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Long story short... My manager submitted my ratings to her boss and gave me an above average rating but when she received the final ratings back, mine had been lowered. The reason we were given was "there just weren't enough spots". I'm pretty caught off guard here because I know (as does my manager) that I surpassed the previous year's performance all while taking on many additional responsibilities outside of the core job role.

How do I handle this professionally? I have no issue with my manager as she did rate me appropriately - but it's a large company (Fortune 50) and I fear that any dispute process may indefinitely jeopardize my upward momentum. I've spoken with HR and they said I would have to go through my current chain of management to dispute.

Should I just let it go? This is the first year, after over a decade with this company, that I've ever had this happen.

Lastly, how should I word my comments on my review when I sign it? I want to make sure it's noted that I disagree but again, I worry about it not being professional enough.

Edit: Thank you all for your insight and advice. As serveral of you have pointed out, we do have a "quota"/"distribution" for how many "above average" ratings that can be given because it does correlate to budget/raises and I'm fully aware of those politics... I've just never been affected by them. I guess after over a decade, it was bound to happen some time. I've decided not to dispute it. Given the size of the company and those politics at play, I really don't want my name in some VP's inbox over this... I'd much rather increase my visibility so it's less likely to happen in the future. Again, thank you all!

  • I have had that happening to me too. Politics, bonuses and salary raises, there are a few many. we also had arbritary rules like x members of the team had to have lower ratings than the others – Rui F Ribeiro Feb 4 '16 at 6:41
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    The problem here is that your company has conflated a value judgement on your work (your performance rating) with the amount of raises/bonuses/whatever that they are willing to give (# of spots). So, when they are more high-performing employees, they have to back down the ratings to match the # of raises available. This is a really stupid way for them to do things, but it's pretty standard in the corporate world. – Michael Kohne Feb 4 '16 at 13:07
  • No one can get the highest rating every year or many other deserving employees will never be able to get a high rating because the "old guard" who got the ratings in previous years have taken all the slots. If you got the rating for ten years, then likely it is someone else's turn to get the higher rating and higher raise. – HLGEM Feb 4 '16 at 15:02
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    This is called Stack Ranking, and has caused a fairly high profile lawsuit recently, as it can be trivially manipulated to be discriminatory and to circumvent laws around firing vs. lay-offs. It's also an organizational smell. – Telastyn Feb 4 '16 at 15:29
  • Incidentally, your boss was in the wrong in telling you that your rating had been lowered or telling you what he rated you before they were finalized. Yes it stinks, but he made ti worse by telling you that you originally had a higher rating. – HLGEM Feb 4 '16 at 22:25
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This happens unfortunately. It sucks but it is difficult to fix in hindsight.

The reality is this is why "playing politics" is important. Visibility matters. People other than your manager have to know who you are, that you do good work, and are a good employee. Ideally this happens naturally. Realistically, it takes effort on your part.

You want not only your boss but your bosses boss and other managers at your company to know you are an excellent worker, so when this happens they know you personally.

In most companies, your boss likely has to make the case and defend why they rated you above average. If you are unknown to their boss, they won't care as much because they won't know you. Whereas if they knew you and knew you did good work they would be much more inclined to allow your higher rating.

How do I handle this professionally?

You could thank your manager for her efforts to rate you higher and leave it at that. You (and/or your manager) do not seem to have much influence with her boss, given your reduction in rating.

Lastly, how should I word my comments on my review when I sign it? I want to make sure it's noted that I disagree but again, I worry about it not being professional enough.

"Thanks for the opportunities this past year" or something similarly neutral. Unless you don't care about advancement (which you seem to do) I would focus on improving your reputation internally and not dwell on this.

  • 1
    So, it's a small team (16) that all roll up to that higher level. Based on my knowledge of "the process"... It's more an issue of budget putting constraints on how many "above average" ratings each team can give since they're tied directly to raises. I feel my disagreement with the final rating should be noted. As for popularity... Since its a small team, I'm well known and liked (as least that's what I'm told). – An employee Feb 4 '16 at 2:18
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    @Anemployee, when we talk about visibility, we mean outside your team. When higher managers make these choices they pick the people whose work they are familiar with. – HLGEM Feb 4 '16 at 14:56
  • Also, it's unprofessional for the OP's boss to communicate an intermediate rating as "calibrating" is a normal part of the process. – Eric Feb 6 '16 at 1:54
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How do I handle this professionally? Should I just let it go?

There's really little you can do here. You most likely either have to get over it, or move on to another company and hope that they don't do reviews the same way. It might give you some comfort to know that what you have experienced isn't directed just at you, and isn't at all unusual.

Some companies (particularly very large companies), set a budget for the upcoming year, and use the annual review process to slot employees into that budget. And many companies use the "rating" as the mathematical factor which determines your annual raise.

In recent years, I've been given an increase budget of 3%. I have to make my entire team's budget come out to 3% more than the previous year - even if every single individual on the team had an outstanding year and each deserve more than 3%.

If I wanted to give someone more than 3%, I had to take the money from someone else. I was not given a choice. And the mechanism at my company was such that I had to adjust the ratings, so that the raise percentage came out correctly. If I didn't do the adjustment, it would be automatically kicked up to my boss. My boss would then adjust it, and reprimand me for not doing so myself.

I know - that's a foolish system, but it is what it is, and middle-management has to just suck it up and deal with it, and hope that they don't completely disillusion too many good people.

