Reasons to retire #1 – Appraisals and targets

Reasons to retire #1 – Appraisals and targets

Back when I was at university studying Business Management I wrote a lengthy research based article on the motivational aspects of workplace target setting. Ever since we first enter the schooling system we’ve been continually exposed to targets against which our achievement has been measured. Infact almost all jobs I’ve worked in have attempted to use targets as a method of assessing and motivating employees (with the exception of when I was a lifeguard; the only target then was to not let anyone drown). You would think then that such a widely used and accepted method must be excellent at assessing and motivating employees?

It isn’t

When I started my research it quickly became apparent that target setting wasn’t quite the holy grail of employee motivation many believed it to be. Infact in many cases it lead to employee demotivation and a reduction in productivity! Take for example John who works at Edison’s Bulb Company:

John’s target each day is to make 20 bulbs. He’s paid an hourly wage so doesn’t receive any additional pay for making more but equally gets no deductions for less. The only reason for John’s daily target is for the company’s internal monitoring and a misinformed attempt at employee motivation. When John reaches his daily target of 20, is he going to push himself to work hard and reach 30 with the fear that 30 may become his new daily target? Unlikely. And equally; is he going to feel motivated and valued if he is unable to reach his daily target one day due to a whole range of factors? Not a chance.

But what if your work output isn’t so easily measured and definable? What if every piece of work you complete is unique and measured by someone elses’ own approval? In a way; John is fortunate because his target has a definitive success criteria. He knows at the end of each day whether he’s achieved that number. Less fortunate are those who may have a whole host of completely subjective success criteria;

“Open and Honest Communication”

“Successful Teamworking”

“Adding value for the customer”

These aren’t some metrics I’ve dreamt up for the article. These are genuine scoring metrics used in my own personal role targets. How the hell do you measure ‘open and honest communication’?! Would I score maximum points for telling the company that their target scoring is utter crap? If only!

The yearly appraisal

And so it was that I found myself sat in a brightly lit meeting room with my department manager last week as we began what could only be described as a 3-hour long endurance test. It was like an interview, but worse.. far worse. At least with an interview the questions tend to be personalised based upon your previous experience, and with the knowledge that you’re working towards the reward of a new job. Appraisals however seem to be completely untailored and with the only reward of keeping your current job. Many of the questions went along the lines of:

Your role description says that you must be able to do XYZ, so tell me about when you’ve done XYZ

It didn’t matter that I’ve only been working on a single project from which I’d recieved several excellent pieces of feedback from the customer. Didn’t matter that the project has been completed on time, to specification and within budget. If the role description said you must be able to do it.. and the target scoring said you must have done it… you must have done it.

At the end of the 3 hours I felt exhausted and miserable. The best part of it all was that despite this battering and poor scoring against obscure metrics, my manager freely admitted that my work to date had been excellent and he saw me having a long and successful career with the company. The only thing that I could think of as I left was hopefully not too long.

I know I’m not the only one fed up of having to endure the work required just to justify ourselves against some HR set scorings. To me the objective of early retirement is as much about the pull of retiring (free time, stability, choice) as it is the push of the workplace (stress, reliance and bullshit targets). Does anyone else have to endure this annual (or more frequent!) pain.. or does your employer instead judge you by your own personal achievements?

24 thoughts on “Reasons to retire #1 – Appraisals and targets

  1. I know the feeling. I find them the most powerful demotivational tool ever.

    When I was–in a past life–in charge of a small team the first thing I did was scrap the previous targets in place. Productivity increased massively at first then (worryingly) dropped a little before (thankfully) stabilising between the two. Annoyingly, my MD was not one for dropping targets himself so I still had to go through the rigmarole myself. Not passing it on down the line was a great decision though. In so doing, we also slowed the staff turnover rate quite dramatically.

    I think another thing that FIRE forces you to do is to set attainable and relevant targets for yourself. Unfortunately, as you note the relevancy of many corporate targets is rarely a strong point!

    Anyway, nice post and well done for surviving the review!

      • They often come across to me as being, quite simply, for the convenience of management to more easily be able to pretend to manage.

        Real, quality, effective management means actually getting to know the work and the workers themselves. It is a lot more work from the perspective of time and ability required but it produces better work and happier people (the two often, of course, very closely linked!).

        Personal goals are far more effective. Why they are not encouraged more thoroughly at work I do not know. More effort again I suspect!

  2. Appraisals are just a way of rewarding your friends and punishing people you don’t like in a country that has employment protection for employees. They are also pretty useful if you just need to sack a whole bunch of people because trading’s turned south

    YABU as they like to say on Mumsnet….

