What’s the point of an annual review?

I just passed my five year anniversary of working in the “corporate world” and of all the similarities between college athletics and the big CW probably the disappointment I’ve noticed is the annual review.

In athletics, I went the longest time without an annual review. All of us did, it just wasn’t something that was done. If I had to guess, no annual review meant no reason to give employees a bonus or a raise. Coaches were reviewed every year whether they liked it or not but their review was simple: did you have more W’s than L’s and did your kids graduate?

To do a review, a manager must create expectations. Again, in athletics, no manager had time to do that and when they were forced to do it, it was in their best interest to keep them as vague as possible so, you guessed it, no bonus was possible.

I remember one of my first reviews in athletics. To explain in corporate terms, I was a graphic designer working in the media relations/communications department but, according to the state — for which I technically worked — I was a senior assistant sports information director with the working title of communications director. I received a “good” review but was told that I couldn’t be above average because I had CC’d the athletic director on an email.

That email? It was me agreeing to work a 60 game sport, for a second year in a row, in addition to my current responsibilities. Apparently letting someone other than my manager know that I would work extra was frowned upon.

After I left that university my reviews became almost as standard as my token female status. I was great, I kept things in order, I was the “right hand man” and was of incredible value. That means I was good. The department ‘could not run without me’ — but that was never more than a “3” on the review scale.

None of it really mattered anyway, a bonus for an employee who wasn’t a coach literally was the cost-of-living increase that everyone got. After my last review of hearing how amazing I was and then being rejected the opportunity to work men’s basketball because the coach did not want a woman traveling with his team, I left the field (it was 2011, we should have been past some of the gender restrictions like travel).

I came into the corporate world excited and eager to show how much I could do, how much value I could bring to any team. And I did. My first corporate annual review was so complimentary it was mind boggling. I was thrilled. I was actually told that I exceeded expectations and that I brought so much to the table they didn’t even realize they needed the expectations I set. But, because I had only been there 10 months, I was a “3.”

It didn’t make sense to me. It wasn’t about money, they had some convoluted system to give limited amounts of money to the employees (but more than a cost-of-living increase). All I kept hearing, apparently because my jaw hit the floor, was that 3 is good! It isn’t bad, really, it’s good. I’ll get a good bonus. Yada, yada, yada.

Every year since then has been the same, or close to the same. I honestly do not know my exact ratings each year and after more than a decade in college athletics, I still do not anticipate a bonus or raise — no matter what I do.

I haven’t had my review this year but as I sit in my cubicle listening to a manager give an annual review on speaker phone (I pray my manager doesn’t do that!) I’ve heard the same thing as his employee…you are important, you are valuable, you work really hard and you know so much more than the rest of us about x, y and z. Thank you, you are a 3.

In my limited time in the CW, I’ve known less than five people that got “5” on their annual review. One of them completed all of his goals (nothing more) and the other was slighted on a 5 the year before (so someone else could get a bonus) so naturally, and deservedly, he got a 5 the next year.

In my field, who gets 5s and why they get them, it really just boils down to the manager and the manager’s manager. You don’t earn them, it’s not W’s and L’s. Which leads me to the overall question, what’s the point of an annual review?

I think if you tell me I’m doing a good job during the year (when I deserve it ), tell me when I suck and could improve (and give me tips on how to do so ) we could just skip the annual review. In fact, just do annual reviews for those who need to improve — really need to improve. Don’t waste an hour of the company’s time to tell people they are amazing, give them a 3, try to convince them “It’s good, really, it is,” and then tell them something they did wrong the week before and call that an area of improvement. The dollars saved in hours of doing pointless reviews could be dispersed to all the 3s and they would remain highly engaged, valuable employees.

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