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:
Performance reviews are confidential documents between me and my boss, my reports don’t see it, ever.
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.