Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What to Do If You Get A Negative Performance Review You Did Not Expect or Agree With

In September of 2016 I wrote about what performance reviews are and are not.  I have received numerous emails asking me to expand on this subject, especially if you believe that a negative review is untrue.

I have heard many stories about executives receiving untrue negative reviews.  This is often the precursor to being let go. Companies actually do this to protect themselves from a lawsuit should they terminate an employee - in essence, they are building a case for termination for cause.  Beware of a review which is completely out of line with previous evaluations or your own expectations.  However, should this happen to you, here is what you must do.  It is imperative to take these steps in order to keep your options open and protect yourself.

To quote my previous post: 

"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 [or, possibly a sale].  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."

Detailing your disagreement is essential for your protection.  Among other things, it puts the company on notice that you will not easily accept a termination, should it come.  The simple act of disagreeing in writing could save your job since few companies want to be sued or have a legal dispute, despite the fact that they are richer and more capable of defending a suit than you are to actually engage in legal representation.  It could also put you in a better position to negotiate.

Should you disagree with the review and sign any document saying so, you should also get the person with whom you expressed your disagreement, to sign a copy. This, so that the company cannot say that they never knew you disagreed with the review.  If you send your disagreement via email, you must get a “read” copy (not just delivered) for your files.  If you do not receive such a document – sometimes companies just ignore the communication – send another with a different subject.  Your paper trail could be very important.

However, if you get an unexpected negative review, no matter how unjustified it may be, take it as a message.  You should get your résumé up to date and start the process of looking for a job. 


  1. I think this is an article meant for junior and middle-managers, so let me add this … Most respectable agencies won’t resort to an “unjustified” performance review just to lay pipe for firing you. Indeed, the best of managers will tell you how you’re doing along the way and point out areas for personal improvement, because they can’t wait for a 6-12 month HR evaluation. That’s just bad for business. And if you don’t get any on-going feedback from your boss, don’t be shy about occasionally asking how you’re doing. The best of them will be glad that you asked and if they LIKE and respect you, guide you toward steps for continued career success. Good for you; good for them; good for the client; and good for the agency. Short of this and in the event of an unjustifiably negative and routine review, take Paul’s advice and start packing your bags. Keeping in mind that if you really are as good as you believe you are, you’ll be much better off down the road. Because the cream almost always rises to the top. Positive thinking people - always, positive thinking!

    1. Anon: Actually this post is meant for everyone at every level. This recently happened to a $350k General Manager at a major agency. I told him what was happening and, sure enough, two months he was let go for poor performance. Previously, he had gotten a stellar performance review only four months prior to the negative one. They tried to void their severance agreement due to non-performance. We got him a lawyer and it was settled for the full amount due to him, but only after he supboened the HR person who confessed, under oath, that the whole thing was fictitious.

    2. Wow! That's some story. Just curious to know what the agency meant by non-performance when his review four months earlier was "stellar". You said you saw it coming ... how did you know and what did you hear about him before the ax came down?

    3. Anon: First of all, this executive has an incredible track record. He knew he was doing well and his previous review reaffirmed his excellent performance. When, several months later, out of the blue, he got a negative evaluation, which made no sense to him, I knew (as did he) that they were setting him up. It was obvious, especially when people he worked with kept telling him how well he was doing and how much they liked him.

    4. But Paul ... You didn't answer my question ... What did the agency say about the evaluative metrics for his sudden career non-performance? They didn't really like him? He inexplicably developed some kind of"abuse" problem? A bad attendance record? What?

    5. They merely told him he was not leading, that people didn't like him and that he was no longer functioning well. It was all a lie.
      When he took depositions the person who did the evaluation admitted it was a lie. They had to pay his severance plus damages.

  2. Good! And especially happy that the agency had to pay "damages", which I hope was a lot of money. Because, as the old saying goes, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?" Also wondering if he sued any of these rotten individuals in civil court for their personal libel, slander, and defamation of character? Maybe even for perjury in a sworn deposition (a criminal offense).

    1. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. He had to sign a NDA and was not even supposed to tell me. He was happy with his settlement.


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