Who Knew?

Who Knew? Responding To A Negative Performance Review

..............Written Anonymously – for Polaris Digest

I had no idea so many people received negative performance reviews – until I was one of them. For those of us in multi-national corporate context, with highly formalized review systems, the Internet is replete with advice on how to respond.

My day came after eight years working in the same industry sector for two different corporations, always as a high achiever.  First things first: on telling a confidante about it, he presumed that I was exaggerating because my standards are high: "You probably got 75 per cent, right?". No, if I was marking it, I’d estimate it to be a 57.  I knew very thoroughly that this year had raised difficult challenges to my ways and style. Nonetheless, in the eight years, I had always "exceeded" on reviews; here I was with some "partially met" scores. I didn't quite comprehend those: what were the tasks I didn't do?

And so I took a deep breath. Then, as one does in our Age, I hopped on to the Internet. Advice for those in my situation generally fell along two lines: it is an end, or it is a beginning. That is, "they" are trying to fire "you" by making it your idea to quit, or instead, they are sending you an earnest message as to how they see you, albeit suddenly, as inadequate to their agenda - especially if the agenda of the corporation has changed. The key to determining which is the main point in your situation, according to Internet sources, is to view the review through the prism of your corporate culture: how do they tend to deliver good or bad news?

After reading several sites, I decided that I may never know all of the motives behind my employer’s review. Motives are always mixed. Far better to spend my time on, "What can I learn?" than "what does it mean?"

Even after deciding to take the "learning" route, however, advice is divided as to how to respond. Some sites advocate a simple response to the negative review. That is, these advisors say: register your objections, in brief, summary form. Don't be drawn into a Q and A that is just going to be demoralizing, use your allotted opportunity to respond in writing, and leave it at that.

Other sites recommend getting into the whole review in detail. "You say here, for instance, that I was "repeatedly late. However, I have records to show that..." This gives the fact-based critic a basis on which to adjust his or her score.

My review wasn't quite that fact-based. Maybe therein lies a clue as to how I can most productively respond. Up until now, the value I've added has been in the general areas of client relationships, credibility, thought leadership and understanding of the legal marketplace. I believe I have exceeded at those contributions; and I suspect my employer would admit so too. So perhaps there has been a shift in the measure of my contribution – is it now more quantifiable? Or is it that the job requirements have changed because the corporate agenda has changed – this too, is all about the facts.

Midway through my research and thinking as to the most effective response to my negative performance review, I do like this notion: rather than challenging my boss with my interpretation of the facts, I am contemplating asking him, and his colleagues, "What are the facts on which this is based; what measures went into this review?"

With these in mind, the learning, and thereby, the career advancement is bound to improve.