Thursday, November 23, 2006


Last Friday, I had my first annual performance evaluation at my new job. A lot of different things have happened since I started this journey a little over fifteen months ago (yes, the eval was late). I have learned what it truly is to be managed by a set of values, both as an individual and a company. I have a much stronger understanding of where my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses lie. I have been blessed beyond my expectations, esteemed more than I deserve, and respected beyond any expectation. I have accomplished things that I thought were beyond me and failed at things I should know. The past fifteen months have been one of those experiences where I learned much but it brought the comprehension that I still know very little.

Despite all of these praiseworthy events, there have also been times when I felt embarrassed, incapable, abandoned and even slighted. These were rare. In my own mind, some of them overshadowed my victories but all quickly faded as I either absorbed them into my experience or was reminded of the lesson they serve. My evaluation was one of those instances.

They way my company works, any salary adjustments are held until after the completion of the performance evaluation so it is in the best interest of the employee and the employer to complete it in a timely manner. When my anniversary passed, I made sure to mention it to my superiors. As the days turned into weeks, I reminded them of the need for it to be completed. As the weeks turned into months, I turned in a self-evaluation, both to show how I felt about the job I was doing and to give them a physical reminder that it needed to be done. Finally, I made an appointment for last Friday to give them a deadline.

As I sat discussing the evaluation with my manager, my mind raced to understand why criteria after criteria was marked with the letter-grade equivalent of a C. I had worked hard, very hard, and grown very much over the past year. Did they not recognize it? I went into what I can only describe as a state of shock and raised little to no objection, although I did ask questions. After the discussion was complete, the form was signed and I learned that my raise was also to be...average.

As the day went on and the impact began to soften, my mind began to work. In an effort to make myself feel better, I started listing my accomplishments. Later, I weighed them against my shortcomings in an effort to understand how the ratings were deserved. Although I didn't feel the evaluation was prepared with malice, the numbers still did not add up.

At a couple of points during the afternoon, I thought about mentioning my feelings to my manager but felt my thoughts were still too scattered. You don't go into court without preparing a case. I went about the rest of my day outwardly showing no signs of the conflict within. Finally, late at night, I spoke to my wife about it... and the emotion I felt, that I had been keeping in check even to myself, came forth and I decided I had to respond.

I spent the weekend writing my response. At first, it was a written account of what was going through my mind. I took into account that it would be added to my file and was careful to choose the correct wording but it was still filled with emotion and was somewhat scattered. Two or three drafts later, I had a coherent document worthy of presentation. I would later be told that, from the words and subjects I had chosen, it was apparent that I had an emotional weekend.

Monday morning, I scheduled an afternoon meeting with the two people who had managed me over the past year. I felt it important to talk to both of them since they had consulted on the evaluation. During the day, I was not nervous or bothered because I felt confident that I would be heard. Five minutes before the meeting, I was gripped with panic. Previous environments would not have made allowances for this type of meeting - for various reasons - and I was about to stand up for myself and contradict those who might listen or might take offense. Deep inside, I knew they would listen, my experience with them taught me that, but I knew I had also pointed out some shortcomings on their part and the irrational fear took prominence.

The discussion went well. I felt I might break here and there but I held my ground. I listened closely to what they said. They reciprocated. I had the feeling that, to them, this meeting was as important as one making a million-dollar decision about the direction of the company. And I think it was. I think it was because they realized and respected that to me it was that important.

The dialogue brought understanding. I think it will also bring about change. The numbers began to make sense to me. The discrepancies were chalked up to a difference in perspective and an inappropriate evaluation tool for the environment. I was told that I was not the first to broach the subject of some of my concerns. I was promised that action would be taken on one of them (regarding training). I emerged knowing that I had been heard.

In the end, action was taken - which I am not at liberty to discuss - that reflected an improved view in the official record. It was very much appreciated but was honestly secondary to simply being heard.

When Tuesday morning rolled around, I felt renewed. I had come through an experience in which I had not only learned but had also taught. I was transformed. I would never be the same person I was that Monday morning. I had grown.

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