    Lots of firms operate stacked ranking where 20% or so of any group of employees have to be ranked poor and a lot of firms dictate that some/all of that bottom percentage must be got rid of each year

    Maybe if you worked for one of those latter firms you might have a legitimate whine

    I have my own business and I would quite happily sit through a few hours of management bull than not get hired again…..which is what happens when your face doesn’t fit with the current line-up at the company you are doing work for

    You should feel lucky that someone is willing to offer you a fairly large regular paycheck, a car and a pension contribution….95% of people working on the planet don’t get that

    If you really don’t like your situation change it

    • Considering I’m not (and will never be) a mother and so mumsnet user, I had to google ‘YABU’ ;)
      I don’t see what’s unreasonable about being annoyed at having my performance measured by irrelevant scorings. Yes; I am thankful to have a job but then equally I’ve worked hard to get to this point. To say that I effectively shouldn’t be talking about these things purely because I ought to be so grateful for employment is a slippery path indeed.

    • This blog suggests a wholehearted embracing of change. Your situation seems rather like that of a prostitute. Sit, or adopt some other position, through the pain to accept the reward.
      If it were easy to escape the bull one would surely do so but bull is as ever the fashion. Appraisals will go the way of mission statements and the pointlessness of the next great idea will be the same as the previous ones and the whole sorry process will be perpetuated by people who are willing to sit through management bull.
      “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” , as they say in Ecclesiastes 1:9.


  3. Woah your appraisal sounds brutal compared to ours!

    We have to have them but I think most people secretly acknowledge that they are totally bollocks.

    I think the issue comes when companies and/or teams become too large and upper management with the help of HR start to feel like they are not in control of such a large beast. That’s what it all boils down to really, the feeling that they are still in control and are adding value and doing their bit. I would posit that they are not in control and that is a bloody good thing because you can’t have one person who knows the ins and outs of everything, even in relatively small teams, IMO.

    It is a sad state of affairs that this sort of thing has caught on even into creative type jobs where as you say the targets set are very subjective and even more of a waste of everyone’s time.

    Even when I was a PC salesman the targets used to annoy me. I guess it’s very hard to pay a commission structure without targets but the bullshit that came with it was the thing. Why are you not doing very well this month TFS? Well it’s because the customers I spoke to didn’t really want to buy a PC, simple as! They would never admit that luck of the draw came into it. Glad to be out of that bullshitters paradise let me tell thee! (That was about 15 years ago… Time is a good healer, although you probably can’t tell ha ha)

    Good post and I think most would agree. Cheers

    • Thanks TFS, glad to hear I’m not alone! I totally get what you’re saying about the customers just not wanting to buy the product that day.. there’s only so much you can influence someone so seems unfair to be judged harshly when something is ultimately out of your control

  4. Sorry to hear about your painful appraisal, Guy. I can imagine your shock if this is your first formal one. I think your company has got good intentions regarding formal reviews and one-to-ones. However, it sounds like they’re not measuring anything meaningful, using a ‘one size fits all’ type of appraisal template for all employees. That or your manager really needs some training on the whole appraisal process!

    I’ve been through lots of them – the company I work for has a formal annual one but also a mid-year review, to ‘see if you are on track with your goals’.

    At the start of each year, I set my own goals and my boss reviews them and will then add a couple of his own. As I don’t have numerical targets, essentially my goals are to do my job well, work as part of the team, help the company progress, help train colleagues, suggest improvements to processes, that kind of thing.

    Most of my appraisals over the years have been pretty good and everyone is scored on them – below a certain score, you don’t get a pay rise. And as this is the only pay rise we get (ie there’s no automatic annual rise with inflation etc), people have to take these appraisals pretty seriously. During the bad old recession years, nobody got a pay rise, we just got told our scores and got a ‘well done’ for our efforts, haha!

    Whilst I don’t like these appraisals, in a way, I’m glad we have them. If there was no formal review process in place, then there’s a chance people could be treated unfairly, eg if they don’t get on with their boss, or if conversely, someone is being treated more favourably than others in the team.

    I’ve also found that while you’re being appraised, it presents a good opportunity while talking about achieving your goals, to sell yourself to your boss. This on occasion has resulted in a larger than average pay rise for me!

    • I agree with appraisals, indeed at my previous role I think I had 2 in the 5 years I was there and it is difficult to try and justify a pay request when you’ve not got much supporting evidence. The problem I find is that many targets and appraisals are based on measurements either irrelevant or outside of the employee’s control. Your method of setting your own goals and then collaborating on them seems like a much better system.

  5. You review “interview” sounds awful. Hopefully it won’t be too many years until you can wash your hands of that!

    In comparison I’m very fortunate in my downshift. Because I used to be a senior manager in the company I work with before downshifting & going part time, I am frequently seen as the “go to” person for special things that need looking after that require senior “oversight” but don’t fit easily within our typical management structure. Moreover, a number of these are legally required, and no one in my company does this work other than myself, so I essentially write my own annual review & get a nice payrise without really any questions being asked! Obviously I am getting the work done on time & within budget to make this happen!

