Time for your annual corporatoscopy

Performance reviews are awkward, frightening and unpleasant. Let’s get started!

New research by a leading HR firm has found that employees dread one thing above all else in the workplace: the performance review.

HR: Come in, take a seat. So you are…

Employee: Oh, I’m a little nervous, I suppose.

No, your name.

I’m…I’m Pat. I’ve worked for you for six years.

Ah, yes, Pat! Good ol’ Pat! Pat, let me begin by saying this, Pat: most performance reviews are rigid, hierarchical affairs that cause anxiety in employees and lead to dangerously flawed outcomes. So let’s get started.

[Pat quietly prays for the sweet relief of an aneurysm.]

Pat, when morale is too low, the employee feels unappreciated. This causes productivity to drop, leading to layoffs. How would you describe your morale?

It’s great. I’m excited to come to work in the morning.

Pat, when morale is too high, the employee feels entitled. This causes productivity to drop, leading to layoffs.

In that case, I’d say my morale is fair…-ish?

I’ve asked around about you, Pat, and almost everyone who had any idea who you are said you’re a capable employee probably.

I guess that’s good, right?

At the same time, my own advancement at the company hinges on my ability to justify my position by ensuring that at least 15 per cent of my employees receive a negative review.

I’m not sure I understand.

I know. Pat, I’ve been professionally trained to ensure that nothing you hear today—none of the words I say—should come as a surprise to you. Which is why I’m slipping you this piece of paper.

It just says, “Disappointing.”

Pat, your performance has been disappointing.

But you just said I was capable.

Nothing in the corporate world means what it does in the real world. Let me show you. How would you describe yourself in the workplace?

Well, I guess I’d say I’m a deliberate thinker.

Translation: too chicken to make a decision.

I’m definitely a vibrant social presence.


And I pay very careful attention to detail.

So you’re a pain in the ass.

That’s not fair. I think my co-workers would say I’m valuable.

Interesting. While you were talking there, I got to thinking.


Oh, it wasn’t about this. Pat, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: you need to forge the bandwidth to action a granular, user-centric synergy silo that connects the dots between baked-in deliverables and incentivizing a robust, collaborative conflict-resolution diagnosis.

I appreciate your bluntness.

Let’s talk about career goals.

Well, I want to take on more responsibility with the goal of one day becoming a manager myself.

Bold. Now let’s talk about your plausible career goals. Actually, hold that thought. Tell me instead: what are your stretch goals?

My what?

Stretch goals: your theoretical career aspirations that we both know you’re incapable of reaching but that signal to me that you possess sufficient ambition to not be regarded as corporate deadwood.

Um…Olympic volleyballer?

Perfect. Moving on. Pat, there’s a concept in the performance review literature called Ranking Scales. It’s a way of evaluating staff by comparing them to one another, so there’s a best, a second-best, a worst. Personally, I think it’s unwise and destructive to tell people precisely how they rank. So I’ll just ask you to go ahead and guess.


I’ll give you some of those “getting warmer/getting colder” signals.

I don’t understand the point of this whole process. I come in here once a year to talk about goals but there’s never any follow-up. What are you getting out of this? How is this helping me with my job?

I’ll be the one to ask the questions here, Pat. My next question: what is your job again?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.