Totally caught off guard in performance review and would like to challenge it

 So I recently had a performance review that I was totally caught off guard. I was on a new team for 6 months. Prior to that I was on a different team with a different manager and the last review I had was glowing and an exceeds expectations.

During this performance review I am told my job performance is great, I’m thorough, detail oriented, I come up with optimal solutions, I deliver on my features etc. however an area I needed improvement on boiled down to needing a more positive attitude when it comes to changing priorities because that’s a part of being in a startup. I was given an OVERALL rating of needs improvement. No specific examples or measurable actions to improve. We had regular 1:1s every other week where I was encouraged to be open and candid. At no point did this feedback ever come up. I also had peer reviews that were good and am on another team now where the engineer I work directly with has had only good things to say about working with me. I’m honestly so flabbergasted by this.

I was told to not worry and this was normal for engineers levelling up. It had nothing to do with my performance. What?? This is literally a performance review. How are you going to rate me a needs improvement but don’t worry this has nothing to do with your performance.

Anyway I would like to challenge this review and am going to speak with HR and this manager. Am I being reasonable here?

Sarah S.

There are two parts here:

  1. The manager shouldn't have surprised you with this in the perf review. He should have told you ahead of time, either privately right after you said something (best) or at your next 1:1.

  2. Dealing with priority changes - may be something you can actually improve. The more senior you get, the more important your public behavior becomes. It sounds like your manager says you have problems with the "commit" part of what Amazon calls (or used to, I've been out a long time) "disagree and commit."

Both parts are important. It's your responsibility as an engineer to gently remind management that there are tradeoffs. But it's important how you did that, especially when the rest of the team is watching. Rather than saying "that'll fuck up the entire current project", you can say "let's think about how we can make that happen and what it means for our other priorities." Then privately you can push a little harder.

But once a decision has been made, it's generally expected of you to "commit" and do your best to get to the best possible outcome. After that, you can try to do a post-mortem and highlight what went wrong and what you can do differently.

It's likely that your influence is larger than you think, and that's why it's important to keep negativity in check. Not be fake, but be frank when it matters and a team player when it doesn't.

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