Do you think your manager is fair to you?

I had an interesting thought yesterday (while completing my own performance review document!): how will people reporting to me ever be sure that I am not taking undue credit for my contribution? It may be possible that while the actual work is done by someone reporting to me (say Joe), I may present this in such a way in my review that it seems like I was the  real contributor and Joe was just executing it.

This scenario is possible because of two reasons:

  1. Performance reviews are confidential documents between me and my boss, my reports don’t see it, ever.
  2. As you go higher up, the information gap between you and your manager’s manager keep increasing, so my boss may have very little way of knowing what Joe really did.

This problem can happen in case of peers taking credit for your work, though it is less likely (at least at junior positions) because  everyone knows what others are doing in their team, and it is more difficult to pull this off. However, if manager is aloof from day to day work people do, or has a working style where the reports don’t get to know a lot about what their peers are doing and how they are being measured, the same problem arises here too.

Interesting,  isn’t it? Scary too! 🙂

If you are a manager, you should understand that your reports may have such thoughts and you should guard against this. Best place to start is to write performance reviews (either self-appraisal or review feedback for your reports) assuming that all these documents are available for anyone to read. If you can internalize this, you will be surprised to see how you critique your own writing and the result will be a better review document/feedback. In my case, when I was writing my own review, I assumed my peers and my reports can read this too, and immediately the tone and the language which I was using while writing this review changed and I started using more examples (had to dig my mails and jog my memory more!), and the extra time taken for this was worth it.

As a manager, another way you can guard against such thought process (and real issues in some cases) is to actually share your review with your team. This takes lots of courage, and also some smartness (there may indeed be some personal goals/issues identified in the review which have no bearing to your team’s work/performance, don’t share such details, they will cause more confusion). However, if you actually do it (and make sure you are not breaking any HR rule by doing it!), you will earn the trust of your team in a big way. Most of these thoughts about fairness come into employees mind due to lack of trust and so such an act of sharing helps a lot. However, be careful about repercussions, think twice before doing it. I know a manager who do this occasionally, and I myself have done it selectively (in 1-1 settings) and it helps indeed. However, I do not know of any company where performance reviews are not confidential.

If you are an employee, and you think your manager may not be fair to you or your peer may be taking undue credit for your/shared work, you can guard against it by providing detailed comments in your performance review (because most performance review processes do require manager’s manager  for approval). Using emails to keep electronic trail of your accomplishments is a good idea and same can be used while writing the feedback to provide examples. However, root cause of the problem is whether you trust your manager to do the right thing or not. There are ways in which you can create that or at least find out out whether you should trust him/her or not, but that is matter for some future post maybe, it is topic of its own.

Some companies use 360-degrees feedback in their performance review process, and that can act as a deterrent for such behavior, but I haven’t found evidence to suggest it can actually catch such behavior.

What are your thoughts on this question, and possible solutions I have offered? Have you had any experience with any of these solutions I offer above, are they useful at all in your case? Do post your comments.

4 Replies to “Do you think your manager is fair to you?”

  1. I’d first note that, as a manager, I will be evaluated based upon my team’s performance, so taking credit for their execution is perfectly OK.

    If you, as a manager, are assigned a project that only you worked on, your manager will know your results.

    One of the hardest things for company managers to execute is to define goals for the performance review that are both in control of the employee and are able to measured.

    Measured goals make the performance review simple in the end, while being harder up front to define. Measured goals also are easily visible to coworkers as they are usually measured on the same items.

    Measured goals also take away issues as to who gets credit — if they are in control of the employee and are measurable, the numbers speak for themselves.

  2. I agree with the fact that measurable (SMART) goals solve the problem. However, my experience has been that some groups find it easy to get some good measures for their goals and completion (like sales quota, no. of customer incidents resolved, turnaround time, etc), others find it hard to do since their work may not lend itself to easy measures. Cases I have in mind are from enterprise software development companies where delay between software development and actual customer being happy/unhappy about it could be 18-24 months, and putting intermediate measures become an artificial exercise. Also, many tasks do not lend themselves to measurement well, like efficiency of a training program, or how an individual performed in a team, or how to measure competencies (which are part of most reviews).
    However, I agree with the premise that very few managers take the extra effort to try and define measurable goals upfront in the cycle, and many organizations do not encourage spending so much time at the start of the review cycle for next year. Many of these problems can be resolved if that due diligence is done.

  3. This one of the reasons I like 360 reviews. For an organization’s performance & culture to be sustainable over the long term, such review have to be part of the fabric.

    In my experience most (software?) professionals shun undue credit . They however also have a distorted view of the extent of their contribution to a project’s success. 360 reviews are good a way not just for the manager to deduce actual contribution from individuals. They are also a tool for the manager to synthesize constructive & direct feedback to the individuals.

    For the few years that I was part of such a system, I liked it. Best I could tell, my peers appreciated it too.

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