Friday, June 11, 2004


Performance Assessments

In the "Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?" department, it's almost time for the first half of the year's performance assessments to be prepared. This basically consists of a consultant writing the same thing over in about 12 different variations to determine where you fit in various dimensions (technical knowledge, industry knowledge, knowledge management, etc). Our performance assessment process requires you to be graded not only on how well you did your job for the year, but how you've grown in your industry and technical knowledge (an interesting concept given that there are zero training dollars, have been for years, and at best you'll get a CBT that describes something that was functionally obsolete eight years ago as bleeding edge), how much of a team player you are, and how you've grown the business (in other words, have you sold at least $3M worth of new business, even though you're too damn busy trying to keep your project on an even keel for 55+ hours every week).

The opportunities for professional development are somewhat slim in my neck of the woods, as most clients are bloody reluctant to deploy anything other than the most proven technologies and prcesses, and you wouldn't be doing this stuff for them unless you were already a Subject Matter Expert (a most excellent weasel term which we shall examine in a forthcoming lexicon). You need to score points on your assessment by being innovative, something that risk managers are going to look very critically at on this sort of gig. To pastiche paraphrase Melville and Heller, "Call me Yossarian...."

The scoring system for these performance assessments is supposed to be a fully objective method of rating someone against their peers, which works great for a small heterogeneous population, but if you're comparing for example a J2EE developer against a firewall guru in a large group, the criteria gets pretty subjective quickly. Every performance assessment meeting I've ever been in has had various senior people championing their favorites, quickly turning the affair into something where the person with the loudest voice gets their pets the optimal score. The HR types of course contribute to this, demanding that there be a fixed distribution of people in each band (with of course the largest band getting ungotz, as we used to say in Bensonhurst). Publicly they pay lip service to the fairness of the process, but the HR types know darned well that their only purpose is to provide an illusion of control over your career destiny. We used to dread getting e-mails from a send-only box called "Focusing On Your Future", which was a great way of saying BOHICA.

Needless to say, compensation was nominally tied to one's overall rating, which was an integer, and one's overall score (a real number). The unfair part of this is that despite putting in thousands of man-hours to get these assessments done and evaluated, there have been no positive compensation adjustments for three years. The funny thing about this is that so much money and effort is spent on this cost center which
* Takes valuable time away from clients
* Forces people to write their own assessments using loaded questions that give them ample opportunity to hang themselves
* Serves no purpose other than a full-employment act for HR professionals

Supposedly Jack Welch championed this method of performance assessment as a method of up-or-out. I hope he gets prostate trouble.


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