The New York Times
June 26, 2005
The Reviews Are In. And Yours Isn't Pretty.
By MATT VILLANO
Q. During your annual performance review, your boss gives you bad marks. You feel that the evaluation was unfair, but you're afraid of being branded a complainer. How do you speak your piece without sounding like a sore loser?
A. The last thing you want to do after receiving a bad review is keep quiet, said Dr. Dennis Garritan, an associate professor of human resources management at New York University. "If you think your review is unfair, there's no point suffering it in silence," Dr. Garritan said. "You don't want a negative review in your file, and the only way to do something about it is to speak up."
Q. What's the most appropriate way to respond?
A. Before you do anything, take a deep breath. Nobody likes being criticized, and it is important to maintain composure when responding to the bad news. "Especially when you're delving into sensitive subjects, you want to be at your best," Dr. Garritan said. "If you are so worked up that you don't feel you can talk then and there, excuse yourself and schedule a second meeting for another time."
When you're ready to talk, start by asking your boss to repeat the criticisms one by one, to make sure you understand them. It is also wise to request specific examples of how and where the boss feels that you came up short, Dr. Garritan said. If you were docked for tardiness, for example, ask for the dates on which you were late. If your leadership skills are criticized, ask about the reason for this judgment.
Q. How do you show that you've been misjudged?
A. Disputing hard facts is difficult. Joanne Cini, author of "Kingmaker: Be the One Your Company Wants to Keep ... on Your Terms" (Prentice Hall, 2004), says the best way to rebut a negative performance appraisal is to be prepared with a one-page summary listing your contributions since the previous review. The summary should demonstrate how you have helped the company achieve its goals. Ms. Cini says that it also is a good place to share positive comments you have received from colleagues.
Q. If you're invited to respond in writing, should you do so?
A. Even if you are not invited to respond, you should. A written response captures your arguments and preserves them for anyone who may read the review down the line. "You need a written record of your dissent," said Bill O'Brien, a partner at Miller-O'Brien, an employment law firm in Minneapolis. "Without it, if the situation advances to the point of litigation, you've essentially got no ground to stand on."
Initially, share a written rebuttal only with your boss. If your boss dismisses the concerns, Mr. O'Brien said, it may be time to forward a copy to the human resources department or to explore your company's grievance mechanisms.
Either way, be careful what you write. Carole Martin, a former human resources manager at a biotechnology company, recalled a scientist who responded to a negative review with a six-page manifesto lambasting his boss, his boss's boss and a number of high-level executives in the organization. Ms. Martin, now president of the Interview Coach, a counseling firm in San Francisco, said the scientist's response outlined a number of demands, including requests for follow-up meetings, apologies and a raise. "This letter became a company joke," she said. "It alienated so many executives that they refused to hear him out at all."
Six months after the initial review, she said, the scientist resigned.
Q. Would a boss ever reverse a negative review?
A. A well-written response may persuade your boss to reconsider or ameliorate harsh judgment in a review.
Ms. Cini, who worked in executive-level sales and marketing positions at the ABC, NBC and Fox television networks, changed a handful of reviews after employees presented her with proof of positive contributions to her team. In these cases, Ms. Cini included employee rebuttals in her reassessments and sometimes reversed her conclusions, but she also restated her misgivings, so that employees would still be aware of how she perceived their actions. This way, she said, "People would still think about the conversation."
Mr. O'Brien, the lawyer, added that even if your written response doesn't inspire your boss to change a review, a rebuttal may sensitize management to some of your concerns and make the boss think twice about grading so harshly the next time.
Q. Do you have to sign a review you don't like?
A. Most companies require employees to sign reviews after receiving them. By signing the review, Mr. O'Brien said, you are not necessarily agreeing with it but are simply stating that you understand your boss's comments. You are free to submit a written rebuttal at any point thereafter.
Q. What types of performance criticisms are worth disputing?
A. Constructive criticism is one thing. An unfounded attack is quite another, Ms. Cini says, and it warrants response. "If you are an overachiever who disputes every average grade, your boss understandably might grow tired of the constant struggle," she said.
If your manager is paying attention, every performance review should highlight both strengths and weaknesses. After all, nobody is perfect. It's up to you to pick your battles.
By Leigh Rivenbark
By Joanne Cini, Prentice Hall, 2004, 245 pages
List price: $22.95, ISBN: 0-13-184030-4
Who's a kingmaker? Anyone whose great work helps his manager reach the manager's goals can be a kingmaker--the go-to person, the consistent worker whom everyone wants on the team.
The challenge, Joanne Cini says, is to become "an aware kingmaker," one who knows his own value to the company but remains true to himself. Kingmakers aren't subservient or sycophantic, Cini adds; they're known for meeting the company's objectives as well as focusing on their careers.
Cini wants readers at all levels to see where they fit into their companies' office politics, how they personally affect the bottom line and what they should know about their bosses.
She advocates having a "freedom plan," which enables you to leave a toxic workplace with confidence that you have the financial cushion to survive without having to tolerate a bad boss or 24/7 hours any longer. She backs her idea with self-assessment tools to help readers determine where they are financially and in their careers.
Cini, a veteran of 24 years in the television industry's management and executive ranks, opens with chapters asking readers to consider how they truly feel about working for corporate profit, dealing with office politics, handling lost promotions and dealing with workplace competition. She urges readers to learn about finance and think about whether their jobs feed their interests and passions, not just their personal income.
Understanding managers' stresses and styles helps you know how to approach them. Learn whether your boss is a detail lover or a big-picture thinker, social or analytical. If you have a "trickster" boss--a slacker who gets by and takes credit for others' work--you can draw on Cini's discussion of whether to deal with it, confront it or get out from under it.
Cini emphasizes the career importance of losing with dignity. How do you handle it when that promotion goes to someone else? What if you feel you need to leave your job after being passed over; will things really be different elsewhere?
Finding a champion with real clout in the organization is key, Cini says. This likely is someone over your direct manager's head, and Cini addresses how to get your manager to help you approach your champion (and how to get to this mentor if your manager doesn't like the idea). She gives tips for finding champions and sharing your work with them.
Kingmakers must value themselves if they want to be valuable to their employers. Cini recommends examining whether the company's values match your own. Do a daily personal review to take stock of what went well and what could have been done better. Staying abreast of management trends and technology and volunteering for new initiatives help increase your value.
Individual employees can affect a company's profit, Cini says. Her steps for increasing your contribution to the bottom line include hiring well and working to keep key people; ferreting out redundancy; asking customers what works; and understanding the firm's business plans.
Kingmakers should be consistent employees who anticipate tasks in advance, own up when they err and never act territorial.
Cini recognizes that while you're impressing the boss you may be dealing with feelings that rankle. How do you handle caustic remarks, embarrassments or intentional attempts to cut you out of customer meetings or social functions important to your career? She outlines steps from dealing with people directly to approaching HR formally.
"Your value as a contributor gives you the right to be careful and selective about the people you give your talent to," she writes. She gives tips on how to assess a potential boss during a job interview and how to check out a company's background and commitment to career planning.
COMPILED BY LEIGH RIVENBARK, A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR IN VIENNA, VA., AND ERIN BINNEY, HR MAGAZINE PROOFREADER.
Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Society for Human Resource Management
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group