A Performance Appraisal Horror Story (With A Happy Ending)

by Jerry Bumgarner on April 12, 2011

in Performance Management,SalaryTrends

time to bury myself under a rock

I got my first performance appraisal about seven years into my HR career. While I was excited about it, I also had reservations because I had heard about how supervisors hated to give appraisals (second only to firing someone). I soon discovered that I didn’t like being on the receiving end of an appraisal either. In fact, it turned out to be such a horrible experience I never wanted to receive another one. It was a complete surprise. I got a big “thumbs down,” a “no confidence” vote. I was suddenly a failure after years of success in sports, in the classroom, and on the job. It upset me so much I considered leaving the company so I wouldn’t have to work for that supervisor.

I’ll stop here to provide a little background about why I felt so violated by my supervisor. It began on my first day with the company. When I arrived at the Employment office, I was introduced to another person who was also starting that day…my new supervisor. The person that hired me as a Compensation Specialist had left the organization and I was meeting his replacement. No big deal, I thought. It didn’t matter to me who I worked for.

I began doing the job for which I was hired and, being a “good employee,” I gladly accepted “other” duties and responsibilities whenever they were assigned by my new supervisor. While my background was in compensation, many of my assignments involved our group insurance plans, labor negotiations, employee relocations, employee discipline, etc. Since I still performed many compensation related duties, I viewed these assignments as being great for my professional development even though they were not part of my job…I thought.

During the first six months with the company, my supervisor and I spent considerable time together. In addition to project work, we often went to lunch to discuss projects and worked many late hours to complete pressing assignments. We were a great team. I loved my job. I felt like everything was going well. At least he never gave me any feedback to indicate otherwise. As far as I knew, nothing was wrong with my performance. Everything was going just fine…that is, until my first performance appraisal. I went to the appraisal expecting to hear I was doing great. Instead, I was totally surprised by the negative feedback he gave me, and even more surprised to discover that his view of the job was very different from mine. I couldn’t believe he waited six months to tell me.

While my appraisal “horror” story and HR career could have ended on a sour note, thanks to our very astute Human Resources Director, my story actually continued with a positive conclusion. The HR Director, realizing I felt I had been treated unfairly, met with me and my supervisor to lay out a plan. His plan included several compensation related goals that were to be completed during the next six months. Each of these goals contained very specific expectations regarding what was to be achieved and how. I accepted them as a challenge and, after agreeing to seek frequent input and meet regularly with my supervisor to review my progress, I set out to prove what I knew I was capable of.

With clear targets at which to shoot, I knew what to pay attention to and ended up accomplishing much more than I would have otherwise. I was so on fire and committed to exceeding my supervisor’s expectations. I did whatever it took, including working many extra hours. I also discovered I didn’t have to go at it alone. My supervisor, the one I didn’t want to continue working for, turned out to be an excellent professional mentor once he started being truthful with me. As a result of the feedback he gave during the six months trial period, I learned a lot and remained focused on my goals.

When the time arrived for my second appraisal, I knew exactly what to expect. No surprises this time. Because of the goals I received and the feedback I got along the way, I knew going in that I had exceeded my supervisor’s expectations. It was truly a “win/win/win” for the Company, my supervisor and for me. To top it off, three months after this review I was promoted to be the Compensation Manager for the company. So, what started very badly for me ended as a positive career experience. When I reflected back over the 35 years since this experience, I realized that the biggest wins for me were that I became a more engaged employee and learned how to do appraisals right. Today, I consult with Cascade’s members and train managers and supervisors on how to align employee performance with their organization missions and goals.

While many organizations have employee performance appraisal systems similar to the one in my story, very few include processes that measure employee performance versus goals. The result…many supervisors still say they don’t like giving appraisals and many employees still hate to receive them. With specific goals, appraisals are easier for supervisors to give. The premise here is simple. Employees are more likely to hit performance targets and contribute to the organization’s success, if they know in advance what the target looks like. While it takes time to do it right, there are many pay-offs. In addition to supporting the supervisor/employee relationship, employees will be more focused and engaged, customers will be happier, and the organization can expect better results.

Jerry Bumgarner

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