Performance Reviews in a Recession: 4 Types of Bosses and Psychological Tips to Succeed!

Performance review coming up?

  • Wondering what this means in a recession?
  • Need tips to understand your boss?

Most of us have either been on the receiving end of a performance review, or as a supervisor, may have conducted performance reviews. We have all had our share of these uncomfortable meetings.

In a previous position, I had a staff of 30 part-time employees, volunteers and interns. As the “boss,” I dreaded conducting yearly performance reviews. Neither side of this process–employee nor employer–is pleasant. Note: the depictions below are tongue-in-cheek renditions or caricatures – for dramatic effect. None of the depictions are intended to represent a person living or dead.

How does a performance review rating-scale work?

Often a performance review is on a 3 or 5 point scale. If it is on a 3 point scale, the categories are: Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Below Expectations. Note: below expectations ratings often are linked to a write-up and a concrete plan to improve performance which is sub-par. If you are doing your job, as per your job description, then you should be in the “meets expectations” column for the majority of the performance categories. This is often a misunderstood concept. We all think we are working above expectations when, in fact, we are simply performing our jobs effectively.

To achieve “exceeds expectations” you will need to have performed tasks which were not in your job description and not in the scope of normal expectations. You will need to show innovation, initiative and or special collaboration. For instance, if your role is that of a Human Resource Sales Trainer, creating curriculum and teaching all of your monthly workshops falls into the “meets expectations” column. However, what if you took it upon yourself to bring in a film crew and record the workshops? What if you then made these workshops available to remote client populations who were unable to attend your live workshops? What if you created an i-Tunes library of your workshop recordings? This would fall into the “exceeds expectations” category.

Types of Bosses (my own unscientific classification scales)

Boss type # 1 – “Criticism as a motivator” We have all had the boss who paid no attention to their staff except when offering criticism. Sometimes this type of boss runs a department like it is a military boot-camp. They do not want to be perceived as “soft” on their employees.

Tip: use the Spitting in their Soup technique. This sounds awful, but it is absolutely necessary. “Spitting in their Soup” is a technique which Adlerian psychologists employ, which makes use of paradoxical intention. Remember, if you are doing your job, you are at the “Meets expectations” category. To disarm this critical type of boss, jump in with a critical review of your own performance. Look honestly at the areas which need improvement. They will often be so taken aback that they may begin defending you. I have seen this reversal happen many times. I have even seen the boss upgrade the employee’s “grades” in appreciation of their “honesty.” Remember, this type of boss is preparing for battle, and you have just taken the wind out of their sails.

Boss #2 “Happy Go-Lucky boss.” This type of boss actively avoids confrontation. In fact, they are perceived as everyone’s friend, and as such, have mitigated their own ability to manage and lead their staff. Performance reviews from this type of boss are also problematic. The reviews can be so ‘sugar-coated’ that you leave without any clear idea of what to improve. Also, throughout the year, you may have no idea of what went well and what didn’t. This type of boss will avoid all confrontation.

Tip: Let your boss know throughout the year that you really appreciate their support and encouragement. Tell them that you want to do everything you can to help improve the department and improve the bottom line. Ask if there are other areas which are critical to the success of the department that you can support with. Also, ask what continuing education or areas you should look into in order to shore up your work. Everything should be coached in positive terms.

Boss type #3 – “Zero feedback – and Surprise review” We have all had the boss who provides zero feedback all year. Often, we are on pins and needles come performance time, since we have no idea what the boss really thinks of us. It could be good, or it could be devastating. If it is the latter, then employees may leave the boss’s office feeling like they have been hit in the face with a 2 by 4. If you are a good manager, there will not be any surprises for your staff come review time. A good manager will provide encouragement, constructive criticism and training throughout the year. What you don’t want is to blind-side your staff once a year with all of the “complaints” and issues that you have saved up. This is a recipe for drama, waterworks and months of poor morale following the review.

Tip: Actively solicit feedback from your boss throughout the year. Ask how you can improve. Yes, I can feel you wincing, but you need to be prepared for honest feedback. This will give you the opportunity to work on any perceived “deficits” before they snowball into a bad review. Note which tasks or people this boss seems to reward and analyze why.

Boss Type #4 – “Forgetful – it’s Oscar time.” This type of boss is either too busy, or hasn’t developed relationships with his staff. This is the boss who exhibits what is called the recency or latency effect in psychology. We have all experienced this at restaurants when the waiter/waitress rambles on a list of every special. We often only remember the first item and the last and the middle items are forgotten. Similarly, this boss may only recall select items. Often, they may only recall items at the end of the year. This is like the Oscar effect, and is the reason why so many movies are released in the fall or winter – just in time to be remembered at spring awards shows. Amazingly, it is as if nothing else occurred, good or bad, all year.

Tip: I would recommend doing a “wow” project each quarter! Do something particularly memorable the final quarter before the review. Additionally, keep a file of every “thank you” note and every positive email you receive throughout the year. Create a list of the types of categories in which you received praise. Note: this doesn’t just include emails from your boss; it could contain notes from happy customers, coworkers, or even from other departments that you helped.

Note: in this economy, raises are rare or non-existent. Therefore, the original intent of a review, linking performance to salary, may not be relevant. Ideally, a review and each category within a review would be linked to SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Just telling your staff to “be a team player” is not constructive. Additionally, conducting a SWOT analysis of your performance could be very useful. You would carefully review your strengths, weakn
esses, opportunities and threats. Originally, the concept of a SWOT analysis was created to evaluate a business’s potential. The same techniques can also be used to conduct an honest appraisal of your skills.

However, pointing out examples of how they can collaborate with other departments on specific projects is much more relevant and meaningful. These days, though your review may not be linked to a promotion or a salary increase, it may impact whether you keep your job! In this time of downsizing, rightsizing, unpaid furloughs and RIF’s (Reduction in Force), you need to do more than ever before. A good review may mean that you will escape the next round of cuts. Even if you are cut, you can always bring your great review to your next interview. It is a tangible, concrete example of the value you can provide to an employer.

Your job or career may depend on it…

Guest Expert:

© 2010 – All Rights Reserved – Sharon B. Cohen, MA, Dip.Educ, CPRP. Licensed Counselor. Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist. Atlanta, GA. “Helping business professionals, reach their career potential!”

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