I am currently working in a very small dept (compared to other dept in this company). There are 2 units in this very small dept.

What happened in previous years was that our team has consistently excelled compared to the other team (our performance review has always been above average). And then we have a change in our immediate superior about 2 years ago. So, she kept giving the other team higher ratings, and our team has consistently been below par. I basically confronted her, and she claimed she heard through the grapevine that I have commitment issues and I'm not a team player. I asked her if she could give me proof, but she couldn't. I have few staff under me.

My commitment has never been questioned previously, I would work on holidays, and after working hours. We as a team, have always turned up our tasks before the deadline, and our heads would always reach out to us whenever the other team couldn't. My mind baffles when she basically questioned the "team player" aspect.

And then, we had a reorg, and a new head of dept. We work well as a team, so whenever, 1 is down, the other would pick up the slack. Teamwork is great I would say in this team.

Come this year's performance review, and it seems that only 1 of us in this team has received an above average rate whereas the others' ratings (including myself) have been calibrated down. Which for me, seems a bit unfair.

I confronted the immediate superior, she said this year's ratings are out of her hands and I asked to discuss how the calibrations were done. She refused to discuss it, which is a bit odd as a manager. So I have set up an appointment with the head to discuss this.

The head basically told me that we would have to be visible to the other heads despite having a good performance. I questioned her about this, as there are others who have been rated higher which I believe aren't really visible (and aren't really performing, I was basically hinting on the favouritism aspect). They merely come to work to clock in and clock out. Indirectly she told me it was a popularity contest.

I feel like I am constantly fighting a losing battle, with an immediate superior and a head like this, how do I shake things up so that they would actually reward people who are really performing (not me per se)? Feeling a little bit demotivated now.

  • 2
    What are the key metrics you are assessed on? Targets should be clearly defined and easy to prove whether you achieved them or not.
    – bushell
    May 1, 2019 at 8:12
  • 2
    Your question seems to be, "how do I shake things up so that they would actually reward people who is really performing?" Consider that performance reviews are not just about rewarding hard workers, they're about looking for opportunities. If you receive a low grade, take it as an opportunity to ask concrete questions about how you can improve, and then do things to improve yourself or your team in those areas. Don't just look for praise, look for tangible actions you can take. Make it about improving the future rather than arguing about who is getting praised for the past.
    – dwizum
    May 1, 2019 at 13:05
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    This seems like a rant in disguise ("this is an unfair process, am I right?") as written. Can you edit to focus on the actual problem to be solved? May 1, 2019 at 15:26
  • Please ask a specific question. It will help us help you. edit your post.
    – O. Jones
    May 4, 2019 at 11:43

4 Answers 4


Performance reviews should be (as far as possible) based on objective metrics, not subjective feelings of your line manager - and those metrics should be made very clear. The fact it was described as a "popularity contest" is setting off alarm bells, as is the fact you were supposedly marked down because "she heard from the grapevine that I have commitment issues and not a teamplayer".

Performance reviews in your company at the moment sound all but luck of the draw, quite frankly.

If you want to focus on changing things in the longer term, I'd be pushing for objective, open-to-all metrics for performance reviews that anyone can see.

That has two key advantages for you:

  • It becomes very clear what you need to improve on if you're being marked down in one or more metrics;
  • If you're marked incorrectly in one or more metrics, it becomes very easy to challenge - "Hey boss, I've been marked well below average for punctuality, but I've been late a grand total of once this year with no sick leave. Could you take a look at that again?"
  • 1
    You haven't worked for a big company apparently as well. The fuzziness of the metric is a fact. Performance metrics are based on the political and emotional aspects, not on factual ones in big companies. May 2, 2019 at 9:43
  • @MatthieuBrucher I'm going to have to disagree. That's a very broad, sweeping statement that doesn't hold up to reality in my experience.
    – berry120
    May 2, 2019 at 12:01
  • It holds in the ones I observed, and it does in lots of companies that are non-software companies. May 2, 2019 at 13:24

I can't believe no one's mentioned this yet, but it sounds to me like you're working for people who don't appreciate hard workers, and you should find a new employer ASAP.

As others have already told you, performance reviews should be based on clear metrics which would allow for a unbiased result. But you already know this. The reason you poured your heart out in the post above is because you're facing an unfair situation, and you don't know how to deal with it.

