“But would you rather be underpaid or overrated?” Jay Z
Just over a month ago, all Google employees received their performance ratings. The “perf” period at Google is like a trip to the DMV or a visit to the dentist; something annoying and time consuming but nonetheless, something which every competent adult is forced to endure. On the bright side though, it was my strongest cycle to date. To channel my inner “post game” soccer player:
My manager and I set up a game plan last year, you know…we uhhh, knew what we had to uhh do. And uhh, we’re very happy with the latest cycle. Now it’s about uhhh, managing expectations and uhhh getting to the next cycle in top form.
I’ve received every rating imaginable throughout my young career. Sure, this year I’ve felt like UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw, on top of the world and in peak form. But I also know what it’s it like to fall short on goals and trudge through the valley of despair. In my experience, it’s not the valley’s—or low points—that are most challenging. After all, anyone working at a decent company, with a competent management team, probably has a good understanding of where they stand going into a review period. If you had a tough cycle, you won’t or shouldn’t be surprised by the contents of THAT conversation.
Rather the most challenging and disheartening review cycles are the ones where you don’t get the ratings you expect or deserve. Now, I don’t mean to say you don’t get the ratings you think you deserve but rather you don’t receive the rating you and your manager agree you merit. If one has the support of a manager, then one would expect a good rating. You’re probably wondering how this can be the case.
Drawing from both personal experience and numerous conversations with peers, I think I know the answer. In my opinion, it boils down to optics. You have to understand that most review decisions are done in a committee. In this committee, your manager presents a case as why you should receive a certain rating.
This gives other managers a opportunity to weigh in and either support or challenge the suggested rating. So if you do good work, and that work has visibility, then your managers case just got a whole lot easier. But if on the other hand, your manager’s peers aren’t familiar with your work, then their case is going to be tough.
At first glance, this might seem unfair. In a just world, one wouldn’t have to worry about optics or their internal brand. Shouldn’t your work be judged by itself? However, I understand that no review system is perfect and in large organizations, it’s impossible for every senior manager to know the details of everyone’s work. We as employees need to heed the words of Hyman Roth in Godfather Part II, “…I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen - I didn’t ask who gave the order - because it had nothing to do with business!”
I’m well aware that understanding the complexities of a large organization doesn’t take the sting away from feeling underrated or undervalued. It’s your career…it’s your livelihood!
As with other types of challenges, it helps to look to the Stoics for tactics to dealing with feelings of unappreciation and disappointment. The likes of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius would remind us that while we think we have it bad, others have had it worse.
It helps me to think of the great figures in history and meditate on how most of them never got their proper due. In a sense, I’m telling myself “you think you’re not appreciated? Abraham Lincoln kept the country together and got shot in the head.”
It’s extreme, but that’s the point. When you frame your situation against a bigger historical backdrop, you begin to see that while your situation sucks, it’s nowhere near as bad as it could be. And while thinking like this might not give you a promotion or put more dollars in your account, it will at-least take the edge off the feelings of disappointment. And that’s priceless.
Review cycles also remind me of Cato the Elder, a senator during the old Roman Republic. He remarked that it’s better to ask why he didn’t have a statue in his honor than why he did have one. In other words, if optics matter, then it’s better to have someone ask you why you didn’t get promoted as opposed to why you did get promoted.
Thanks for stopping by. As always, adding links to three of my favorite reads from the last week or so. I’ve been tempted to add ONLY links to books, but I figure y'all might want some shorter reads as well.
Hope you guys are well. And hope you enjoyed this issue.