December 22, 2011 -- It's that time of year when your company asks you to evaluate your performance, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and sit down with your boss to have an honest conversation about where your future is headed.
None of this matters. The whole game is rigged. Here's why.
The books are cooked. Corporate boards must approve labor budgets, raises, and bonuses pretty early in the calendar year. If you work in a publicly held company, this means that your maximum raise and bonus have been determined before your personal performance has been assessed.
Nobody knows how to talk about performance. We love to pretend that supervisors are fluent in the language of personal performance and leadership; however, most bosses are just like your dad. They are busy with their own lives. When they finally make an effort to communicate with you, they never know the right thing to say. Just like when your dad had 'the talk' with you, the whole conversation about performance is awkward as hell.
Not everyone can be great. I know you are pretty fabulous. Unfortunately, you are not as fabulous as the executives in your company. Large bonuses are given at the top, which means that someone needs to be held accountable. Even if you've met and exceeded your goals for the year, that someone is you.
Managers really love forced ranking. It's a sad fact in life that someone always sucks. Even if you are part of an awesome team, managers love to apply the incorrect lessons from the alpha-male GE school of performance management and find a loser among your ranks. You and I both know that most of the crappy workers in your company have been removed through corporate downsizing; however, managers still feel pressured to identify the bottom 10% of your team and bully them to work even harder by withholding generous increases.
Even if you rock, there isn't much money to go around. In 2011, the average salary increase was 3%. So even if you do a bang-up job, a 5% salary increase is considered stellar. Does this sound like a fair assessment of your hard work? Too bad, suckers. It's already decided before you have a chance to plead your case.
As you participate in the end-of-year performance management process, the best thing you can do is to stay neutral, remain dispassionate, and be quiet. Unless you've stacked enough cheddar to walk away from your job and be your own boss, it's best to remember that a job is just a job. Nobody really gets rich, anymore, from being a regular employee.
And one more thing.
The difference between a 3% merit increase and a 5% merit increase is almost nothing.
So take the afternoon off, pick your kids up from school, and go see a movie.
The Muppets is great.
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