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In analysis

March 14, 2012

One of the things that I was most nervous about when I took the job at the Toy Factory was the fact that I was going to be managing others. Except for a couple of stints as an intern in college, I’ve always worked for very small operations without much hierarchy. But, in fact, I’ve found that I really like working with a team of people and galvanizing them towards a particular project or goal. And it’s not that I haven’t done it before — that kind of work is a major part of a music director’s job. But I just never thought of it that way before. I was very lucky in that I walked into an enviable staff. I couldn’t ask for a smarter, more hard-working staff or one that’s more fun to work with. They’re the kind of people who, when they see I’m totally swamped, just step in and do things that need to be done to help me clear my desk, without my even having to ask, the kind that regularly goes above and beyond what they were asked to do. This has made my job of learning to delegate much easier. They let me know what they can do and I know what to hand them the next time.

Yesterday, we received notice that we’re entering the performance review part of the year. Over the next month, all employees will be formally reviewed by their managers. This is a completely typical process for larger corporations and even some smaller ones. But it’s one that’s completely foreign to my experience on either the giving or the receiving end. The tiny places I’ve worked for have never done that sort of thing, either because they were small or because the leadership was so transient. If I wanted feedback on how I was doing, I had to ask for it.

At the Toy Factory, for being reviewed, the HR department has given us a packet of questions to help us self-evaluate. I cringed when I saw it, thinking it was going to be like that time one of my elementary school teachers asked us to grade our own papers and I was the only one in the class who didn’t give herself an A (I still don’t think I deserved one, but my teacher disagreed). I know I’m not alone in my tendency to focus on the things that I don’t do well. Mostly I think it’s a good trait, because it means I’m constantly striving to improve. But it’s not the best quality when you’re applying for a college or a job. I’m not sure about here, though. The performance evaluation lies somewhere between frank self-assessment and a sales pitch for your good work. In any case, I’m very good at raking myself over the coals. I do it regularly. I’m just nervous about sharing it.

But the packet is very reassuring. The questions seem designed to build self esteem rather than push us toward self-flagellation. One page is about identifying our talents and strengths based on things in our jobs we feel have gone well. Rather than ask us about things we feel we’re not good at, they ask us about things we want to do and what skills we think we need to get there, like if we give them a list, they’ll hold our hand up the managerial ladder. Which I’m pretty sure does not actually happen. Best of all, it has nice friendly letters that say that these worksheets are to help us prepare for our meetings and we are under no obligation to share them with our bosses.

But as nervous as I am about being on the receiving end of this process, I’m even more nervous to be doling it out. I’m fine telling people what they’re doing well, but it’s harder to tell people what they need to work on, especially when those people are incredibly competent at their jobs, much more so than I feel, still after nearly 8 months, like I am at mine. I’m trying to think of it as the opportunity to help them get where they need to go, to talk about skills and projects that can help them not just do their jobs well but to build a career. I think that would be useful, don’t you? But I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about. Clearly I have some work to do.

What about you? Do any of you have any wisdom for me gleaned from your own your own experience with performance reviews?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2012 8:14 am

    We do them every year but not a self-assessment so much. It’s more asking the question what do you hope to accomplish next year? But, it’s all basically b.s. because nothing much ever changes. Esp if it’s an issue tied to budget money that doesn’t exist. No one likes them and we kind of do them as fast as possible – like ripping off a bandaid – to get to the other side. I’ve rarely had a boss who took them seriously and put much thought into it.

    Basically, the feeling is, if there’s a problem with your work you’d already be aware of it. There shouldn’t be any surprises at review time. Don’t stress over it and don’t let it take too much time to write up. Mainly they exist (from my experience and I’ve NEVER worked in a place where people bend over backwards to help someone else) to curtail bad habits and give reasons for raises (if such a thing is possible that year). And possibly to discuss next year’s goals but that also happens during other meetings and at other times. Good luck!

  2. March 14, 2012 8:23 am

    I’m 100% with that second paragraph. A review might be a chance to put succinctly what you and they already know, but it shouldn’t contain any surprises, at least not bad ones. At my last review knew that my boss was pleased with my work, but wanted it to go more quickly before we even started talking. He threw in some unexpected compliments (“no one gets along with that woman upstairs, so how come she loves you?”) so we ended on a good note. Even without the raise or the corporate jet…

  3. March 14, 2012 8:41 am

    This is my field of work :-)

    I’m sure your packet mentions this for reviewing your direct reports but it’s a really good idea to ask them where they want to go in their careers. Those who do want to move up will need different coaching and counseling than those who want to stay exactly where they are. Both paths are worthwhile and the key is finding out who wants what.

    And of course that applies to you, too. Where do you want to be in five years? Craft your own performance plan so that it moves you toward your goal, whatever the goal may be.

  4. March 14, 2012 9:17 am

    I’ve had to do this every year for the past 19 years, and felt that no one ever read it, even though sometimes the administrator called me in to talk about it and focused on the “goals” part. What I wish I had had, for those 19 years, was someone who could have read enough to tell me what I was doing well. As you say, a lot of us are good at raking ourselves over the coals, but it’s good to have a reality check on what other people think we’re doing well.

  5. March 14, 2012 9:33 am

    Excellent advice, all. In general, I get a lot of feedback, just because the nature of the work is very collaborative. I do need to think about where I’m headed. I’m still recovering from the fact that this is not where I expected to be. I haven’t really had time to think about what next yet. Probably a good exercise.

  6. March 14, 2012 1:34 pm

    My first such review will be tomorrow. I have a packet to complete, rating myself 1-5 on a variety of skills and topics. I’m unreasonably nervous.

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