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Workplace Report Cards: Unfair Performance Reviews

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Workplace Report Cards: Dealing with an Unfair Performance Review

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

With all the gorgeous spring weather we've been having lately here in New England, I've successfully shaken off the doldrums of winter and was even motivated and energized enough to tackle cleaning out my attic.

What a headache!

Boxes and boxes of...STUFF! My stuff, my husband's stuff, my kids' stuff: it was definitely a project that required a strategic plan, a cohesive team, a clear set of procedures...and a lot of garbage bags.

While I was sifting through a box of my old elementary school memories, I came across several of my report cards from first and second grade, and I realized that the box could actually be labeled "My First Performance Reviews." I was being graded on my skills, my successes (and failures), and my attitude as a student - just like most employees called into their supervisor's office once a quarter to discuss their job performance.

(And weren't we all disappointed to find that the end of school DIDN'T mean the end of report cards??)

As I looked over my grades, I began feeling that familiar sense of frustration start to bubble up inside me. The marks were low in most of my subjects. Why? Because no one detected that I needed glasses to see the chalkboard - and learn the concepts the teacher was scrawling across it - until the third grade. Up until that point, my grades suffered because of a physical ailment - not because I was "slow" (as one teacher constantly reminded me) or not interested in learning. I thought about how unfair those grades are and how I wish there was a way I could go back and change them.

How many employees feel the same way walking out of their supervisor's office after receiving mediocre performance reviews that they don't feel they deserve? How can they address the situation, or should they even try and risk making things worse?

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Here are my tips on how to deal with that situation without causing more damage to yourself - or worse - getting yourself fired:

1. Step away from the performance review, and no one gets hurt! Frustration, irritation, an overwhelming urge to shout "Nuh-uh!" - emotions run high when you're in that office hearing how you haven't met your boss's expectations. The most critical thing you can do is just STEP BACK. Take note of what your boss is saying, acknowledge that you've been listening, and ask if you can have a little time to absorb the information so you don't make any rash decisions.

2. Dig a little! Uncover and assess the facts in the situation. Ask questions about how the ratings were calculation and what elements were taken into consideration. Once you have a clear picture of the facts of the situation, you can create a list of areas you want to discuss with your boss.

3. Embrace your inner Spock! Cast aside your emotions so that you can have a calm, objective discussion about your ratings. Approach each item from the perspective of: "I want to improve this area - tell me exactly what I've been doing wrong and how I should perform in the future." Your boss should be able to give you a checklist of things you can do that will ensure a better outcome at your next review.

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4. Fight for a grade upgrade! If your boss can't give you any real reasons for your low ratings, ask to have your ratings changed and give your boss the irrefutable reasons why. Show him or her hard cold data and statistics (if you can); remind him or her about specific examples where your innovation and your value has directly correlated to the success of a project or your department.

5. Put away your "Jump to Conclusions" game mat! Don't automatically assume that the review is biased and your boss just has it out for you. In many companies, supervisors are REQUIRED to have some point of constructive criticism on their employees' reviews to show an opportunity for growth. It's like that teacher who never gave out an A+: nobody and nothing is perfect so there's ALWAYS room for improvement. Plus, he or she may see your vast potential and may hold you to a higher set of standards: find out what you can do to fully maximize your potential. A mediocre performance review may be the catalyst you need to work harder, develop additional skills and push yourself right into career advancement!

Even though it's too late for me to go back and have my grades changed, it might not be too late for you to change an unfair performance review. So go for it!


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“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe