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Samuel Culbert thinks that they are evil. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122426318874844933.html

I tend to agree - there is nothing worse than for someone creative (let's assume I am) to be judge on a 5-point system and to be stored away in HR department.

However, I am not sure how many companies actually followed his advice. Have you ever worked at a place which never required one?

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And why would you work at a place which does not mandate meritocratic evaluations? –  Fanatic23 Jan 26 '11 at 4:48
@Fanatic - Why would you want to work for a place that only mandated meritocratic evaluations once a year? –  Jason Baker Jan 26 '11 at 5:34
@Jason - Because you are evaluated on what you deliver. And building something seriously robust, secure and include all anticipated user demands would probably need at least a year. Major production releases don't (or at least are not supposed to anyway) happen every few weeks or months. –  Fanatic23 Jan 26 '11 at 5:37
@Fanatic - Don't be naive. Human beings factor in things outside of your work like how attractive you are (even if you're of a sex they aren't attracted to), how well you dress, how much they like you, how good a speaker you are, and lots of other things. It's just how people work. Besides that, your boss has some knowledge of how you're doing between releases. It's not like they haven't been paying attention at all until then. –  Jason Baker Jan 26 '11 at 6:38
@Jason - perhaps I am naive, but I would find it hard to accept a salary hike that factors in my dress sense more than my technical credentials. –  Fanatic23 Jan 26 '11 at 6:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I completely agree with that article. I've never in my life worked for a company that had any sort of evaluation system like that. Luckily, I've always worked for smaller tech startups/ISV's. But a lot of my friends have worked in places that do that. In those places, such reviews are incredibly counter productive, and cause unnecessary stress and resentment among employees. I simply dont understand in what situation the supervisor would need a review meeting with an employee. If the employee is valuable, the supervisor should know that, and report it. If they arent, he should know it, and report it. If the supervisor doesnt know, they need a new supervisor.

Honestly, they seem to me more to be a cop-out. A way for incompetent supervisors to make it look like they are doing their jobs. Or worse, a nice little toy for corporate politics.

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I think they are like any tool. They can be productive or destructive depending on the user. I started my career at a start-up. We did not have any sort of evaluation or performance reviews. I can't really comment on how I felt about that because I was so "green" that I just trying figure out how to do my job. About 2 years in we got bought out as a wholly owned subsidiary. At this point "performance reviews" were required. Honestly, in my experience they have been extraordinarily beneficial. I don't really care what HR does with the review, but through this mechanism I have been to define, with my boss, a clear set of goals that need to be accomplish in order to get a promotion. Ultimately, I want to make as much money as possible and having a clear set of objectives defined to reach the next level is invaluable. However, I am sure my experience with process is unique and I can certainly understand how easy it would be to abuse the tool to the point that it distracts from productivity.

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Yeah I have been at places that didn't have performance reviews where one should be careful of wanting this too much. Start-ups that have no HR department may well operate this way and it can be quite poor in a sense as there isn't any feedback to the employee of how well or not well they are doing. Would you rather fly blind all the time or would you want a once a year sort of check-up? I'd rather have periodic retrospective takes on what happened every quarter or more frequently so that I can know how I am seen by my boss and others rather than once a year having to average things out so much that it does become close to meaningless as I may have had a really great month or quarter but if the first half of last year I wasn't even mediocre this can be a hard pill to swallow. Still, it can be useful if I have enough years some place to see all my reviews and see a picture of where I am, where do I want to go and how is that working, though this does require quite a good system to keep tabs on it all as there is a good chance what I thought I wanted years ago isn't the same now.

On the notion of start-ups, this can depend a bit on what kind of team is around and how well funded is the company as if the company is started by someone that has no trouble pouring in the funds to keep the company going and the top developers aren't good then it can be quite easy for the sub-par developer to stay under the radar. The career progression, personal development, and knowing areas to improve are things where a review can be useful if this is set up properly which is where I'd agree with the Samuel Culbert in that there is a great chance of this to not be good but I'd be careful in considering which alternatives are better or worse too.

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In a start up it is more cut and dry. You do what you said you could or you get fired. Only in a bigger company can you sort of just slide by or do just enough not get noticed. –  Pemdas Jan 26 '11 at 3:03
@Pemdas, surely not all start-ups know what they are doing... –  Job Jan 26 '11 at 3:10
that is probably true, but their chances of success are probably zero. either way...I find it pretty hard to believe that you can be a sub par developer at start-up. We are talking about a small team here maybe 10 max. It is pretty hard to fly under the radar in the group that small –  Pemdas Jan 26 '11 at 3:13
ok...let me rephrase that...you "shouldn't" be able to get away with that at a start up. If you are good at what you do you then should be able to evaluate the people that you are are going working with when you accept a job at a start up. if can't do that then you shouldn't accept the job. –  Pemdas Jan 26 '11 at 5:39
@Pemdas - I agree. You shouldn't be able to get away with that in a startup. You shouldn't be able to get away with it in a big company either. –  Jason Baker Jan 26 '11 at 6:33

Had them in some form or another in several jobs I've held. I always took them with a grain-of-salt... until the workplace environment takes a turn for the worse.

They are easy to brush aside (except for the financial incentives) when the project status is good and everyone is happy. When the project turns sour OTOH, you find each person examining their own past reviews looking for any minute detail that may mean the difference during a future round of layoffs.

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Yeah, these are mostly for big corps, so that management can justify any bonus they give out.

The converse is that small companies may not give out any bonuses!

I've worked in a number of companies, some that do, some that do.

The ones that do.... the system is universally hated.

In theory they make some sense, but it's all very subjective, and no-one has all the information to really put the theory into practice and correctly/accurately rank everyone.

The other problem is, managers always have their favourites and friends, and there are always political reasons why you might not get a high mark.

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