The idea that you might be able to drive change in your organization is, sadly, delusional. It's incredibly difficult to drive change even when you're in a position of power and prestige within a company, and you don't sound like you are.

The end result of policies which end reward a$$-kissers, and brown-nosers over those who actually get the job done is usually that the unrewarded high performers end up leaving for greener pastures. Some companies realize this is the case and snap out of it, while others nose dive as the environment becomes more and more toxic.

By all means, raise whichever concerns you feel may be appropriate, such as the fact that the review process is not transparent, the metrics not well defined, etc.

But realize, that as those who've manipulated your leaders into giving them better reviews based on popularity see their efforts pay off, they're likely to double down. Seeing as you'll be the only person speaking up against the injustice being perpetrated, you'll automatically place yourself in their cross-hairs, and you will likely become the target of even more smear campaigns (which, it seems, is already the case).

Your bosses will also have a vested interest in not admitting that they've been unfair or biased, so they're also unlikely to back down, or radically change course on the matter.

You're fighting a losing battle.

Your best move is to either start playing politics with the rest of them, or get out before you're made out to be the bad guy, and end up being driven out.

Personally, I would advise you to start looking for a new job, because I sincerely doubt that the situation you find yourself in is going to improve (although it may well get worse).

  • Seems like have never worked for a big company... Metrics are always fuzzy in those by design. May 2, 2019 at 9:40
  • @matthieubrucher - sometimes they are, sometimes they're not. However, what most smart companies don't do is leave their top performers hanging (or worse, throw them under the bus), while only rewarding the brown-nosers.
    – AndreiROM
    May 2, 2019 at 12:40
  • Unfortunately, big companies are not smart, and there are many studies that prove this. May 2, 2019 at 13:25

It's really a popularity contest in any company of a good size. It's all about being visible.

The way it's done is that your manager gives you a grade, and this gives a distribution for your team. Then this distribution is compared at the level higher with the other teams, and they have to make these distributions consistent and get in the end for this level an average average and a standard standard deviation.

At this level, your manager has to fight for you (so he/she needs to want to fight for you and be a fighter). To do this, the other heads that need to be convinced of keeping your marks have to know about you and in a positive way.

You can be great at your job, if you are not visible, you won't succeed. It's basically unfair if you consider meritocracy as how a company should work (it should as objectives are set at the beginning of the year!). But it's not, it's a communication game.

  • One advice I've heard: try and make your manager look good...that might get on their good graces :)
    – rogerdpack
    May 1, 2019 at 16:08
  • It's not just your managers, it's important to make them look good, but you still don't have visibility then. You need to create your own as well. May 2, 2019 at 9:41
  • 1
    True, layoffs do seem to come from the people "above" your direct manager. But then again if you're making your manager "look good" it's usually to their manager and these things somehow tend to get around... :)
    – rogerdpack
    May 3, 2019 at 19:29

It sounds as though your company is suffering from some combination of stack ranking (structural poison: example article), unclear or unfair performance appraisals, or simply bad communication, to explain to you what you are not doing or doing wrong, and what you should do instead. Comments about "calibration" and "visibility to other heads" suggest stack ranking is the most likely culprit.

However, you should also consider the possibility that you may not have access to the full picture - can you be sure that your team really is above average if you are not seeing what everyone else in the company is doing?

It's not entirely clear what your question is because for the most part it seems just to be a complaint about the situation, but taking this at face value:

how do I shake things up so that they would actually reward people who is really performing?

If what you have described is broadly accurate and a fair assessment, then the problem is outside the normal scope of what you can affect. It is a systemic and cultural issue, probably championed by one or more people either in management or HR. The only way to change it would be to identify those people and change their minds, perhaps starting with articles like the one I just linked, if stack ranking is indeed what's happening.

However, if those people are already unaware that stack ranking is harmful, then they are ignorant and incompetent. If they already know it is harmful but are choosing to do it anyway, they are malicious. Either way, someone who just got a below-par review complaining about the review system will probably not have much chance of changing their minds.

To "shake things up" in the way that you hope, you will need to work your way into a position in the company (at least management level, possibly even C-level executive) where you can influence such decisions. As a front line worker, you basically can't.

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