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Behind One’s Back


Most reasonable people think that “talking behind one’s back” is a dishonorable and disrespectful thing to do. But aren’t many corpo performance evaluation systems designed, perhaps inadvertently, to do just that?

In some so-called performance evaluation systems, an “authorized” evaluator (manager) talks to an evaluatee’s peers to get the “real scoop” on the behavior, oops, I mean the “performance” of the evaluatee. But can’t that be interpreted (by unreasonable people, of course) as a sanctioned form of talking behind one’s back?

In these ubiquitously pervasive and taken-for-granted performance evaluation systems, when the covert, behind-the-back, intelligence gathering is complete and an “objective” judgment is concocted, it’s bestowed upon the evaluatee at the yearly, formal, face-to-face get together.

Wouldn’t it be more open, transparent, and noble to require face-to-face, peer-to-peer reviews before the dreaded “sitdown” with Don Corleone? Even better, wouldn’t it be cool if the evaluatee was authorized by the head shed to evaluate the evaluator?

Mr. Corleone, just about every action you took last year slowed me down, dampened my intrinsic motivation, and delayed my progess. Hence, you sucked and you need to improve your performance over the next year.

But alas, hierarchies aren’t designed for equity. Besides, quid pro quo collaboration takes too much time and we all know time is money. Chop, chop, get back to work!

To make the situation more inequitable and more “undiscussable“, some orgs institute two performance evaluation systems: the formal one described above for the brain dead DICsters down in the bilge room; and the undocumented, unpublicized,  and supposedly unknown one for elite insiders.

If you work in an org that has a patronizing, behind-your-back performance evaluation system, don’t even think of broaching the subject to those who have the power to change the system. As Chris Argyris has stated many times, discussing undiscussables is undiscussable.

But wait! Snap out of that psychedelic funk you may have found yourself drifting into after reading the above blasphemy. Remember whose freakin’ blog you’re reading. It’s BD00’s blog – the self-proclaimed, mad, l’artiste.

  1. Elisabeth
    September 24, 2012 at 6:39 am

    I’ve been preaching on this topic at work with exactly the same arguments (also supported by this book: http://www.performancepreview.com/). Especially insidious are the so-called 360 degree reviews you mentioned which are a glorified version of talking behind one’s back. I, for myself, have decided not to participate in this exercise anymore. We’ll see how that works out. Funny fact: due to numerous changes at the team lead level, I have survived for about 2 years now without the performance review ritual. Low and behold, I still come to work, enjoy it most of the time and do a pretty good job.

    • September 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

      My hat goes off to you Elisabeth. I know this goes without saying: “be careful”. :)

  1. October 9, 2012 at 1:01 am

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