In a non-broken company, what is an annual review supposed to accomplish?

(I assume non-broken companies exist somewhere... but that's another discussion!)

Right now, I'm staring at a piece of paper that says something like this:

  • What is your job?
  • What goals did you achieve last year?
  • What goals do you hope to achieve this year?

Now, if I was the guy who's paid to sweep the floor, my review form would look like this:

  • What is your job? Sweep the floors.
  • What goals did you achieve last year? Swept the floors.
  • What goals do you hope to achieve this year? Sweep the floors.

Why am I writing this thrice? More to the point, since my "goal" is my job description... why does this piece of paper need to exist?

Of course, my job isn't to sweep the floors; my job is to write the code. Every day, I turn up and write the code for several hours, and then I go home. My goals for last year were to write the code; my goals for this year are to write the code. Do I really need to spell that out? Isn't that what my job description says already?

So that's the paperwork (which, arguably, exists to keep HR happy). Now the actual review itself: So a bunch of us are going to sit around and talk about how my performance is going. But if my performance isn't up to standard, shouldn't somebody have been talking about that before my annual review? Likewise, if I do something exceptionally well, shouldn't somebody say something about it then? Rather than in 8 months' time or whatever?

In short, I'm not really sure what this meeting is supposed to achieve. It seems like undirected busy-work to me. But maybe that's because I've never worked for a company where HR isn't broken. (?)

  • 6
    Your goal isn't to write code. Writing code is one way you might achieve your goals. For example, your goals might include not missing a delivery date by more than 5%, staying within 10% of budget, reducing the number of defects, increasing the number of automated unit tests, mentoring a newer programmer, researching new IDEs, learning a new language, developing management skills etc. Feb 1, 2015 at 18:40
  • 4
    So, you think the guy who's paid to sweep floors wouldn't want a pay rise or promotion? Maybe he wants to mop instead of sweep? Maybe he wants a shot at being in charge of the other guys who sweep the floor? All of these would be valid goals for his review.
    – HorusKol
    Feb 2, 2015 at 0:09
  • 1
    @HorusKol In my limited experience, nobody gets a raise, ever. Also, if you're the only person sweeping the floors, there's nowhere to be promoted to. But I think I see what you're trying to say. Feb 2, 2015 at 9:32
  • 1
    @MathematicalOrchid not even an annual inflation-tied increment? go work somewhere better...
    – HorusKol
    Feb 2, 2015 at 22:54
  • 3
    So you should go work for a company that actually respects the employee...
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 3, 2015 at 11:54

4 Answers 4


Your annual review should not bring up any surprises.

Ideally, you should be having regular (monthly / quarterly) meetings with your boss to discuss your work, whether you're hitting your targets, and whether you have any issues.

As part of this, you should find out what your company's goals are and how you are expected to help them achieve those goals.

Your job title is "Computer Programmer" - but programming a Tetris playing AI is probably not why a Widget Manufacturer hired you.

Let's take an example.

Company Goal

Save money by reducing customer complaints.

Your Goal

Reduce customer facing bugs in the codebase.

Your Achievements

Reported bugs A,B,C. Fixed bugs X,Y,Z. This saved the company an estimated £££.

Next Years Goals

Find a way to reduce the number of support calls caused by $foo. Rewrite the codebase in Python.

You are not there to "write code" - you're there to either make the company money, save them money, stop them getting sued, improve their efficiency, etc.

The end result of an annual review is to prove your worth to the company. If you want a pay rise (or not to get fired) - you need to show them exactly how you've contributed to the company's success.

If the HR process is broken (and many are) then there's no real way to demonstrate whether you're succeeding or not.

