Advance-booked appraisal scores

Allow me to pluck excerpts from two comments from beneath my post on HR robots. The first from MJW:

To get into senior management/exec ranks they need patronage. Ability and tacit understanding is not so crucial as decisions made may destroy the organisation, just not immediately, anything likely to cause immediate damage should be routed to an underling who understands what they are doing. If the senior manager/exec knows what they are doing it’s a brucey bonus, if they don’t it doesn’t matter, the ‘managerialist’ approach treats the business does as a black box administered by generic techniques.

 

Rotating senior managers/execs through posting for ‘for experience’ is mainly done to boost CVs so their patron can elevate them if/when opportunity to put one of their clients in place emerges. It also helps to diffuse accountability and protect both client and patron.

The second from Fay:

Managers were informed by HR that they could no longer rate employees as “outstanding”.

These two comments are actually talking about the same problem. The golden boys and girls who are fast-tracked to senior management need to give something back to their patron that they can wave around as proof their prodigy deserves such rapid promotion. The best thing they can offer besides hours of grovelling to senior management is an “Outstanding” score on their annual appraisal – the highest level. If the prodigy scores Outstanding in successive years, the patron can point to it when haggling for his golden child to take the next plum position, and use it to fend off their detractors. This got to the point where the golden children would be pretty much guaranteed to get an Outstanding score, no doubt due to pressure from the patron on the manager doing the appraisal. Perhaps that’s not even necessary: most managers are fully aware if they have a golden child in their team and get with the programme of not doing anything which might upset their ascendancy. Who knows, they might need to call in a favour sometime in future?

This was working well until someone decided a few years back that too many people were getting Outstanding scores. With brown-nosing so ubiquitous and modern managers wanting the love from their team they can’t get from their wives, pretty much everybody was scoring well on the appraisals (it’s also quite hard to mark someone down if they turn up and merely do the job). Hell, even I got reasonably good appraisals. So they tweaked the system and decided only a certain percentage of people could get an Outstanding score.

What this meant was the patrons in senior management advance-booked these scores for their golden children and issued instructions to the middle management that no mere pleb could score Outstanding, regardless of actual performance. I was in the room when this was announced and I twigged straight away what had happened and started laughing (it’s not like it would affect me). But a lot of people, especially those who probably deserved the highest appraisal grade, were absolutely livid and rightly so. For fun I asked our department manager how any appraisal system worthy of the description can eliminate an outcome before it’s even started, and all I got was a pathetic shrug and bleating that “this is what management have said”.

It seems that with Fay’s anecdote, this wasn’t only happening in my company. What made it worse is the quota system made it necessary for managers to assign bad appraisal scores to people as well. I was a ripe target for that but I could tell my manager had no stomach for the sort of battle he’d have if he tried that on me, so we tacitly agreed I’d get a middle-ranking score. Instead, he hauled in the quietly spoken Asian bloke and spent two hours coming up with one excuse after another as to why his performance had been rubbish that year.

Welcome to modern management, and modern HR.

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20 thoughts on “Advance-booked appraisal scores

  1. One other point on grading to the curve at department level. It penalises managers who get rid of underperformers and hire good people. Might as well keep someone useless on the payroll to ensure they get the ‘poor’. (No one should get a “bad” as they should have been ejected on competence by year end!)

  2. Fitting to the bell curve would work over a large (1000s) group but in many, probably most, organisations it’s taken down to absurdly low levels. It certainly was in the company I worked for. But as you imply, it’s a feature not a bug.

  3. “No one should get a “bad” as they should have been ejected on competence by year end!”

    I kind of agree with this, you shouldn’t wait for an annual performance review to bale up a staff member for poor performance. I do lots of reviews every year and find it to be more of a team building type exercise with the employee their manager and I in attendance, discussing potential improvements on both sides of the fence, as any unacceptable stuff has already been nipped in the bud back when it first became apparent.

    “Have you got on to “9 box” yet?”

    Just looked up my performance score against my agreed stretched targets for the last three years, we report on calendar years, as follows:

    FY 15 – 90%
    FY 16 – 90%
    FY 17 – 85%

    The actual score provides for an annual bonus as a multiplier against 50% of base salary, so if its 90% then that is .9 x .5 = .45 x base, split 50/50 as cash (STI) and performance rights to company shares (LTI) that vest in five years time, which is effective as it keeps me around. Once they vest they are kept in trust by the firm to avoid me paying income tax on them at their current face value. Best to sell them off after retirement when your marginal tax rate is far lower and they are in theory worth a lot more.

