I am, by nature, an argumentative individual. My therapist has informed me, in not very glowing terms, that this comes from my daily occasional frustration with a world that is empirically out to frustrate me. I mean – how dare it frustrate me?!

And, of course, I disagree with her. I think I just like arguing.

The truth is: very few arguments of opinion* are won by rational thought, logic, or clever twists of wordplay. Arguments are generally won by the most vociferous person in the room. As in, the “might is right” adage. The loud and forceful gentleman/lady will hammer press their point home until the other side eventually backs down just to make the badgering stop.
*as opposed to arguments of fact – which are settled by Google.

Whatever they might tell you – it takes a lot more than courage to stand up for one’s convictions. It takes endurance. I think the old-school phrasing is “hold steadfast”.

So bearing that in mind, let’s talk about Performance Reviews.

The Scale of Cowardice

In my opinion, the HR department that first developed the “self-review” template went deliberately out of its way to make the damned thing as vague and as cryptic as possible. There are no yes or no answers. There are very few questions of outright fact. There are just statements and “outcomes” where you rank yourself on a scale of “worse than useless” to “make me the CEO today”.

Then a supervisor gets to come along and either agree or disagree with what your self-opinion.

Despite the vagueness, the HR folk still like to make the whole thing numeric. Probably because it makes for better statistics. And here’s the standard breakdown:

0  “Rating that shall not be named” – bad to the point of being an obstruction

1  Below Expectations – not great and needs counselling for improvement

2  Meets – does what’s required in an entirely satisfactory and expected manner

3  Exceeds – awesomely did better than expected

4  Exceptional – rocked the world by doing your supervisor’s job for him/her.

People love to do things in fives, apparently.

What The Self-Appraiser Reads Is…

After some loose surveying (nothing reliable about my statistical method, but whatevs), here is what we think people will think if we self-appoint said ratings:

0  this guy must be joking

1  this guy is stupidly owning up to being a liability

2  honest and/or hopeful

3  the arrogant little f**k

4  this guy must be joking

What The Supervisor Actually Hears Is..

Here’s what I, as a supervisor, would really care about/have really cared about:

0  if I give someone this rating, I’m going to have to go to a disciplinary hearing

1  if I give someone this rating, I’m going to have to go to a counselling meeting

2  No hearing

3  I’m going to have to justify it because there’s a bonus incentive involved

4  if I give someone this rating, I’m going to have to go to my own disciplinary hearing

There’s not a toot in there about character judgement. Believe me, as a supervisor, I’ve already made that character judgement. Just as, no doubt, all my supervisors had already paid me the same courtesy.

Pulling all this together into nutshells

The natural conclusions:

  1. No one ever gets a 0 rating.
  2. You only get a 1 rating when you really should be getting a 0 rating because you’ve irritated a supervisor enough to make him/her want to take the time to be the bad guy.
  3. Almost everyone gets a 2 rating, because the self-appraisers don’t want to appear arrogant, and it’s so easy for a supervisor just to agree with that self-rating.
  4. The 3 rating gets given to the following:
    1. People that actually did the supervisor’s job (ie. they deserve a 4), so the supervisor feels enough of a debt of gratitude to justify a high rating – but not nearly enough gratitude to put himself/herself in the line of fire.
    2. The self-appraisers that gave enough justification for their 3 self-rating that the supervisor would be forced to explain why they’re lowering your rating.
  5. 4 ratings are not quite unicorns. They just belong to the excessively talented and extremely hard-working blond that has become so indispensable that the company is desperate for her to never leave.

I’ve heard a lot of strategies over the years in relation to self-reviews. There are those that consistently award themselves 4 ratings in the hope that they’ll only ever be dropped to a 3 rating. There are those that give themselves 2 ratings and hope that their modesty will guilt the supervisor into raising it. And, of course, there are those that just want the process to be done with as quickly as possible, which means that it’s 2s all round.

But if you’re worried about it, here’s what I think works:

The Three Step Argumentative Guide To Getting A Higher Rating

  1. Stop viewing your supervisor’s opinion as something you can change. No one really cares if you esteem yourself a bit highly – especially if you can be self-deprecating about it afterward. And, to be honest, nothing that you put down on a form after you worked for a supervisor for months on a job is really going to have a dramatic impact. What’s done is done.
  2. Stop relying on a supervisor’s goodwill. Because you’re just not that important – why would a supervisor spend time agonising over your rating when they have so many others to review, and their own to prepare, and, like, lives of their own? Come now.
  3. Justify with facts. No one is convinced when you write down something like “I feel that I really deserve a 3 rating because I really worked so hard on this task and I really put a lot of time into it.” Telling someone that you’re awesome because you’re awesome is not an argument: it’s still an opinion. A supervisor doesn’t need to justify anything – they can just say “I disagree – you were bang average.” Here’s an actual argument: “I worked on this section, which I completed in significantly less time than was budgeted for, and the section was returned without any further work needing to be done. Given the time and budget efficiencies, I have self-rated as a 3.” Now – now a supervisor needs to argue with you. And prove that actually, the budget was wrong – which looks bad for them, because they probably prepared it. And that’s a lot of effort. Much easier to just agree.

And if that sounds like too much writing, then just make yourself indispensable.