You and your managers pretend these are about developing you and recognising your achievements but all that’s really clear is that are they bollocks. What are they for? Who are they for? It’s not for you and it’s not for getting you more money. Annual performance reviews are about making some token nod toward remembering your name and then ignoring everything when it comes to deciding money.
There’s that thing where a third of your colleagues will fail, a third will do okay and there’s a top third that have to get by on some contrived glory ’cause they sure as hell aren’t getting paid more either.
Now, it’s easy for me to be cynical about these because I’m freelance and don’t have to have them. But for a decade or more I was freelance in the BBC where it was a requirement. I hated every single one – up to the moment I would have them, because they invariably went well. Nonetheless, I hated them more than dental appointments because of one review and one man from before my time at the Corporation.
He was an out-of-his-depth sort who managed a group of fairly awkward writers and me. Not awkward. I was glad to be there, I was doing what I wanted, I got that the job was to get what needed done and I got that the company didn’t owe me anything but the generous salary I had. I was fine. Others were not. So when he had to grade people, he gave the awkward ones good marks and in several cases promotions, and he stuck me with the bad marks because he knew I’d be fine about it.
Frankly, was I fuck. Every other review for every other person that year took about 30 minutes and I made mine take the day. Every single point on every single ridiculous metric, he low-balled it and I argued until I got each one up. Fight, fight, fight – and he won. While I got that review to be far better than he wanted it to be, it was the worst review of the set and I got no raise.
So, he didn’t managed to get the one easy ride he’d planned but he could do the tick that said he’d saved some money.
But of course he saved that yet he lost me. I never worked late again, never came in early again. Didn’t contribute to meetings, didn’t write as well as I had done. I do have trouble assessing the quality of my writing but I thought then that there was a fair chance I was his best writer or at least if there were better I can only think of one person it would be. Actually, thinking about it, yes, she was better than I was. But I’d stake a claim to second best and if you do a Google search now on the names I can remember you won’t find them. None had a writing career after that.
And I didn’t have another review with that guy because by the next year, I was long gone. I was off to an infinitely better job that led directly to my BBC career soon after. He could argue, I suppose, that he helped me there but he did some damage. There was not one single review I ever had anywhere else again that I didn’t go in ready for a fight. Never got one, not one single time: every other review ever was at least great and sometimes superb.
I don’t want to count how many years it is since this boiled me but I can tell you it’s a fair few minutes since I found a funny video about performance reviews and thought I’d point you at it. I think I might take a deep breath and do that next.