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Surviving a Bad Performance Review

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “On her performance review, my sister “Jenna” was rated “below expectations” because her boss said she took too long to complete a major project. However, this really wasn’t her fault.  During that time, she had a lot of computer problems. Also, management changes created some confusion, and her co-workers weren’t very cooperative. Now Jenna is on a three-month probation with a warning that her current project must be completed on time. It’s not clear what will happen if she doesn’t meet the deadline. I don’t think this is fair, because many things are beyond her control and she gets little cooperation from others. What do you think?” — Angry Sis

Marie’s Answer: I think you have only one side of the story. Here are some points to consider:

•    When someone receives a reprimand, her first response is almost always to point out other reasons for the problem. That’s just human nature. But here’s the catch: People who never see their own flaws continue to repeat the same ineffective behaviors.  

•    Jenna received a low rating because her project was late. Other factors may have contributed, but her boss clearly believes she was responsible. At this point, she should stop fretting about “fairness” and concentrate on meeting expectations.  

•    To get off probation, Jenna must focus like a laser on her upcoming project deadline. If unavoidable obstacles arise, she should tell her boss immediately.  And she needs to do whatever it takes to get along with her co-workers.  
By continuing to encourage your sister’s search for scapegoats, you are only perpetuating the problem. So instead of collaborating in her denial, try to help Jenna save her job.   

For tips on dealing with a negative performance appraisal, see How to Respond to a Bad Performance Review.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gohughes July 22, 2010 at 9:10 am

There are a couple of things that stood out early on as I was reading about “Jenna”. First and foremost, you don’t seem to see that these are all just excuses. You did not say how long “Jenna” had been in this position but most managers are able to see the big picture and if her standard of work in the past had been up to par would have taken that in to consideration and not based her performance review solely on failure to complete a major project on time. You said that during the time she was working on this major project SHE had a lot of computer problems. Does that mean there were major problems with her computer? or, that SHE had problems with her computer? My decision was pretty well made when you said that her co-workers were not very cooperative. Come on, do you honestly think that your sister has been wronged, that she is an innocent victim here? You are doing your sister an injustice when you say how unfair all of this is for “Jenna”. Instead you need to be encouraging her to make sure she lets her manager know when there are problems that may affect her getting projects done within the required timeframe, to analyize her work ethics to see if she is the problem when it comes to her co-workers cooperation, and to strive to make sure her next review is stellar because none of the reasons you give for her bad review are “beyond her control”. People who go through life making excuses and blaming someone else will always get “bad reviews”- in every facet of their life. And, fair? A manager requiring an employee to improve their substandard performance within a 3 month timeframe is fair but an employee not accepting any of the blame for substandard work is not fair.


Bad Review Used for the Good July 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I had a poor performance review that I totally did not agree with. I was very upset at first although I did not let on to my employer that her review had upset me. I thought about it on my own and discussed it with my husband. Then, I set about improving the best I could with resources available. My boss told me that other employees did not like me (which was not true) but I had to figure out a way to combat the information that had been fed to her. Long story short, I approached my boss with a request to send me to a Conflict Management Seminar so that I could learn how to handle conflict more positively. Thankfully she agreed and I wrote a a one-page report afterwords to let her know what I learned. Over time, the tables turned and the truth came out about who the real trouble makers were on staff and my name was cleared. I just kept working more diligently and more efficiently and after awhile, my bad review went by the wayside. Office politics are very difficult to navigate. I did learn through the experience and realized that it was an opportunity for me to stretch, grow, and improve my skills. Best Wishes to your sister as I have every confidence that she can grow through her bad review and come out on the other end with a lot more experience under her belt.


Gloria July 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I disagree somewhat. Management share some responsibility in the project being late. Upper level management is always in a rush and hurry up mentality that they fail to give all the pertinent information until it’s too late. Since Jenna was only late with the project, she should not be given a three-month probation. Some warning or reprimand, but not the harsh treatment the boss has given. You can only do so much with uncooperative co-workers. You can’t make anybody do anything. Management put burdens on assistants that are hard to carry. We are not authorized to make others perform; but management is. It sounds like everyone involved played a part in the project being late.


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