, along with distant relatives and ex-spouses, write evaluations from their own unique perspective so that the manager can get a “full picture” of how well he is performing.

This approach can cause problems, however, because the manager often gets so defensive and angry that he can’t digest the snide comments, otherwise known as constructive criticism. As a result, he’ll spend the next 12 months trying to figure out who trashed him so he can get revenge. If he can’t determine who accused him of being an abusive, thinned skin, over-paid loafer, he’ll make the whole staff suffer. This practice is known as the corporate scorched earth policy.

During my years as a manager, I was usually behind on my evaluations, because I had more important issues to deal with, such as monitoring the office thermostat to prevent rioting between the crowd who always thought it was too cold and the crowd who always thought it was too hot. These camps usually were divided along gender lines.

Nowadays, more companies are abandoning the annual evaluation process, which is becoming a thing of the past like defined benefit pensions.

I recently read that an estimated 10 percent of businesses no longer require annual reviews. Accenture, a management consulting company, is doing away with them for its 330,000 employees and will join the ranks of Deloitte, Gap, Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Medtronic, which have discontinued traditional evaluations in favor of more timely feedback, such as “You %@#$ dimwit!” Or the longer version, “You %@#$ dimwit! You didn’t process the payroll and rabble-rousers are picketing outside the CEO’s office! We’re gonna get a union!” Understandably, that person will not be receiving a surprise raise.

The typical manager spends an estimated 200 hours a year performing tasks related to evaluations, and that time could be spent more profitably in the company cafeteria, complaining about the CEO’s bonus package or trying to coerce employees to give to the annual United Way drive or organizing company functions to improve morale, such as the wet dress shirt contest.

The only thing more annoying than writing a performance evaluation is writing a response to an evaluation, because then Human Resources has to referee the dispute and it becomes a little like a Wrestlemania free-for-all. In the end, it takes more energy and time than the Iran nuclear negotiations and turns out just as disastrously.

Let’s face it. We all have flaws. It’s just that some flawed people get paid more than other flawed people, and they’re usually running the company. So let he who is without sin cast the first stone at a coworker.

Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.

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