In your case it's quite possible that your direct manager either didn't know about the overall departmental requirement, didn't care, or wasn't instructed to deal with it at your level. Thus, the realignment to fit into the budget was passed up to the next level, and they did what they have to do.

You could complain to your boss about the unfairness, but most likely she already knows about it. You could complain to her boss, but again they all most likely understand but are powerless to do anything about it.

For the future, you can only strive to be the best employee in your group. That might get you a bigger slice of the (limited) pie.

Since you indicate that this is the first year you have had this happen to you, you might want to think about what is different from past years. Has your work compared to your departmental co-workers not been as good as it had been previously? Is the overall budget for this year more constrictive than in past years? Has the company changed their process for handing out ratings? Do you have a new boss, or is her boss new (and perhaps not willing to adjust ratings in your favor)?

Lastly, how should I word my comments on my review when I sign it? I want to make sure it's noted that I disagree but again, I worry about it not being professional enough.

Well, if it makes you feel better, you can note in your comments that you think you are deserving of a higher rating, and why. Careful wording can make sure that it isn't unprofessional. I've always encouraged folks on my team to use the comments this way if they chose to do so, and never took offense if they vented their anger in their comments.

But honestly, having been on the management side of this exact scenario many times, your comments are extremely unlikely to have any affect (other than perhaps making you feel better). Your boss will read them. Your bosses boss might or might not read them. HR probably won't read them. Nobody is likely to act on them.

  • If you can't do better, stab your fellow employees in the back, making them look worse. See vanityfair.com/news/business/2012/08/… This isn't really intended as a serious suggestion, but it shows what's wrong with the normalization process. – Simon B Feb 4 '16 at 22:05
  • You also have the option of simply doing your job and no more. Why should it be one-sided, where you bust your butt and they get to decide it's not good enough? If their raise wasn't good enough, devote your time to something more satisfying, like job-hunting. – Amy Blankenship Feb 5 '16 at 0:35
  • @AmyBlankenship, I agree. This sort of ranking system incentivizes behavior that employers should consider undesirable: i.e., "I can do the bare minimum and get the standard 2% raise, or I can sacrifice my sanity and health, work lots of overtime, go above and beyond, etc., and have a shot at the 3% "Exceptional performer" raise. Maybe, assuming my manager is competent at playing politics." – James Adam Feb 5 '16 at 16:18
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This is what I've heard called in the UK "Grandfathering", it works like this:

Your team/division etc do their end of year and put scores/ratings in.

Your boss's boss will have an overall budget for ALL promotions/raises as part of the process, and this will require people/scores being fit to a curve to meet the budget.

Unless, as enderland says, you have visibility you'll slip down the overall rankings until you drop below the budget line, and they will "revisit" your rating until the budget balances.

I used to hate in companies who did ratings like this, you'd have to go into reviews with staff who would present (valid) evidence of their great performance, knowing it'd already been decided 2 levels up, then spend weeks trying to lobby that evidence to get them what you thought they deserved only to have to come back a few weeks later and give them the bad news.

Visibility is the thing though, lobbying can come down to you saying good things about someone, and other managers saying 'who's that?", if they don't know (or have good things to say), the person will move down the list. Doing a number of good small things for many teams will help you more than one gigantic thing for one team.

  • Well Canadian, but live in the UK – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 4 '16 at 12:59
  • Could be, I've clarified my answer. – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 4 '16 at 13:02
  • It's used when you follow a procedure and your "Grandfather" (i.e. your bosses' boss) just does what he decides, not taking the lower people's input into consideration as he has "seniority". The main reason to slip the blame away upstairs - "I put down 'outstanding' , but it was Grandfathered down to 'needs improvement' (so don't blame me)" – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 4 '16 at 13:07
  • I know it as "normalization". To me, "grandfathering" is when a companies' terms and conditions are changed, but all the existing employees get to keep the benefits under the old terms (because if they didn't, too many would leave). – Simon B Feb 4 '16 at 22:02
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This is for your manager to deal with. You shouldn't be dealing with anyone else over this unless specifically invited to. You need to meet with your manager and work out what is to be done, and you need to keep pressuring the manager until it is resolved as this could easily affect your career.

If the manager says there is nothing to be done, then you're basically stuck with it. In which case you have a bad manager who won't go the distance for the team.

What should happen is your manager either resolves it, or does some legwork and comes back with a real explanation of what happened. Or failing that organises a meeting between you and whoever is responsible, but this is unlikely.

  • My manager is fantastic - to be honest, I don't think I would have grown as much as I have in the last few years if I hadn't been on her team. – An employee Feb 4 '16 at 2:19
  • Good, then the manager can fantastic his/her way into seeing what happened and how to resolve it – Kilisi Feb 4 '16 at 2:22
  • And perhaps your manager will learn not to say anything to you until the final answer is in. Stuff happens. – Jon Custer Feb 4 '16 at 3:18
  • @Jon Custer - except if I was rated anything lower than the above average I would have questioned it... But I see your point – An employee Feb 4 '16 at 3:20
  • Perhaps you are above average (I really have no idea). But, there may be quotas on the ranking system, with a few high performers, a broad 'average', and a few low. Likely you were 'on the bubble', and your bubble got burst. But it is time for a constructive discussion with your manager about how to clearly be in the top rankings next year. As an aside, research shows that >50% of people think they perform above average. – Jon Custer Feb 4 '16 at 15:36

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