Why facts matter for your performance review — and why they do not

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 03

Performance reviews should be based on facts — your business results should drive the performance review. Usually they do  — and those facts can support you in your work.

But sometimes, no matter the facts, your business results simply won’t make a difference. When that happens, it is important to understand what is happening to your job.

Facts matter before the review is written so your manager can justify your performance

You understand that your performance review rating is determined long before your performance review is written, right? Right? Usually, you write the performance review, the manager takes it into consideration, and then writes the official review.

But what you write — if it is done with facts and business results — often has an outsized impact on your performance review. There are two reasons for this:

  • Your coworkers write sucky self-reviews and come across as worthless employees while you don’t
  • Your facts gives the manager empirical ways to defend your work and give you the rating you deserve while other managers don’t have facts to work with to defend their employees

I once had a manager come back to me on a review I did for an employee and said she’d never received an “exceeds” review that I had given her and I knocked out four facts about her performance for that half of the year to justify my case. My manager said it made sense and go with it. Yes, she did extra work to get the facts into the self-review. But it was worth about $1000 to her off that review. And it only took me 30-seconds to justify the performance.

So what you write about your work in a self-review provides facts for the manager to defend your realm.

Facts matter if you get into an ugly review situation with HR involvement

Let’s be clear here: you don’t want to be in an ugly review situation with HR involvement. Honestly, you’ll lose because HR always defends management. And, if they don’t, you’re marked. You can’t win in the long run to a bad review and HR turning that over so you “win.” It just won’t happen.

But, by using the facts of your work — your business results in relation to your goals — you can buy some time. Time to look for another job. Time to get out of the toxic environment that you are not only in right now, but will have going forward with your manager for as long as you are in the company. Your manager can kill your career and their is not much you can do about it.

But the facts can buy you some time to get out.

Facts don’t matter if your manager decides to put you into a specific category — or are forced to put you there

If your manager decides that he or she just doesn’t like you, your style or your work, or whatever, your facts won’t mean a thing. There will be a response that basically pushes back on your results that will negate them. Whether the reasoning negates your facts or not, it really doesn’t matter. If your manager wants to rate you poorly, regardless of your results, that will happen.

That’s why your manager can kill your career.

Or, even if you have a great manager, your manager can be put into the position of requiring a level of rating in the performance review that doesn’t match your performance.

For example, I was told I needed to rate one of my employees as below satisfactory — even though he was the most improved employee I had for that time frame. I didn’t get a choice; the lowest ranked people in the department had to get rated below successful — including getting a performance plan, no raise, no bonus and a total surprise when the performance rating came.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was laid off — including two-thirds of my department — before I had to deliver that performance review. But, it was presented to me as if I had no choice.

But, net, your manager — through directives or through not liking you and/or your work — will rate you whatever they need to rate you to match their perception, facts be damned.

It is an important dimension to consider when you get your performance review — did the facts come across? Was the review fair — even though you might not agreed with 100% of it? Or did stuff fit into a narrative that the manager has about your work?

If it’s the latter, time to look seriously at how long you can stay in that particular job with that particular manager.

  • Pros says:

    In a major city it seems to have less of an effect, plus HR departments are getting more conservative about what can be said in a reference and manager’s are instructed not to give references about former employees, even good ones. I couldn’t give a reference for an excellent laid off programmer once because this rule.

    But as a last resort I’ve known people who had to go the legal route when something similar happened as the person you described.

    Maybe a blog post on references and how to get yours to say the right things is an idea!!

  • Pros says:

    Realistic take on the flawed evaluation processes. There is a book out called “Get Rid of Performance Reviews” by Sam Colbert a popular Management Guru who highlights the flaws you indicate.

    I’ve been in a situation where I was able to neutralize a bad review with facts and evidence. It gave me enough time to get put with a different manager at the same company. HR said they would look into it (Not likely).

    Do you think a manager can really kill your career? I mean they can hurt you at your current company, but if they are trying to hurt you, you can fire them by finding a different jobs with employment security.

    Once you leave they can’t affect your career anymore for the most part.

    • Yes, I think a manager can really kill your career. It depends somewhat on the size of the city and which field you are in. In my case, since I consult in IT, there are only about 200 IT professionals in a metro area about 250,000 in size. So the managers of the different companies talk to each other quite often and they all know each other. There is an example of one person here who literally could not get a job, despite fantastic work, because her style wasn’t liked by her manager. She finally, successfully, started her own company just to get out of that sphere of influence.

      Would the same thing happen in Chicago? Probably not. But in a lot of places, yes, a manager can really kill your career.

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