Not a popularity contest

How often have you been asked for inputs for a promotion recommendation of someone you have worked with but from a different team? Have you ever contemplated faking it and supporting a candidate who you personally wouldn’t promote just yet? What justification did you give yourself?

This may not be you, but it is a certain section of the workforce. I’ve seen many unsurprising behaviors during the review season that make our system imperfect. I am going to talk about two of those behaviors here.

First comes the popularity contest. This strikes both managers and individual contributors across. I have had multiple managers want to promote their team members not because they deserved it but because there were slots available, they want to look like they tried hard and have their team love them. My favorite bit – When they return to the team and say, ‘I tried but it didn’t happen. You know how the system works!’ Sure, blame it on the system. Worse yet, these folks get promoted before they are ready for the role.

Then comes the ‘You scratch my back, I scratch yours’ phenomenon. It’s harder for the peers who are sent documents for promotion recommendations. They haven’t much to lose if they recommend for promotion. On the other hand, there is a lingering fear that if they do not recommend and the person finds out, then what? How do you tell someone that you aren’t convinced that they should get promoted? And the bigger horror – what if your document reaches them and they decide to take revenge!

You ask why performance reviews torment employees. It isn’t always just the outcome. These internal struggles make it hard for some too. We’ve been struggling for years to continuously try and make the system free from human tendencies but I’ve yet to see a perfect solution. Else do we eliminate the system altogether? We’ve asked the same question so many times before.


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