    I would like to think that the current year ending (my best to date) should be in the early nineties but I don’t score it, so I will just have to behave myself until they rate me, early next year.

  4. you shouldn’t wait for an annual performance review to bale up a staff member for poor performance.

    Depends on the jurisdiction. I’d not want to fire someone for performance issues in a European country who has a string of satisfactory performance appraisals and no bad ones to his name.

  5. ” I’d not want to fire someone for performance issues in a European country who has a string of satisfactory performance appraisals”

    I understand what you are saying here. I wasn’t necessarily saying that you would be firing them, more like having a deep and meaningful with them.

    This came up recently for me with a Russian staff member down here in Brisbane, cutting a long story short the decision was made that he had to go and that it was best that he went now. This guy had just had a performance appraisal and the reasons for him going only became apparent after it. Very nice bloke, hard worker, I was quite close to him and for the first time ever I asked another director to break the news to him as I thought that he would take it better coming from him rather than me. Plus he was let go, not fired, so he got his basic human rights package on the way out and to his credit he was very professional about it all after the initial shock had passed.

    .

  6. In the software industry we had (maybe still have in a lot of places, I jumped ship from a large corporation to go work for a smaller firm that don’t do this sort of thing) a craze for stack ranking in performance reviews, so X% automatically got the highest score (probably the people you mention), X% got middling scores, and an unlucky few % got the lowest score. Of course this ignores the fact that even your lowest scoring employees might still be better than the pool of staff in the general population willing or able to work at your company, but such details didn’t seem to concern management much. From what I could see though it was excellent at destroying morale.

  7. My very big ex-company had a 1, 2, 3, 4 scoring, with many years where only those with a 1 would a bonus.
    And a limit on the 1s.
    So then there was allowed a 2+, close to one, and some bonus.

    Why they didn’t expand to 5 ranks was stupid.

    Then they switched to multiple ways of judging, along multiple axes, with no single number determining the score … making it easier for managers to down rate those they didn’t like. But still limits on the up side to the goldens.

    Only small companies seem able to stay more meritocratic & results over CYA and brown nosing. (Now I remember a visual cartoon of an executive class of guys in suits, with fake bums in front of them, and all of them with brown dripping off their noses…)

  8. My last big corporate employer had an agreement with unions that it would not use forced distribution to set performance scores, so a hugely bureaucratic assessment matrix was implemented that was supposedly ‘fair’ and not at all ‘forced’. But at the end of this process a (largely political) step was applied behind closed doors which ‘leveled’ all the ‘fair’ appraisals which by some strange coincidence just so happened to result in a normal distribution.

  9. Had the “normal distribution” handed to me when I was a team leader with about a dozen analysts working with me.

    Ignore, completely, that they’re civilians in a military base (so need to be a bit more robust & outgoing than usual just to get through the door). Ignore, also, that their real performance assessment was by the uniformed colleagues we worked with, and by the units we were supporting, whose tolerance for indecision or failure was very low: we weren’t producing worthy, bulky and ignored tomes on what Army 2050 might look like (do we prefer hovertanks or giant stampy mecha-bots?) but telling a ship that had come under a couple of volleys of Katyusha fire last night, how best to avoid the Libyans’ efforts when she went back inshore tonight.

    What really demoralised and depressed, was that there were written criteria of what “outstanding” (top grade) looked like, probably three or four of my team met that effortlessly and I could have argued half of them were covering them off – and yet I could only award that to one of them because ‘guided distribution’. (Okay, I could try to do more, but it would be slapped down at ‘moderation’). So, people knew they were delivering to a high standard, yet not being recognised or rewarded for it, because That’s The Rule. Oh, and we were also required to identify one in ten staff (so, one in my team) as “must improve” which had various negative connotations (including, but not limited to, a higher liability for unwanted redundancy).

    For some of them, professional pride was enough to keep them delivering. For a couple, they kicked back and stopped putting in the extra effort: why bother going above and beyond when there’s no benefit by doing so, and they could knock off at 1630 sharp to be home with their family instead? And a couple shrugged, smiled, and left for other employment, taking their experience and enthusiasm with them.

