The Corporate world can break you if you aren’t vigilant. The “performance review” culture is all pomp, no circumstance. You get an initial review, and supervisors give you subsequent “feedback” which involves your strengths, your improvement points and your rating. If you perform to standard, you will more than likely be “baselined”, or receive an average rating (i.e., 3 out of 5, “meets expectations” etc.) every review cycle. You work on the improvement points, with the idea that when your next review occurs, you will supplant the baseline and receive an above average or excellent rating. Alas, when the next review is conducted, your manager informs you that you have received the same baseline rating as last time. Frustrating, right?
When you inquire as to why, they regurgitate mantras such as “you have to perform at the next level in order to get a higher rating” or they’ll pull out other phantom requirements you didn’t know existed until this current review! They may also mention your peers at your job level and tell you that “others are doing more to justify getting higher ratings” not knowing that “your peers”all speak to one another and hear the same shit! The baseline rating is management’s way of saying “you’re doing your job, but nothing extraordinary.” The baseline rating is also the new glass ceiling in Corporate America. They give you this rating to “motivate” you to achieve greatness and work harder. They give generic goals to help you get better ratings and move up in the company. The only problem is that once you reach those goals, they SWITCH those goals like an older sibling keeping your favorite toy JUST far enough out of your reach!
Let me explain how management attempts to keep you running on that hamster wheel called performance rating expectations. I actually broke this down to a HR manager once and he was speechless. You can’t receive a higher performance rating unless you perform work at the level above you (i.e., an associate should be performing senior associate responsibilities). How do you get those opportunities to perform at the level above you? You must prove to management that you can perform tasks at the next level.
How do you prove you can perform tasks at the next level? Your work product will be reflected in previous performance reviews. What rating would you need to justify confidence in management that you should receive the opportunity to perform tasks at the next level? You’ll need a rating above the baseline. So how can you receive a higher performance rating? You can’t receive a higher performance rating unless you perform work at the level above you…
The above explanation was an actual conversation I had with an old performance manager. When I repeated what he said verbatim, he had no other alternative but to repeat some management catch phrases and Jedi mind trick me into focusing on the next years rating cycle. Managers will give you generic improvement goals like “ask for more work”, “communicate better”, and “get involved in committees”. This sounds good, but when I performed high level responsibilities, joined the affinity groups, performed the community services, and mingled with the “V.I.P.’s”, I still got the baseline rating! Management’s excuse will be that others were performing better and doing more. Interesting enough, when speaking to colleagues at my level, we once again heard the exact same thing. What a coincidence! There’s a reason why companies advise their employees not to discuss salary or ratings with coworkers.