The Performance Review

At some point during the year, many large organizations like to engage in a paper-pushing activity designed to encourage productive people to play down their accomplishments and less-productive people to exaggerate their contributions. This task goes by a number of names around the world but, regardless of the spin placed on it by HR, it's really just a performance review, sometimes with consequences. Managers with my employer spend January and July of every year running around to meet with all of their people, see what's been done, what's left to do, and what support might be offered. January discussions often include talk about promotions or raises for people who have contributed a lot. While I tend to work from home most of the time, the corporate chat rooms are abuzz with people wondering if they'll be asked to move up a rung on the corporate ladder. More often than not, I wish them success in the manner befitting a Klingon.

While I can understand why larger companies will go through the effort of creating years-long paper trails outlining what it is a person has done in exchange for a regular paycheque and a place to go everyday, I seldom know what to write down on my own report1. What exactly is it that I do in a given year? Sure, I create, transform, and destroy for a living, but this is hardly the sort of explanation that fits on a dry Excel sheet that tries to quantify whether I'm worthy of a reward. This has been my problem every year since the first time I was subject to the process. What exactly have I accomplished?

Looking back over 2018 and the first month of 2019, I can point to a number of successful projects and positive contributions that would look nice on a piece of paper. None of these were done in isolation, though. Even the tasks that relied heavily on my ability to type words into a computer and turn data into information required coordinated efforts with a minimum of three people on two continents. At best, all I can tell my various bosses is that "I work well with others", and isn't this really the best an organisation can ask for?

A salesperson can point to a hard number that is translated directly into revenue for the company. A person working on a telephone can point to how many calls they received and how quickly they answered. None of my superiors care how many characters I typed into a computer, or how many terabytes of data I processed, or how many applications I developed/enhanced/replaced. What they genuinely care about is "does Jason need his hand held to get things done?". The answer is "don't touch my hand … please."

As I look at this Excel sheet and the myriad of things the management would like me to fill out, I wonder if my time wouldn't be better spent scrubbing toilets, fixing poor SQL queries, or going along with sales people to explain just how we're going to measure a person's ability on the various tests they'll take while studying. I earn enough money already and am not at all interested in moving up the corporate ladder at the day job just yet. What I seek is simple: a list of tasks to complete. What the company seeks is also simple: a person who can complete a list of tasks without too much supervision. Quantifying my utility within the organisation shouldn't be necessary unless the company is looking for a reason to let me go.

All this aside, the performance review will be filled out. It will be boring. It will state in very clear terms that everything I did required a team. The better the team, the better the results. The sooner this is done and over with, the sooner I can get back to the never-ending list of tasks.

  1. Not sure how normal it is for a person to self-report, then negotiate with one of their supervisors to see whether the point-form items should stay, go, or be enhanced a bit.