    I was at least able to kick back harder on the “must improve” – I flatly refused to identify anyone in that category (since none of them met the criteria), and when told “but it’s the rule” I asked to be shown where this “rule” applied at team level, and to be shown evidence of where any of my team met the defined criteria for “must improve” – since anyone having it arbitrarily hung on them was likely to raise a grievance (as it was we had several formal appeals against gradings, which soaked up more management time and hence money than just “paying for what the employee actually deserved” would have cosT).

    What made it peculiarly toxic was that we weren’t meant to admit that there was a “guided distribution” in force and that all assessment was purely on merit. Trying to pull that one over on a group of trained analysts wasn’t ever going to work and, when directly challenged, I refused to lie about it. Apparently higher management considered that doing that, wasn’t the right answer – telling the truth was apparently not a good thing, in an organisation that claimed ‘integrity’ as a core value at the time (wryly, they’ve since dropped that one…) How we were meant to explain “yes, you’ve done everything that’s meant to earn you ‘outstanding’ but your’re only getting ‘good’ this year” was apparently “up to us”.

    Happy-ish ending – I left, went independent, was bought back as a contractor, and ended up quite literally getting twice the money for half the work elsewhere in the organisation. Didn’t fix the underlying problem, though, which is still festering there…

  10. But at the end of this process a (largely political) step was applied behind closed doors which ‘leveled’ all the ‘fair’ appraisals which by some strange coincidence just so happened to result in a normal distribution.

    I seem to remember something similar happening in Nigeria with the unions there. There was definitely some sort of post-appraisal closed-door haggling. The lunacy in Nigeria was that the unions had an agreement whereby if an employee had 3 successive good top-ranked appraisals he was entitled to be promoted, possibly even to manager.

  11. What really demoralised and depressed, was that there were written criteria of what “outstanding” (top grade) looked like, probably three or four of my team met that effortlessly and I could have argued half of them were covering them off – and yet I could only award that to one of them because ‘guided distribution’.

    Won’t this be fun when it’s all automated and the employee will have no choice but to accept whatever the computer’s thrown back at him/her? At least now you can give your manager a hard time, but I’m not sure the robot will be listening once you hit “send”.

  12. Only small companies seem able to stay more meritocratic & results over CYA and brown nosing.

    As I mentioned on the other post, the size of “your” tribe is hardwired into the human brain. More employees than that in a single org unit and you get internal competition.

  13. More employees than that in a single org unit and you get internal competition.

    That’s a good argument for delegating authority and keeping departments small so nobody has more than 10 direct reports. The problem with many large orgs is there is no proper delegation so the upper management have in effect hundreds of reports. I’ve seen micromanagement on a scale you’d not believe.

  14. Presumably if there are a lot of golden children does mean the senior manager has a golden shower?

  15. @Jason

    Here is an extract from your performance assessment for FY11 dealing with your executive competencies:

    Managing Vision and Purpose, Exemplary

    Walking-the-Talk, Exemplary

    Business/Financial Acumen, Exemplary

    Decision Quality, Developing

    Managing Through Systems, Developing

    Perspective, Significant

    Innovation Management, Not Applicable (its the military)

    Political Acumen, Developing

    Dealing with Ambiguity, Unsatisfactory (refer to manual)

    Performance Ratings

    5 Exemplary
    4.5
    4 Significant
    3.5
    3 Valued
    2.5
    2 Developing
    1.5
    1 Unsatisfactory
    0.5
    0 Not Applicable

  16. Jason Lynch

    ” Oh, and we were also required to identify one in ten staff (so, one in my team) as “must improve” which had various negative connotations (including, but not limited to, a higher liability for unwanted redundancy).”

    Amusingly, the Romans had this. Decimation. One in ten as to be executed by the other 9 as a punishment for serious, group, crimes.

  17. @David Moore

    Only in the legions, and only for things like mutiny or cowardice in the face of the enemy. Not as a yearly process pour encourager les autres. 🙂

    I do believe (but cannot quote any source) that the selection process was supposed to be random, but was often rigged so as to get rid of ringleaders (in the case of mutiny).

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