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Several years ago, I received a poor performance review. I would like to know how I should have handled the delivery of my assessment when it was given to me.

I worked on many different projects at this employer over the years, and this employer had a matrix organization in which we worked on various projects from where we received peer feedback, but our department organization was responsible for putting us to work on various projects as well as aggregating and delivering our performance assessments.

At this time, this was my second annual performance cycle out of maybe five on this project, and all my other assessments on other projects and on this project both before this year and after this year have all been fine. This one year was my only anomaly. (See below for more information on others' similar experiences on this project.)

In this instance, one unique situation that happened to me was that I transitioned departments shortly before the assessment period while still working on the same project, so the same people that provided my peer feedback the prior year also provided my peer feedback this year; however, a different department supervisor who didn't yet know me was responsible for aggregating the peer feedback and delivering to me.

Since this supervisor didn't know me, he simply took the raw, unfiltered feedback (obviously from my project manager) and made it part of my assessment and never reached out to the peer to press further on details. The feedback was specific and not opinion-based. Given how specific it was, I was able to discern who provided the feedback even though the supervisors are supposed to do what they can to keep the feedback anonymous.

In other years in which my past and future supervisors had known me and had been familiar with the quality of my work, I was told they would reach out more and ensure the correctness and validity of any anomalous feedback before making it part of my formal assessment.

Upon receiving this feedback, I asked what was the process to refute the feedback since it was largely false. I was told I'm supposed to acknowledge the assessment as I did every year, and I was assured the acknowledgement simply meant that the performance discussed had occurred and that I had received my feedback; the acknowledgement was not supposed to mean whether or not I agreed with the feedback. Then, I was supposed to e-mail my supervisor with my rebuttal, which I did in a polite, detailed e-mail.

I was told that e-mail would be made part of my employee file, and maybe it was, but I don't know if they had the ability to put it into the goals and performance feedback system that we used.

I don't know if it was appropriate to have my supervisor prove to me that the e-mail truly had been made part of my employee file, or whether or not I should have raised it to HR for any next steps.

I don't believe there were any lasting effects for me or for anyone else (see below) since the incident occurred for each of us, respectively. In my case, my supervisor did make it a point over the next several quarters to make sure I was fine and didn't have any further complaints, so that was nice.

Some more information: Over the next few years on this project, when speaking with a few colleagues, it appeared that each one of us at different times had received a negative review each time--almost like a rotation--and each time was a surprise. All of us were individual contributors during these years, but we all were experienced with varying years of experience before arriving on this project. During our quarterly check-in, there was no "needs improvement" for three quarters of the year, but someone essentially appeared to get blamed that year for all of the project's problems as a sort of annual scapegoat.

The feedback generally sounded the same as mine as well: something about not performing, not raising concerns and problems, resulting in going over budget, over schedule, causing the project to miss deadlines, etc. Knowing these folks and working closely with them throughout each year, I knew exactly how false the feedback was and how false my feedback was during my "scapegoat" year.

In all cases for each of us, it never even got close to the point of any performance improvement program.

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    What's your question ? – Hilmar Mar 12 at 12:47
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You handled it well enough.

One thing I always tell my employees, most of who are between 20 and 30, is based on your other sit downs and communications, you should never be surprised by what's in your performance review.

Based on this thinking, I would have have asked for the supporting documentation as none of this has been discussed in previous sit downs or communications. And, this only works if you have had a significant number of documented sit downs.

On the other hand, and this goes out to all the younger people out there, if you aren't having documented one with ones, where you get to see the documentation, at least every other month, you need to be pushing your leadership for it. This shows you are in control of your development and it keeps surprises like this from happening.

Most organizations just use the signature as you have had the sit down and the information has been presented. Just like signing a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt, just that it had been presented/received.

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Generally you should not admit to anything negative. In this case it doesn't seem to have done any harm, but I would have pushed back at the time until the performance review was revised or I had another job elsewhere.

There are a lot of potentially bad things that can follow, this record is a permanent one, also if you let it slide there's nothing to stop another bad performance review hitting you out of the blue.

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  • Most organizations just use the signature as you have had the sit down and the information has been presented. Just like signing a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt, just that it had been presented/received – Austin759 Mar 12 at 7:01
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    @Austin759 makes no difference to my strategy in such situations. Once that agreement is made, it's on your permanent record. If it's unfair you don't stomach it from word go. – Kilisi Mar 12 at 7:08
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    For the record, in some places (ie where I'm from) signing a traffic ticket is an admission of guilt. Once signed when presented, you cannot refute later on. – Mike Mar 12 at 11:45
  • @Mike true, and once it's on a permanent record, you can refute all you want but it's assumed there is no smoke without a fire. – Kilisi Mar 12 at 22:29
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Yet another opportunity for the "I love me" file to save the day. This kind of situation is about proactivity. There are 2 directions I see this circumstance going. Either the feedback is false or the feedback is true. If the feedback is true, it is best to own up to it right away, and immediately work to correct it. Engage your manager/supervisor and your peers to help. Case closed.

If the feedback is not true, then the best option is have a plan already in place. You need to keep and curate a folder filled with your accomplishments relative to any project or primary interaction set. It should include any memoranda of praise or accolade. If you receive negative feedback that you act on, that should also be in there. All notes should include results, dates/times, primary involved individuals. There should be references to benefits to the company, improvement to processes, etc.

Proactivity and documentation always save the day in situations like this. By establishing that you have this kind of information and you keep it up to date, it's easier to demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is contrary to the feedback being received. If your manager/supervisor also knows that you keep such a file, they will be less likely to just take this kind of external feedback on the basis of faith.

Since this supervisor didn't know me, he simply took the raw, unfiltered feedback (obviously from my project manager) and made it part of my assessment and never reached out to the peer to press further on details.

With this kind of proactive file, it doesn't matter if the supervisor doesn't know you. They'll be able to review the file against the feedback and make an informed decision rather than trusting the person who may be placed in a position of greater trust than you.

The feedback was specific and not opinion-based. Given how specific it was, I was able to discern who provided the feedback even though the supervisors are supposed to do what they can to keep the feedback anonymous.

It doesn't make any real difference who the feedback came from. If you have your documentation in place, then it's easy to withstand an escalation to HR. HR is there to protect the company, and documentation in place will rule out over individual reports contrary to it.

Don't rely on other people to keep track of your detailed information. You are the only one who can be trusted to make sure it is accurate. If it's supposed to go in your employee file, print off a copy to keep in your personal documentation and then verify with the maintainer of that employee file that it is in there.

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