Performance Review- What A Difference Corporate Culture Makes

Last month, I had my annual Employee Performance Review. Like many companies, mine is on the 5 point system, and unless you’ve had lunch with the company President chances are you have been rated a 3. The funny thing is, even though I got a 3, I walked away feeling good and looking forward to another year with this company. I thought back to my last job, where every single year for five years I walked away from my performance review ticked off, red faced, and ready to find another job, yet I got pretty much the same score.

What’s different? Not the industry. I work in a fairly large industry, so when I changed jobs in 2004, I basically moved across the street to work with another company on the same project in another capacity. I’m no corporate sociologist, but what I believe is different is the culture. I may not have the world’s most exciting job, but I work in what is probably the best organization I’ve ever been with. Here we are given tremendous freedom to set our own priorities, and as long as our work gets done and our product delivered, we’re pretty much left alone. Our leadership works hard to make this place fun and laid back, yet still highly performing. We consistently satisfy our customer without micro-management. It’s awesome.

On my last job, I worked in a support capacity. I provided support to engineers for program testing. I worked for a subsidiary of a company that provided support to the main company, which means we were contractually obligated to take a lot of abuse and blame when things go wrong. We were under the operational management of our customer. The culture there was very negative and I was honestly happy to leave. When I got my job offer to take this job, my previous supervisor tried to make a counter-offer, but because one of my goals was to get out of that organization, I didn’t bother to listen.

I had a supervisor who I believed continuously misled me on my performance reviews. When he took over, he told me that one of his criteria for promotion was to be able to work unsupervised. Shortly after that, a couple of our second shift people left and the decision was made to bring the third member to day shift to observe him because he was believed to not do a very good job. Because this left swing shift open, I was put on swing shift by myself for six weeks while this person’s training was verified. Swing Shift normally required three people, and I was solo. I ran our office supporting an entire development site for six weeks single handedly, and when I told our supervisor this on my performance review to justify a higher rating, I was dismissed. Even though I’d been told that being able to operate without supervision was a criteria for promotion, once I met the objective I was told that I can’t be promoted because I don’t have enough time on the job.

At another point, our direct supervisor left due to frustrations with the organizational leadership. Although we had several people within the office who were highly qualified for that position, our management sought an outsider. I was forced to train my own supervisor.

Every year I would ask my manager what objectives he would like me to meet to get a higher performance rating. He would give me a list, and I would suggest more. Then I would exceed every single one of them, only to be told "That’s your job. That’s what we expect from you. You’re getting a 3."

Being given objectives with a hope of reward, even as simple as a higher rating and then being told "Well that’s your job and it’s what we expect from you" was highly frustrating. It does not make an employee happy. I always wondered what was the point in setting objectives if they got me nowhere. By contrast my current organization did very well with my review. Even though I got the same rating, I was told that I’m doing a good job and my work is appreciated. I wasn’t given false hope of a better review if I met certain objectives.  Managers, listen up: sometimes, a little praise and honesty can go a long way.

One of the greatest frustrations in my industry is that there is no real advancement within companies. If you want to advance, make more money, or gain more responsibilities, you pretty much have to send our resumes and find another company. I hate that. However, I am willing to stay in this position for a while longer, even though there is seemingly nowhere to go. I will stay here because they at least make me feel valued. That can be important.

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