Q. I recently received a very upsetting performance review. My supervisor prefaced this evaluation by saying, “Don’t be alarmed by the numbers. These reviews are just to show that people are doing their jobs, so I never give anyone high ratings.” She then handed me a form showing that, on our 1-4 rating scale, I had received all twos.
As an employee, I have always tried to go above and beyond what was expected. All my previous appraisals have been good, and even though it sounds conceited, I would have given myself a high rating on this one. Having such a bad review on my record could make future transfers or promotions difficult. What should I do about this?
A. Something fishy is going on here. I don’t know why you received a poor evaluation, but I do know that your manager isn’t telling you everything. The fact that she “never gives high ratings” doesn’t explain a review that is consistently below average. You received these scores for a reason, so someone owes you an explanation.
If your boss tends to avoid tough discussions, she may have been harboring concerns about your performance for quite awhile. Wimpy managers often give no sign that anything is wrong, then shock employees with negative comments at review time. Changes in upper management might also have led to an unspoken shift in expectations.
Another possibility is that your organization has modified the appraisal guidelines. Sometimes, for example, management becomes concerned about “ratings inflation” and directs supervisors to use fewer high scores. Of course, this would still not explain why all your numbers were so low.
Since the appraisal process is typically overseen by human resources, see if your HR manager can either offer an explanation or investigate possible inequities. But whatever you do, don’t ignore this warning sign. Unless you resolve whatever issues led to these disappointing ratings, your next review is liable to look just like this one.
Q. Earlier this year, I took some complaints about my supervisor to upper management. Now my coworkers and I have been asked to attend a meeting with our supervisor, his boss and the department director. We are apparently being given an opportunity to openly criticize him in the presence of his superiors. This feels like a bad idea to me. What’s your opinion?
A. The person who initiated this public flogging should be banned from management. Not only is it a horrible ordeal for your supervisor, but if he remains in that role, he will not feel kindly towards those who participated. A more effective and humane approach would be to gather information confidentially, then provide appropriate coaching in private.
If you can find a valid reason to be out of the office that day, consider making yourself scarce. But if you must attend the meeting, limit your participation and choose your words with extreme care. And if this tactic accurately represents your organization’s leadership style, you might consider finding a less medieval place to work.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”