Performance rating season is not easy.

It’s performance rating season and let me tell you, it’s one of the toughest times in the year for me. The balance between recognizing and celebrating the efforts people have put it in throughout the year versus upholding a consistent standard across the whole population is a dance I’ve done many times but never got any easier.

As an idealist who lives in the perfect world, I’d love it if we had feedback cycles that are separate from compensation conversations and moving people up the corporate ladder. This is something I experienced once, at a company where we did not have a performance management cycle that determined your annual increase, bonus and promotions. Since there was nothing in place, I simply made one up. A quarterly feedback cycle with all the engineers in my care. We’d gather 360 feedback from the rest of the team and discuss in a 1:1. It was good while it lasted, we were able to focus solely on the feedback and improvement points to work on. We didn’t have ratings and there was no baggage around it. If that sounds awesome to you, there is a price. Since no official performance cycle is in place, there’s also no structure and process in giving raises and promotions. Bonuses were also off the table since they simply didn’t give one. So it’s definitely not perfect.

Back to where we are today though, also known as the real world of corporate where we have processes and policies to keep things in order. The real world where we have to discuss and rate how people are doing and as with all things, some people will do better than others. The problem is that everyone thinks that they are “some people”.

This is where it gets hard.

As the song goes, there’s no easy way to break somebody’s heart. That’s what it feels like when you have to tell people that you know they put it in the effort but they really are just meeting the expectation. To recognize that yes you did help out the more junior engineers but that’s literally the expectation from a senior engineer. It’s never fun and its certainly not easy.

The easy way out is to just give everyone a high rating, principles be damned. It’s so easy to just avoid the difficult conversation, agree with the rating and let someone else be the bad guy. Commiserate and convince yourself you’re the victim of the system. Except that you’re not. If we see everyone as exceptional then no one is. Average can only exist if there is something above and below.

I dread and fear these tough conversations but I do them anyway. It’s not easy, it’s never easy and I tell myself that it’s the reason I’m the one who has to do it. The day I stop feeling some sort of way about these things would be the day I’ve lost my way.

So if you’re like me and you’re struggling with it, keep your chin up. It means you’re exactly where you need to be.

Photo by Joshua Miranda:

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