  • Writing a Tetris-playing AI does sound like a lot more fun. And, come to think of it, we used to have designated break times explicitly for working on personal projects... Feb 1, 2015 at 19:18
  • Perhaps the source of my confusion is that the company doesn't have any particular goals. (Other than "add every possible feature that can ever exist".) Either way, your answer clarifies a few things for me. Feb 1, 2015 at 19:19
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    I should downvote for even hypothetically suggesting to rewrite a codebase in Python...
    – Foosh
    Feb 2, 2015 at 20:48
  • @Foosh I should downvote for even hypothentically suggesting to rewrite a codebase. There are occasions when drastic changes to a codebase are actually needed, but those should not be undertaken by a single programmer anyway.
    – user
    Feb 3, 2015 at 8:39
  • 2
    Beware: Rewriting the codebase in Python will reduce calls caused by $foo but a new category of calls caused by foo will appear.
    – user52889
    Feb 3, 2015 at 23:12

While I am not a fan of annual performance reviews, they do exist for one specific reason - to have documentary evidence of performance that can be used for annual raises (and if you think your job is to write code and that you don't need to show accomplishments in your annual review, I am not at all surprised you have not gotten a raise.) and to be able to help differntiate who to keep and who to get rid of if they need to reduce staff by some arbitrary percentage (Ie. get rid of 10% of the staff in every department, vice we no longer need the XYZ department) sometime during the year.

Even if your organization is not giving raises in a particular year, the evaluation may make a difference in what you get the next time they do so.

To understand evaluations from a corporate point of view, you have to understand that the desired raises far exceed the amount of money budgeted. So everyone is rated and then senior managers get together to decide who will get those raises and who will have their rating lowered so that they don't get a raise or get a smaller one.

This is the only reason why it is critical to your own pay level to be careful about what you put in these documents. People who do not know your work are basing decisions about your salary based on what you and your boss say about you. If you don't give them any reason to see you as special, they won't see any reason to give you more money when 100% of the employees want more money. If you don't make a case for yourself as a suprior performer, then your boss likely won't even try either. Especially if he has others who are making a case for superior performance.

Appraisals are often not so much about finding the best and worst performers (who are generally already known) but for finding ways to differnentiate among the decent but not outstanding performers.

  • I can point to plenty of things I've achieved over the last year. But setting goals for next year... I don't know what I'm going to be working on in 2 weeks' time, never mind 6 months. Any suggestions? Feb 4, 2015 at 9:07
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    @MathematicalOrchid A lot of detail could be given about that - worth raising as a separate question IMO. Apr 16, 2015 at 10:13

In a "broken company," the annual review is a "guaranteed appointment" to speak to your boss about where you both stand with one another. My boss is always so "busy" that if I ever asked her for an appointment to discuss my performance mid-year, she'd tell me she doesn't have the time or "let's talk about it at the yearly review." Last year, I expressed my desire to spend more time working on X instead of Y and she told me we could totally do that and it's yet to be done.

So, armed with that information, I can choose to embark on another year of more of the same or use it as ammo to look for something else.

  • 2
    And in a slightly less broken company, you could use it as a starting point for a discussion with your supervisor about your discussed and real assigned tasks.
    – user
    Feb 3, 2015 at 8:40

Annual/performance reviews should be about achievements within a period in comparison to "goals/KPIs/targets" agreed at the beginning of the performance period whether monthly, yearly, etc etc.

In reality some targets do change "during the period" but this is exception rather than norm. But surely you can expect new set of targets when moving to a new role.

When done right, the forms hold performance data that management uses to act on your compensation and mobility (development, transfer, promotion, termination, etc).

since my "goal" is my job description

"Write the code" is a job description that describes "role" and this doesn't change often. But goals/KPIs change from year to year and do vary between teams. Devops and product development teams, whilst they write code, don't have the same goals. Product team may be tasked with the goal to "deliver 12 features in 6 months". The devops folks would have deployment speed or reliability-related goals assigned to them. So goals & job descriptions are two different things.

Now the actual review itself: So a bunch of us are going to sit around and talk about how my performance is going. But if my performance isn't up to standard, shouldn't somebody have been talking about that before my annual review?

In a non-broken setting, the answer is "Yes".

if I do something exceptionally well, shouldn't somebody say something about it then? Rather than in 8 months' time or whatever?

Again, "Yes".

In short, I'm not really sure what this meeting is supposed to achieve.

A couple of things could be causing this. Company culture (this is the way they manage goals?), weak management, weak HR, or planned-move eg company is downsizing, they want to allege subpar performance so didn't bother with getting the process right (?) which is a serious mistake btw, or they already have positive plans to move you elsewhere or up so didn't bother with getting it right because who would refuse such a thing (?).

All the best with the review!

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