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Have you ever been on the receiving end of an annual review where there were lots of "surprises" and subjective comments about your past year's performance? (Have you ever given this type of review?) If you have, then you know what a confusing, frustrating, painful experience this can be. Rather than being constructive, as reviews should be, they are destructive and can lead to irreparable damage. Feedback should be continuous and immediate, not "saved up" for up to a year after something has happened. Poor management is the only reason for ever having any real surprises in a review, and subjective evaluations are unprofessional, non-constructive and detrimental to both individuals and organizations.
A very sharp, hard-working, successful Internet director I work with recently related an experience she had with this type of review earlier in her career. She came into her annual review meeting sure that she'd done a great job and that she would be rewarded. She had successfully accomplished everything that she and her director had discussed, often at the sacrifice of her personal and family life. But she didn't mind, because she had been assured when she was hired that this was a dealership where hard work and loyalty were rewarded and she wanted to build a career in this type of environment.
Her manager began by thanking her for her time and saying, "We still think you have potential here, but your performance last year was less than we had hoped for." She said she could immediately feel her face turning bright red, her ears burning and a giant knot forming in her stomach. And, most importantly, she was totally confused.
There had been almost nothing but praise from her director about her performance over the past year and she had accomplished all the "goals" they had discussed (verbally, not in writing). He went on to say that she had "dragged her feet" sometimes and that she need to "better understand our customers," with no specific examples or future actions to take for improvement. When she mentioned her accomplishments and the subjectivity of his comments, he told her that the review was supposed to be "subjective." After that, she didn't really hear what else he said. She said it was all she could do at that point to keep from walking out on the spot. By then end, she was already thinking about her next job-- at another dealership.
After the review, she didn't do or say anything rash, and she stuck it out and gave proper notice when she left for her next job, less than two months later. But the experience made a lasting impression on her, both as an employee and a manager.
All humanity and kindness aside, this type of employee review is damaging to the dealership (or any other organization) because it means that you are not accurately measuring what an employee is contributing to the organization. They may be your top performer, or dead weight, but you won't know it because you're basing everything on your gut, one or two specific incidents, hear-say, whether you personally like them or not, etc. It is simply impossible to measure an employee's value to the dealership without tying their performance to pre-established agreed upon measures. And, the measures don't necessarily all have to be quantitative. Pre-established agreed upon qualitative standards can be just as useful. But, they can't be, "I don't like the looks of the newspaper ads you've been running." or "I think you could try harder." or "I don't think you're committed." Who does this help, your ego?
Has this ever happened to you? Do have experiences in turning around this type of management? We would love to see your comments.