NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's that time of year: Depending on your company's cycle, June is the month that managers prepare annual or semiannual performance evaluations for their teams.
Theoretically, reviews are utilized to ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently across the organization. Their progress is monitored -- presumably -- through a standardized protocol and a shared language. Reviews should facilitate unbiased decision-making with respect to compensation and promotions -- and promote equal treatment for employees at every level of the food chain. They should also provide employees with a benchmark to measure their success and enough clarity to minimize the disappointment that is inevitable when expectations are not aligned with reality. Translate: You didn't get the promotion and/or bonus you think you deserve -- here's why.
Is it actually possible to establish a reliable system so that salary increases and bonuses are awarded based on true merit? From my experience advising countless clients on preparing for their reviews: No. It seems like a great idea but, in practice, I have found that it is impossible to remove biases and establish consistency when it comes to measuring contributions and performance. There is absolutely no way to even out the differences in how managers interpret the review process and the various metrics and scales to rate performance. A boss may play favorites, be threatened by ambitious employees, or feel shortchanged. Fairness? When your boss has a chip on her shoulder, you get whacked.
Even with the introduction of 360-degree performance appraisals, it is still possible to game the process. These evaluations are intended to incorporate feedback from various stakeholders who have worked with you in some capacity so as to level the playing field. The theme being that fairness is achieved through a diverse and large enough pool of respondents. By surveying a number of folks in your "circle" -- including subordinates, peers, supervisors, and outside relationships like vendors and clients along with your own evaluation -- the goal is to produce a collective and more reliable picture of your performance versus the traditional evaluation where your boss is the sole rater. That's great: Those who choose their raters can potentially skew the results but for those who cannot, one angry anonymous reviewer may be weighted heavily.
Here are a few reasons why the current system is broken and some suggestions on what you need to do to get the best review possible.
The Forced Curve
Some companies apply a ranking system to place employees into buckets or quartiles. You may have performed above and beyond and by most standards exceeded your goals but if three quarters of your colleagues did even better, you will find yourself in the bottom quartile. No one wants to be assigned here -- companies use that population to determine whose neck is on the chopping block when cutbacks are announced.
You Say Tomato, I Say...
An organization may have a single system, but every manager has a different interpretation of "meets" vs "exceeds" vs "outstanding." What is acceptable or even above average to one manager may be viewed as marginal to another. So, this basically means that two employees with equivalent performance will receive two different ratings.