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Confused and Angry Over Bad Performance Review

What to do when your performance review feels unfair?

Dear Joan,

I am confused and angry over my recent performance review. For the first time in my 10 year career I was judged as not meeting expectations. This came as a total surprise, a disappointment, and a deviation from the past two annual reviews that were done by two separate managers. I had always been evaluated as meeting or exceeding expectations.  I’ve worked at my  company as a business professional for the past three years. I’ve had the same job with the same people, and have had the same input from my coworkers, vendors and partners, so I find it difficult to understand this new manager’s assessment. What am I not seeing? What do you advise I do now? At my company, once you are rated as underperforming, you are put on a performance plan, and if you do not improve within six months, you can be terminated.


Dear Lisa,

First off, I am so sorry to hear that you received  a negative review. That in itself is disturbing, especially when it’s the first time in 10 years, but when it comes as a complete surprise it is especially troublesome. The first thing it tells me is that there was a lack of communication between you and your current manager. You didn’t say how long you’ve worked for this individual, but it sounds like a lot of assuming was going on. Whenever you get a new manager in the future, please, make no assumptions. Plan and schedule a talk with the manager to find out their expectations, preferences, subjective measures of success and pose specific questions on the behaviors, attitudes and style of past direct reports who’ve done very well with them. And set up regular meetings to get feedback.

You also might consider going over your past, positive reviews with the new manager so they can see how you’ve been evaluated before.  The other thing you might consider is to provide your manager with weekly status reports and ask to have periodic one-on-ones  and always ask for feedback on your performance. This is key, Lisa. communication.

Even if there are very clear evaluative guidelines in your company, there are always subjective assessments going on. For instance, I know a manager who gives a lot of importance to how orderly and neat his subordinates manage their work space. Another manager cares a lot about the technical knowledge of her direct reports.  And another manager expects highly analytical work to back up all decisions. In other words, there really are personal preferences that go into performance evaluations. And in this case I get the impression that you are not aware of what your manager’s preferences are.

OK, so perhaps you and others have made that mistake. But now it’s time to move forward. I would schedule time with your manager now, as soon as possible. Tell him/her that you were surprised by the review and in the future really want to make sure you are on the same page. Ask them to kindly discuss their criteria for your assessment.  Depending on how that conversation goes, you might decide that you clearly need to move on and look for a new job. You might need to look both inside and outside the company.

You also might consider asking your manager to have your assigned human resource person sit in on your performance plan, identifying and specifying how you will be measured in the next six month period. This is vital as it could cost you your job.

Again, be forewarned that this manager and you might be oil and water, a bad fit. I always advise my clients that when they get the sense that they are not being understood well, or just not on the same wavelength, consider a job change – proactively. The fact is that managers have power over you, and your career, it is important to sometimes take preventative measures and extricate yourself from a bad situation; even though it not your fault! Life is not always fair and bad managers can happen to good people ! Sometimes you need to cut your losses and move forward quickly to avoid bigger problems down the road. If you catch it early on you may be able to get a transfer to a better manager in your current company. One of my clients knew it was very bad situation but she kept trying to gain her manager’s favor. Sadly, she was terminated from the company and had to start a tougher job search, in a weaker position, coming from being unemployed.

In any event, I would personally be looking for a new position both inside and outside the company. I would notify my closest and most trusted colleagues and former managers of your new job search and explain that after three years you are ready to explore new opportunities. I would also line up references and make sure your Linkedin profile is up to date and has at least 2-3 positive references.

And please remember that the best way to avoid surprises at a review is to proactively communicate with your manager.

Please let me know how it goes.


Coach Joan

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