Performance Reviews in a Recession: 4 types of bosses!

  • Performance review coming up?
  • Wondering what this means, in a recession?
  • Need tips to understand your boss?
Most of us, have either been on the receiving end of a performance review or as a supervisor, may have conducted performance reviews. We have all had our share, of these uncomfortable meetings.

In a previous work role, I had a staff of 30 part-time employees, volunteers and interns. As the “boss” I dreaded conducting yearly, performance reviews. Neither side of this process: employee or employer is pleasant. Note: the depictions below are tongue in cheek renditions or caricatures – for dramatic effect. None of the depictions are intended to represent a person living or dead.

How does a Performance Review, rating-scale work?

Often a Performance Review is on a 3 or 5 point scale. If it is on a 3 point scale the categories are: Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Below Expectations. Note: below expectations ratings often are linked to a write-up and a concrete plan to improve performance which is sub-par. If you are doing your job, as per your job description, then you should be in the “meets expectations” column, for most of the performance categories. This is often a misunderstood concept. We all think we are working above expectations, when in fact; we are often, simply performing our jobs effectively.

To achieve “exceeds expectations” you will need to have performed tasks, which were not in your job description and not in the scope of normal expectations. You will often need to show innovation, initiative and or special collaboration. For instance, if your role is that of a Human Resource Sales Trainer, creating curriculum and teaching all of your monthly workshops falls into the “meets expectations” column. However, what if you took it upon yourself to bring in a film crew and record the workshops? What if you then made these workshops available to remote client populations, who were unable to attend your live workshops? What if you created an i-Tunes library of your workshop recordings? This would fall into the “Exceeds Expectations” category.

Types of Boss’ (my own unscientific classification scales)

Boss type # 1 – “Criticism as a motivator” We have all had the boss, who paid no attention to their staff, except to criticize. Sometimes this type of boss runs a department, like it was a military, boot-camp. They do not want to be perceived as “soft” on their employees.

Tip: use the Spitting in their Soup technique. This sounds awful, but is absolutely necessary. “Spitting in their Soup” is a technique which Adlerian Psychologists employ, which makes use of Paradoxical intention. Remember, that if you are doing your job, you are at the “Meets expectations category.” To disarm this critical type of boss, jump in with a critical review, of your own performance. Look honestly at the areas which need improvement. They will often be so taken aback, that they may begin defending you. I have seen this reversal, happen many times. I have even seen the boss, upgrade the employees “grades,” in appreciation of their “honesty.” Remember, this type of boss is preparing for battle, and you have just taken the wind out of their sails.

Boss #2 “Happy Go-Lucky boss.” This type of boss actively avoids confrontation. In fact, they are perceived as everyone’s friend and as such have mitigated their own ability to manage and lead their staff. Performance reviews from this type of boss are also problematic. The reviews can be so ‘sugar-coated’ that you leave, without any clear idea of what to improve. Also, throughout the year, you may have no idea of what went well and what didn’t. This type of boss will avoid all confrontation.

Tip: Let your boss know that you really appreciate their support and encouragement, throughout the year. Tell them, that you want to do everything you can to help improve the department and improve the bottom line. Ask if there are other areas which are critical to the success of the department, which you can support with. Also, ask what continuing education or areas you should look into, to shore up your work. Everything should be coached in positive terms.

Boss type #3 – “Zero feedback – and Surprise review” We have all had the boss who provides zero feedback all year. Often, we are on pins and needles come performance time, since we have no idea what the boss really thinks of us. It could be good, or it could be devastating. If it is the latter, then employees may leave the boss’ office, like they had been hit in the face with a 2 by 4. Completely blindsided, by a bad review. If you are a good manager, there will not be any surprises for your staff – come review time. A good manager will provide encouragement, constructive criticism and training, throughout the year. What you don’t want, is to blind-side your staff once a year, with all of the “complaints” and issues, which you have saved up. This is a recipe for drama, waterworks and months of poor morale – following the review.

Tip: Actively solicit feedback, from your boss, throughout the year. Ask how you can improve. Yes, I can feel you wincing, but you need to be prepared for honest feedback. This will give you the opportunity, to work on any “perceived” deficits, before they snowball into a bad review. Note: which tasks or people this boss seems to reward, analyze why.

Boss Type #4 – “Forgetful – it’s Oscar time.” This type of boss is either too busy, or hasn’t developed relationships with his staff. This is the boss who exhibits what is called the recency or latency effect in Psychology. We have all experienced this at restaurants when the waiter/waitress rambles on a list of every special. We often only remember the first item and the last and the middle items are forgotten. Similarly, this boss may only recall select items. Often, they may only recall items at the end of the year. This is like the Oscar effect and is the reason why so many Movies are released in the Fall or Winter – just in time to be remembered at Spring Awards shows. Amazingly, it is as if nothing else occurred, good or bad all year.

Tip: I would recommend doing a “wow” project, each quarter! Do something particularly memorable, the final quarter, before the review. Additionally, keep a file of every “thank you” note, every positive email you receive throughout the year. Create a list of the types of categories, for which you received praise. Note: this doesn’t just include emails from your boss; it could contain notes from happy customers, coworkers or even from other departments which you helped.

Note: in this economy, raises are rare or non-existent. Therefore, the original intent of a review, linking performance to salary – may not be relevant. Ideally, a review and each category within a review would be linked to SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Just telling your staff to “be a team player” is not constructive. However, pointing out examples of how they can collaborate with other departments on specific projects, is much more relevant and meaningful.

Additionally, conducting a SWOT analysis of your performance could be very useful. You would carefully review your strengths, weakness', opportunities and threats. Originally, the concept of a SWOT analysis was created, to evaluate a business' potential. The same techniques can also be used to conduct an honest appraisal of your skills. Check out my article on SWOT analysis.

These days, though your review may not be linked to a promotion or a salary increase, it may impact whether you keep your job! In this time of downsizing, rightsizing, unpaid furloughs and RIFS’ (Reduction in Force), you need to do more than ever before. A good review, may mean that you can will escape the next round of cuts. Even if you are cut, you can always bring your great review, to your next interview. It is a tangible, concrete example of the value you can provide to an employer. Your job or career may depend on it...
Author: © 2010 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon B. Cohen, MA, Dip.Educ, CPRP. Licensed Counselor. Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist. Atlanta, GA. "Helping business professionals, reach their career potential!"

In Career Transition? “Accessing the Hidden Job Market workshop” in Atlanta, GA March 20th! Register at the REFocus on Careers Website. Georgia events tab, Title: “Hidden Job Market.”

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  1. Guest blog Nasr Khan 1 month ago

    Very insightful article indeed. I found the #3 type most common to encounter, from my personal experiences. Another additional tip for this type: Try and bring to his notice even the minutest of the task you have performed. I have seen people appraising their bosses about every non-trivial task and getting accolades and flying colors in annual appraisal.

    S. Cohen 1 month ago in reply to Nasr Khan

    Good point. I'd also recommend starting a "thank you" file. Throughout the year, collect all of the "thank you" emails and letters from managers, customers and coworkers. When you are having a stressful day, read your thank you file. Before your annual performance review, review the file and share it with your manager.

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