What is a performance review, anyway?
Most of the details of a performance review are boilerplate and are the same from company to company. The formats may differ, but the content is pretty much the same, despite differences from one organization to another. They are generally flexible to cover all facets of activity from personality, attitude, relationships to peers, skills and actual work. The work section may cover all aspects of how the employee actually achieves his or her job. Performance evaluations are generally formalized to the extent that they cover enough detail so that the company has a record of an employees’ contribution and activity. They can be used to determine raises, promotions and transfers. They should be given on a periodic and regular basis. Traditionally, the review is conducted by the person’s supervisor and is a formal document which is signed-off on by the employee.
However, the reality of performance appraisals is often quite different. Too often they are casual and informal, so much so, that the employee does not know that it is an actual evaluation and review of their work. When it happens in this manor, they are not signed off on and may be conducted by HR or some other executive who does not directly work with the employee being evaluated.
In this litigious age, performance reviews are often used to protect the company, Many companies try to tell their employees that performance reviews exist to track and improve the performance of their workers. And while that may be somewhat true, they really exist to provide the company with a record that they have informed employees of deficiencies in their performance so that if the employee is terminated or a raise not given, the employer can fall back on the evaluation as a means of protecting itself if there is any kind of negotiation or litigation,
This requires that the employee was actually reviewed, that the employee signed off on the review and that the employee agreed with the evaluation. You would be surprised at the high number of senior executives who are terminated for poor or insufficient performance but were never told about any deficiency.
Some companies actually lie. Recently, a senior executive who was fired less than six months after taking a job, was told that three months after his employment started, he was given a review and informed that his performance was insufficient. That meeting never happened and the paperwork to support it was actually inserted into his personnel file at the time of his being let go. His lawyers uncovered the lie when he sued and there was a sworn deposition and a manager testified that she was told to insert the paperwork in his file after the fact. The irony is that the HR person who was told to insert the fraudulent document was let go just after the deposition, as if that made it okay because it was the company which told her to insert the document.. I am told that this kind of after-the-fact action is a fairly common occurrence.
While I am not a lawyer and this should not be construed as legal advice, if one is given a poor review, it should not be signed other than to note that you saw and heard the review but that you do not agree with it; this disagreement should be written right on the review and a copy made and kept. If one disagrees with it, you must write a letter/memo/email and detail your disagreement.
Beware that otherwise high performing employees are given a perfunctory and negative review in preparation to their being let go. This often happens not for reasons of performance but because the company may be anticipating cut-backs due to poor business or account loss. This frequently happens with tenured employees who may have contracts, but it is not limited to just them The company can use poor performance as an excuse for termination and for not providing severance or other benefits. Should you find out that previously positive performance is suddenly in question, you must be prepared for a termination.
It is also true that some supervisors simply lie for unstated reasons. That is why it is mandatory to create a paper trail with your disagreement. When there is a negative evaluation, most employees tend to put off the disagreement paperwork, but it is essential to respond immediately. If the human resources department is well trained, they will know how to handle this situation.
This is not to say that all reviews are bad or negative. The exact opposite can be true. If there are inefficiencies in performance which have been pointed out and you agree with them, use this opportunity to correct the issue. And if you succeed in fixing the issue, use it to your advantage. One thing to do is to ask for a reevaluation before it is due to make sure you are meeting expectations and that it is in writing,
Employee negative evaluations can also be used to withhold raises and promotions. That is another reason why you must make your disagreement with the assessment known in a timely manner. However my real advice is to look for a new job when this happens.