Dear Performance Pundits…Regards Your Employees

Career Blog

Writing correspondenceSo this is a bit of a Jerry Maguire note (and we all know what happened to that guy). But at the risk of getting sent to the proverbial woodshed by my HR peers, I wanted to provide a point of view that might reflect what has gone unsaid or unheard by employees at various organizations who are: (a) no-longer with their companies (b) insanely frustrated, or (c) a bad day away from bolting. I’ve tried to write from their collective perspective… understanding of course, in the words of Richard Bach, “Everything to follow may be wrong.”  


Dear HR,

We appreciate all the thought and passion you put into the performance management debate. If nothing else, you folks sure are excitable.

The thing is we don’t care about the rating scale, what it’s called, or whether it’s numbered. Process is important, but we’re not going to lose any sleep over the number of boxes on our year-end form or whether it’s delivered via a fancy system, email, or the pony express. As for competencies, we never understood them. We can’t see how five words (or even 105) can define what we need or where we’re going in our individual careers.

Here’s what we do care about:

  1. Performance: We have no idea what high performance looks like for our roles or why we receive the ratings we do. We have no point of comparison for excellence so we assume it’s just manager preference. All we know is each year, thanks to some “stacked ranking” or forced distribution scheme, some of our colleagues are deemed low performers and removed so we try to stay out of that group.
  2. Rewards: Even if we did know what high performance looked like, we don’t have a good sense as to what we’ll get in exchange for that level of effort. Seriously, is the rabbit worth the hunt?
  3. Promotions: We know even less about how this is done. Each year we see people get promoted. At times we agree. In other cases we shake our heads. Without information we assume these decisions are based on time in role, politics, or both. What gives?
  4. Career Paths: We’ve heard some experts say they’re making the invisible…visible by creating all sorts of ladders and lattices, but that’s not quite right. All they’ve done is make the obvious… ah, obvious(er). We know what our hypothetical options are. What we don’t know….what we have absolutely no clue about, is how to get there.

Perhaps we’re responsible for our lack of understanding. Maybe it’s on us to push the issue and learn more about the topics above. We can accept that. But here are a couple of things that make us really mad.

  1. Development: We feel like you HR passed the buck on this one. You’ve taken a decades-old study, misinterpreted the results, and used it to justify a 70-20-10 philosophy that simply doesn’t work. It lowers development cost to be sure, but it kicks responsibility to us and our managers who, in many cases, are ill equipped for the job. We stopped doing our “mandatory” formal development plans when it became clear that no one was reading them.
  2. Talent Reviews: How in the world can people who haven’t talked to us about our interests have the audacity to rate our level of aspiration, engagement, or place in some box-based, potential-oriented geometrical monstrosity? Skills we get. We can debate skills all day, but the others? Ludacris! But who knows? Maybe you’re spot on with your assessment. We’ll never know, because we don’t see the output of those conversations and have no idea where we stand.

We realize this may seem like a laundry list of complaints, but trust us we’re not dumping on HR. Again, we appreciate the passion. Our problem is singular. It’s silence. We hear next to nothing from our managers on these topics.

You know who talks to us? External recruiters. We get salary comparisons, actionable career options, and insights as to what it takes to succeed.

We’re not stupid. We realize what they offer may be a mixture of truth and exaggeration. But they talk, so we listen. Want to fix something, HR? Compel managers to actually talk to their employees. We’re adults. We can handle it.


Employees (AKA – Your Most Valuable Resource)


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