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Do Currently Popular HR Policies “Wussify” the Workplace?

Posted by Frank Steinberg | May 19, 2010 | 0 Comments

Maybe it's that I'm getting a little older and crankier, but Larry McCoy's piece (I won't call it a "rant," but could) on performance reviews really hit home with me.  One disclaimer up front.  This piece is — shall we say — liberal in its use of four letter words.  So if you're easily offended, don't click the link to "'Bullshit" Is One Word, ‘Performance Review' Two."  If you do choose to read it you'll find it thought-provoking and even wise in a contrarian way. 

Here's how it starts: 

I had just arrived in the newsroom for my shift as a copy editor when a manager came over to my desk and declared, “We need to discuss your goals.” I was 66 years old – past retirement age, damn near old enough to be his father – and he wants to discuss my “goals.”

“Go away,” I told him

McCoy continues:

Floyd was both dense and tone deaf.  He wouldn't go away. If only Floyd were as dogged in fleshing out a good story. The Performance Review had to be done, he said. I wasn't going to budge either. It was a crock – something dreamed up by the morons in Human Resources who had nothing to do and, worst of all, absolutely no experience in newsrooms. They all ought to be fired, I said, several times in several ways. This back and forth continued, with the volume of each exchange rising, until the magic words came out.

                  “Go f*** yourself,” I said.

And so it continues, running through the all-too-familiar ratings on such immeasurable subjective nonsense (OK, that's editorial) as whether someone is a "team player," has appropriate respect for co-workers, appropriately mentors staff, and on and on.

All of which came to down to one conclusion for McCoy: "You want a newsroom full of wusses. You don't want to hear it when one of our reporters or AP butchers a story or misses the point completely."

You may find yourself cheering by the end of the article.

Now I relate this from the perspective of one who represents both management and employees.  So, like most employment lawyers, I've seen performance reviews used to reward good or correct poor performance.  I've seen them doctored to justify firing someone who was performing well (GASP!).  I've seen performance goals set with absolutely no expectation that the employee might actually meet them.  Just check out 9 of 10 "performance improvement plans" if you don't believe me.

So, yes, I'd have to say that there is a "wussification" factor involved in a lot of HR policies aimed at performance evaluation.  They're designed to force workers into a behavioral mold, and the shape of that mold ultimately is for the company.

But doesn't McCoy have a point when he asks "What were my goals outside of coming in, trying to do a good job and finding good stories and angles others may have overlooked?" 

And might it be possible that HR policies and performance reviews that don't focus on those true measures of performance  — in the old-fashioned sense — should themselves be reviewed?

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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