  6. Does anyone else have to endure this annual (or more frequent!) pain.. or does your employer instead judge you by your own personal achievements?

    We ended up quarterly reviews at one point which were used exactly as Neverland states, and I was daft enough not to realise the big picture until somewhat too late. Although I did take appropriate action when I did get the picture.

    ERE’s post on the gamesmen enlightened me. This sort of barren metrics is symptomatic of a decadent extractive management that does not build skills or invest in people at all. I am old enough to have seen the change -I was trained much wider than by role in broadcast engineering/design when working for the BBC and to a lesser extent when starting at The Firm. Both these companies were much more vertically integrated than they are now so this had value – the general trend of business is to know more and more about less and less and outsource other stuff across rigid inter-company service level agreements, deploying lawyers if it all goes titsup.

    Such companies are disgusting and unrewarding places to work IMO. It is quite true that 95% of the world doesn’t have that and this is why living standards for most people in the UK will fall over the coming years, though possibly for humanity as a whole it may be a win in material terms. Hopefully one day we will work out how to tame capitalism’s tendency towards winner-takes-all because I’d say we will soon enter a Gilded Age again, we’ve already got the robber barons.

    You did business management at university so I guess you can tell me whether the chance made business better. Many things work better now and are more functional and/or cheaper. It is the things that rely on services that increasingly stink. Once upon a time if the device you had went wrong you could ring the company itself up and speak to someone who might actually help you, and the retailer knew the products and serviced them. Now in the revolting transactional business model if it works it works. If it doesn’t work within 12 months you may get a refund. If the service goes wrong you are SOL and end up in call-centre hell. This is progress in business – a functional eye of the storm surrounded by kafka-esque hell.

    Metrics run by overpaid reductionist simple minds stamp out the fluffy but valuable stuff like vision and leadership – contrast people like Arnold Weinstock building GEC across more than thrity years into a powers versus the MBA (sorry!) wrecking crowd that FUBARed the firm into the bankruptcy court in a tenth of the time. And no, I didn’t work for that company or it’s demon spawn.

    • Well its quite simple really isn’t it:

      – pay someone £35k a year in the UK who will constantly bitch about your corporate processes

      – pay someone £15k a year in the Phillipines/India/South Africa who will think they have hit life’s jackpot and be a good corporate drone

      Isn’t hard to see what a corporation will choose to do…

      • And yet many don’t. Infact we’re now starting to see a swing towards on-shoring of many direct customer facing roles again.
        I guess I’m lucky that my role involves being physically on-site for alot of the time anyway.

      • @Neverland Point generally taken, and I’m glad to be out of this race to the bottom though I see some of the backdraft in falling investment returns etc. There’s a Joni Mitchell song involving a parking lot that hopefully will play out across the wasted land when these corporations realise they needed the middle class to buy their damned products/services but this is no longer my fight I’m happy to say. Good luck to you and all and may the Devil take the hindmost.

        • They have a new middle class living in Asia and go mad for brands

          They eat KFC and drink 24 ounce cokes when they like to drive around in their new cars at the weekend listening to k-pop on their android phones

          Pretty soon there will be a billion of them

          They also like to go to Europe to come on holiday to do some shopping and look at history

          I imagine the romans felt the same way about the greeks

  7. Appraisals and reviews – Oh, how I don’t miss them!!!
    In one job I had to do reviews on my team as well as having them myself – it was a waste of time. It was just a mechanism to rate people so they could performance manage the lowest scorers out of the business and only give a pay rise to the single highest scorer out of the whole team.

    In my last job, the appraisal process was a mess. I was set targets – “managing working relationships”, “getting project X completed by date Y” as common examples. I was assigned to work with someone who was known to be a troublemaker and hard to work for – no one in the business liked working with them. This person was out to get me from the start – they set traps to stop me achieving my targets. I had no choice but to keep working and ignore the ‘game playing’. It was so demotivating, I asked to move but was told it wouldn’t look good for my appraisal targets.
    The “get project X completed” would be out of my control, I was part of a team and the whole team needed to complete their parts for this to be achieved.
    It got so bad, they couldn’t even complete my probation review because I wasn’t doing the job I was recruited for so they couldn’t assess me!!! (They reassigned me to do other work on my first day in the office and said it was a short-term secondment) 6 months later I was still there working for this nightmare person and asking to be moved to do what I was recruited for. Their response – they would have to extend my probation as until I actually was assigned work that matched my job description they couldn’t say I had passed my probation. *** They had moved me!! I hadn’t had a say on this *** My only choice was to leave – so I did – and didn’t look back !! ***

    Target based appraisals just don’t work for me. They don’t motivate me. They just fit the ‘do what we say and just be happy you have a job’ scenario…..

    One quote from my last boss: “JFDI” I think that sums up the working ethics alive in the workplaces I have worked in recently.

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