Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My Company's Damned Annual Review Process

WARNING: The following diatribe may cause serious damage to the frontal cortex, morale, and general will to live for corporate employees. Do not continue if you have a history of heart conditions, strokes, hypertension, depression, irritable bowel, peptic ulcers, distemper, athlete's foot, or hangnails. If during the reading of this post you experience heart fluctuations, spastic jerking of facial muscles, a feeling of anger and/or suicidal thoughts, aneurisms, or erectile dysfunction, stop reading immediately and seek medical help. Rare but potential long-term conditions may include Tourette's Syndrome and mild dementia.

I'm smack in the middle of my company's f*cking annual review period. By "annual review period" I mean that SIX MONTH period of time when all of the big talking heads in the company decide the fate of my career over the next year, during which I have absolutely no voice other than what my immediate boss has to say about me. Hopefully I've impressed enough people with my amazing powers of innovation, or kissed enough ass, that they have a favorable impression of me and will recommend me for promotion. Unfortunately, I'm not into kissing buttocks and stroking egos, so that leaves me only the "amazing powers of innovation" part.

That's right. Six months. The process began in November with me filling out a five-page online form where I have to describe how great I am, how I've met my goals from last year, little essays about my strengths and weaknesses, and rating my own performance. The process will end in April when my supervisor hands me a page of paper that says whether or not I receive a promotion and/or pay raise (gollum!).

Why does it take so long? Good question. But then it's as inefficient as a lot of the decision-making going on here.

In the months in-between, that form that I filled out was passed to my supervisor, who added his own comments, changed the ratings as he saw fit, and decided for himself if I met the goals. Of course the goals are meaningless, since they were written down over a year ago and the company and its programs have taken a 180-degree turn since then, as they do every 6-12 months. And my current supervisor isn't the one I had then. But that didn't stop us from writing new goals and pretending we wrote them together last year.

Unfortunately that long form that we worked on and the goals that I wrote down and debated about with my supervisor are meaningless for the decision to promote me; only I and my supervisor are likely to ever read it. So why spend days on it at all, I ask? Every year it's the same circle jerk. Basically it serves no other purpose than to be a mechanism for us to sit down and for him to toss me comments both good and "constructive," but if he and I have a good, working relationship, like we are supposed to, why bother? There's nothing he said in that meeting that he and I haven't already said before. But bosses have to be "constructive" about something in such meetings, and since I am a good employee, I got critiqued not on results or projects, but about how some third party thought I meant one thing when I really meant another, how I could have worded an email to be more politically-correct, and how I could work on smiling more. Meanwhile the hour I spent listening to this could have been spent doing the experiments that I have to do. Now I'll have to work late. I'll try to remember to smile more as I come in late tonight to finish my work.

In the coming month I am supposed to meet with my supervisor again to decide my goals for the next year. These goals are supposed to be in line with the corporate goals which were handed down to us in spreadsheet form last Friday, along with an hour-long pep talk. The goal spreadsheet is eight pages long. Reading through the corporate goals is an interested exercise in interpreting "corporate speak," populated with curious acronyms and abbreviations, inspirational catch phrases, and business numbers in hundreds of millions of dollars by quarter. Nice. You can tell it was written by folks at the very top who have little understanding of what rational goals mean for lab rats working at the benches. To the upper management: Just tell me what f*cking projects you want me to do and I'll make the company another million dollars. Other than that, don't bother me.

Now, let me say that both my supervisor and his boss, the R&D director, are good, sincere people. I honestly believe they are trying to help both me and my company succeed. But what we are working with here is an annual review process which is as efficient as paddle-boating in a hurricane, and just as meaningless. It needs to change in a big way. And only the big talking heads are in a position to change anything. I suggested to my boss that he please pass on to his bosses some suggestions from me, and I told him he could feel free to mention my name and that I'd be happy to talk with anyone about it. (Yes, I know what you're thinking. Why the hell can't I just fly under the radar like everyone else and bear the pain!).

What were my suggestions for him to pass on? 1) Let's pare down the process to, say, three months, 2) Let's either lose the meaningless form or have it actually count for something, and 3) Let's devise goals that actually mean something and are flexible enough to account for the constant rate of change at my company. Maybe instead of formulating them for a year, we can review them every six months.

My boss just smiled. Somehow I don't think my suggestions are going anywhere.

To my tens of readers: I'm almost afraid to ask, but I have a strange sado-masochistic twinge: What is your company's annual review process like? Is my evil global biotech company alone in this dysfunction, or is this drooling behemoth the industry standard?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I read your post. Spookily similar to my experience. Actually that is not true. I must be one of those people who try to fly under the radar. I smile nod and move on. In fact I once, a few years ago, had my supervisor walk into my final review meeting – chit chat with me for a few minutes, and then hand me my review and said “if you have any questions just come and find me.” What I read in that review was 7 pages describing how I had alienated my coworkers, was insubordinate, and should probably leave R&D. The weird thing was that my actual merit score was an L7 (roughly equivalent to an ‘A minus’ in school) and I got a raise and a bonus. Of course at the time of the review we were undergoing another game of “managerial round-robin” so he was no longer going to be my supervisor. Since I had never received a review like that before, and I was being given a huge project from my new boss I decided to just leave it alone. I guess in this case it is a good thing that reviews are not connected to my real job. Or, maybe, I really am just a big jerk like he described.

Ted

By the way – I read this and thought of you. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199907/dog-genetics

Maggie said...

Sounds exactly like the review process my husband goes through. I went through a review process this asinine myself when I worked for software companies. And it really never did mean anything. At. All. Gives you headaches wondering why those top heads are paid so much - to be inefficient? To make 8 page spreadsheets that are meaningless and trite? I guess.

Now my current review process is me looking at me in the mirror and going: what needs change here?

DSB said...

I have two different jobs with radically different review processes. At my main 40hour/week day job there is no review process. I get small raises from time-to-time, which means I must be doing OK. It would be helpful if there was a bit more review than this, though, as I found out through a temper tantrum thrown by my former manager that he thought my hours were too sporadic. Wouldn't it have been easier to just tell me in a calm, rational way that I needed to maintain a more regular schedule than bawl me out in front of the entire office? (Maybe he was going for the ultimate humiliation factor on purpose?) Luckily that manager retired last year, so I don't have to deal with his temper. But the new manager is less communicative, which makes me wonder whether or not I'm doing OK?

My other job is teaching a community college English class one night a week. I really detest the review process there as it involves primarily the quarterly responses of students. This process has almost no meaning to me as the results seem so random. For one thing, it's a miracle to get above 70% of a student sample (due to absences of students when review is done or students just not wanting to participate). I don't think that an accurate representation of my performance as a teacher can be gauged with this kind of sample return rate. In general, I find schools to be sort of crazy about all sorts of reviews. But as a teacher I get tired of having to assign grades to essays all the time. I can understand the need for students to be evaluated and for teachers to be evaluated, too, in order to ensure we're doing what we're supposed to do, I just get sick of it every once in a while. I daydream of teaching at a school like Evergreen College in Washington that doesn't use grades. (Although my step-sister went there briefly and hated it because she never knew where she stood, exactly.)

CC: INAP! said...

good luck! this makes me think twice before wanting to work in industry after graduate school.

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