Recently, I caught up with a friend of mine from my school days here in the US.  I hadn’t spoken with him in a while.  He used to live in Colorado.  I was surprised to hear that he had recently moved to New York.  After the perfunctory reminiscence of our wonderful school experiences, he divulged that the true reason for his move was because he was tired of being repeatedly ignored for promotions at his company and sick of seeing less deserved individuals leapfrog over him up that coveted corporate ladder.  After a lengthy conversation with him, it occurred to me that his experiences were not all that different from those of many in the corporate world.  Beyond the normal differences between an individual’s self evaluation, expectation and even entitlement versus the perspective of his or her boss, that climb up that corporate ladder is always easier for those that have a talent at weaseling their way up by sucking up to their bosses.  What of those performance reviews you ask, well, here’s the anatomy of a typical performance review meeting.

Very important stuff..

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His yearly review was up this month.  He had to submit his self-review to his boss by the end of the month, or say goodbye to a potential merit raise – company policy.  Earlier in his career, writing self-reviews used to make him uncomfortable.  Would it be too brazen of him to give himself highest ratings?  Is he being naive by trying to be modest with his self ratings?  What would be a good self-evaluation on say, “Shows bias or preference in interactions with co-workers”?  Is average good enough?  Among Poor, Below Average, Average, Good, Excellent, if you rate yourself as Good, does that mean that you are still being somewhat biased?  Would anyone ever rate themselves Poor in any category?  These were just a few questions that used to nag his conscience every six months when his review was up as he poured over it profoundly.  After all, this was important shit, lot of important people brainstormed for months to come up with an important form that was going to quantify his worth and let his company know how important he was.  A good evaluation, he was told, provided him a firm footing on the next step of that corporate ladder.

But that was 12 years ago.  Year after year of answering these bullshit questions and listening to the same trite responses from his managers jaded his perspective enough to the point where he could shamelessly declare himself the second coming of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Mother Theresa rolled into one.  Every goal and objective was met with a rating of “Excellent”, with just a couple of strategically placed mere “Good”s in between to render a certain level of modesty to the self review.  The comments and notes were copied from the previous year’s review and reformatted to look different, not that he suspected anybody would bother looking up last year’s review.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he copied the old review as it is and just changed the dates.  Nobody ever read it.  Even if they did, they didn’t care enough to consider his views.

The boss called him in to discuss his review.

“You are doing a great job!  I do appreciate all the hard work you are putting into this.”

“Thanks boss!”

“Your technical abilities are outstanding, you are a consummate team player, and you have gone out of the way to meet the scheduled deadlines.”

“Thanks boss!”

“I know you have expressed an interest in becoming a Manager before.  I added a few comments in the review for you as “growth opportunities” to take that next step.  Focus on improving your leadership skills and organizational skills this year.”

Growth opportunities?  For him to take the next step?  what the @#$%?  He thought he took the next step 3 years ago.  He was given the same shit review last year and the year before.  He wasn’t going to just whimper softly like a little puppy and walk away from this with his tail behind his back this time.  He worked his ass off for this company, he deserves a promotion, he is ready for a promotion and he was going to fight for a promotion.

“Boss, you said the same thing last year,” he said calmly.

Performance Review Blues

“I realize that man, but don’t look at this as a poor review.  This is an excellent review.  I understand you never got the opportunity to demonstrate your managerial skills for the promotion you are seeking, but I’ll be honest with you, you have to be more proactive in creating those opportunities for yourself.”

What?  Is he hearing this right?  What was he expected to do?  Should he have walked into one of his team meetings, looked at his peers and said “Listen you bitches! Right here, right now, I just decided to create myself an opportunity to become your boss.  Here’s the crap I am spending 12 hours a day on, primarily to cover your worthless asses and meet the deadlines.  Figure the shit out for yourself and report to me how you are progressing from here on.  Oh.. don’t hesitate to approach me if you have any issues.  Keep up the good work!”?

“But boss, I am spending 12 hours a day trying to meet our deadlines.  How am I supposed to prove my managerial skills without getting a chance?”

“I appreciate your hard work man, I really do.  I understand we have a couple of people on the project whose technical abilities are not as good as yours, and you are going out of your way to overcome the team deficiencies. I think that is your biggest strength.  I honestly do!  The fact of the matter is, for the position you are seeking, you need to demonstrate more of leadership skills, and it requires someone who can delegate work instead of taking it upon themselves to finish it.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  You have to work on those aspects a bit more and what I am trying to do is set some parameters to give you an opportunity to grow into that role”

What the @#$%?  Setting parameters to give him an opportunity to grow into that role? So, in other words…. he is getting screwed because he was covering somebody else’s ass, and most likely one of those incompetent buffoons is going to be promoted over him because this buffoon here thinks they have “leadership skills” even if they needed a calculator to find out what 2 and 2 added up to.  What a joke!  He has been getting the same review every year.  It has been 3 years since he was convinced he deserved a promotion, and the reason he is being discarded is because he was not selfish enough to ask those idiots to fuck off when they needed help and naïve enough to take ownership of team activities to work through the weekends to meet team commitments.  Was that not a demonstration of leadership skill worthy enough for a promotion? Does management have a clue about what it takes to build something?  He is being given the same old growth opportunities and being given the same rave reviews for the past three years now, which all meant diddly poo when it comes to his bottom line!

“Let me get this right.  I am being penalized because I was being a team player?”  He asked one last question.

..where absurdity is a required skill for the boss

“Buddy, your technical skills are outstanding, but unfortunately we don’t have two separate paths for technologists and managers.  I think your personality fits that of a Technologist if we had that role.  Besides, you have to realize this is a two-way street.  You are entitled to your opinion about what you deserve, but the company has to feel like they are getting the value they expect for the compensation for that role.  It is a two-way street my friend.  You know this; I don’t have to tell you this.” He said with a slimy smile.

So, now it was his personality trait!?  So what does that bullshit “growth opportunity” he was alluding to just a minute ago mean?  Was that just made-up mumbo jumbo to appease him while not rewarding him appropriately?  He has been getting a regular dose of this two-way street jargon for years now only to find himself run over by a semi truck filled with horse-shit driving down the opposite way on his lane.  He looked at his boss, a master of hypocrisy and clichéd bullshitting, skills that he knew he didn’t have and skills that seemed to be primary prerequisites for a role like that.  He realized he was really unqualified for it, and in an ironic turn-around, his boss was able to make him recognize that truth.

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