The bricks don’t need to be moved

When I was just starting out at a dotcom company back in the high-flying internet boom days, our vice president walked our team through how he looked at doing performance reviews.

Performance review season is one of the worst times in corporate America, with executives posturing that they’re actually doing something that matters, managers jumping through the stupid hoops and pretending their subjective judgments are actually objective. And, of course, the employees at the bottom scrambling to remember what they did over the past six months so they can fill in their “self-review” and convince their boss they can have a larger raise. Which they won’t do because their boss already set their score weeks ago and only pretends to take the employee’s review into account to prevent any… unpleasantness.

That said, the explanation I received of how give a good performance review was the only one I ever thought made any sense and I have used it many times for my employees in the years following.

Here’s how the scoring worked officially.

1.0 – You’re fired immediately. Basically theoretical because you would have been fired long before you were reviewed.
1.5 – Not meeting the bar for the job; basically fired.
2.0 – Doing some of the tasks of the job; put on performance improvement plan. Probably fired rather quickly.
2.5 – Doing most of the tasks; but are having trouble; put on performance improvement plan. Likely to be fired, although a few did survive this score.
3.0 – Did all the tasks of your job with no problems. You’re safe, however what this really means is your boss doesn’t want to go through the hassle of firing you.
3.5 – Performing above expectations. In reality, however, this means you’re average.
4.0 – Very high performer. These are the rock stars you can’t lose. Sometimes also means you’re friends with your boss.
4.5 – Given rarely and only for remarkable innovation. Even those receiving this score will only get it once or twice in a career. Something along the lines of creating a patented product that revolutionizes the future of the company. I only heard of maybe 2-3 of these ever being given out.
5.0 – Given when thinking on a completely different plane then everyone else. Imagine someone proposing an idea to the CEO that turns into billions of dollars. Something completely disruptive in the marketplace. Basically theoretical. I never heard of a 5.0 being given.

In reality, several of the levels weren’t used because 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 were only used when they were trying to get rid of you and 5.0 was basically a theoretical score meant to inspire us to do better (or something).

Here’s how it was explained to me by that VP long, long ago in a way that actually makes sense. I’m paraphrasing a bit; it’s been a few years. He used a metaphor of moving bricks from one pile to another pile as the requirements of your job. The review scoring then can begin to make some sense:
1.0 – You stole the bricks. You’re fired immediately.
1.5 – The bricks didn’t get moved. You’re fired.
2.0 – You only moved some of the bricks. Fired.
2.5 – You moved most of the bricks but are struggling. Probably fired.
3.0 – Moved the bricks from one pile to the other exactly as instructed.
3.5 – Moved the bricks and did a great job. Bricks are nicely stacked, you even had extra time to move some additional bricks. Nice job!
4.0 – Came up with a more efficient way to move the bricks, perhaps using a conveyor belt or other innovation. You get a huge raise!
4.5 – Figured out the bricks didn’t need moving.
5.0 – Invented a substitute for bricks, making the company gobs of money.

I like the metaphor because it rewards high-performance and makes the expectations crystal clear. I also particularly like that it gives the greatest rewards for thinking beyond the parameters of the job. Not just dreaming up new and better ways of doing things but realizing the things didn’t need doing at all.

The commonly used cliche for this is “thinking outside the box”, but in reality the creative power is realizing there never was a box. “There is no spoon” if you will.

Pretirement is about realizing the bricks didn’t need moving.

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2 Thoughts on “The bricks don’t need to be moved

  1. It’s not to the advantage of companies to give you A+. Why? Because then they have to pay you more. Most managers would rather keep you at your current level to keep your pay the same. This way they don’t have to fight for a higher budget; they can instead fight for their raises and bonuses every year.
    Savvy Financial Latina recently posted…Carnival Cruise on the Western CaribbeanMy Profile

    • Pretired Nick on May 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm said:

      Well, that and they want to keep the theoretical ceiling a little out of reach so you’ll keep pushing yourself harder.

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