Annual performance reviews spark all manner of complaints — from feedback that seems off-base to reviews that just never seem to materialize.
Q: During the annual evaluation period at my job, employees are asked to provide anonymous peer reviews. These comments are included in our appraisals.
I generally get very positive reviews, but now and then a peer comment is critical. Usually it’s very general, and thus not helpful. And I am left to wonder which of my outwardly supportive colleagues actually harbors negative feelings. Once, my supervisor even said of a personal and sharp peer criticism, “I know this isn’t true” — but still included it in my evaluation.
What do you think of this practice? — Ann
A: Annual performance reviews spark all manner of complaints — from feedback that seems off-base to reviews that just never seem to materialize. In recent years, some people have suggested scrapping or replacing the ritual altogether.
Adding a layer of anonymity to the process actually compounds the annual review’s deepest flaws, argues one such critic, Samuel Culbert, professor of management and organizations at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the author of “Good People, Bad Managers: How Work Culture Corrupts Good Intentions.” In short, he contends that the review process often masquerades as objective, but is by nature profoundly subjective — and shaped more by the day-to-day realities of office politics than anything else.
This “creates a deterioration of authenticity,” he continues, and secret peer reviews just add to that. “The premise of anonymous feedback is that it equals objective feedback,” Culbert says. “It doesn’t; it’s just as political.” Clearly, a manager openly acknowledging the inclusion of a peer critique that “isn’t true” in an official evaluation is taking a questionable approach to management.
But unless you think you can inspire some major organizational change, asking whether this is good practice may not be the right question. Don’t obsess about useless feedback. Are there ways you can prod your supervisors to give you pointers that would actually pay off? What could you tell them about how they could help you do your job better?
The annual-review ritual is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. (One defense of the practice is that if it did, the result would often be the same system of judgments with even less transparency.) So maybe the better strategy, for workers and managers alike, is to obsess less about feedback structures and focus more on how to deliver genuinely useful and honest criticism within whatever structures exist. “There is no management tool more effective than a trusting relationship,” Culbert says.
Chafing At close quarters
Q: My employer holds an annual off-site week of meetings, training, and evening social gatherings. It’s a “must attend” event. And everyone must share hotel rooms, except for senior management. I don’t have a close “work friend” of my gender, so I would be paired with a random person. I’m a light sleeper, modest, and wary of sharing a room with a stranger. I also need private downtime.
Last year, I paid out of pocket to stay alone in a hotel down the street. (The company offers no “single supplement” or partial reimbursement options.) I’d like to avoid that expenditure this year — but I will not be rooming with anyone. My personal inconvenience, discomfort, and extra expense aside, I think this room-sharing policy is risky for the reputation of my employer, and doesn’t seem worth the savings. — Anonymous
A: Your dilemma is one you can’t solve on your own. Your employer would have to change or tweak an existing policy.
You’re certainly not alone in preferring to bunk alone. But it’s not unheard-of for some organizations (from nonprofits to cost-conscious corporations) to push shared room arrangements. So I’m not sure I see what the reputational risk would be here, unless this is so out of line with standard practice in your particular industry that it turns off current or potential employees.
That said, by exempting senior management, your organization is openly using a double standard. If sharing a room is a reasonable, cost-saving idea, then that applies to everyone. To handle it in a two-tier fashion is to admit that sharing a room is a hardship.
If those execs want to be exempt from doubling up, they could offset the cost by chipping in enough to keep the company’s budget goal on target. (That would still be cheaper for the individual than paying the full cost of another room elsewhere.) And of course if that option existed for senior management, it could exist for everyone else, too.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at email@example.com.