HR Director Fired After “Good” Performance Review — And How To Avoid This Happening To You!

by Alan Collins

Last year, a senior HR director friend of mine was fired after her year-end performance review. 

What was especially brutal was her boss’ overall evaluation of her performance.

She had been rated a “3” on her company’s 5-point scale, which was “good.”

And she was further informed that her performance was “solid” and that everything was okay.

Knowing that, she signed off on the review.

So, she was blindsided beyond belief when she was
called back in a few weeks later…and given the pink slip! 

To be totally honest, she knew her performance wasn’t stellar.

But she was devastated by this news and clearly didn’t think she’d get whacked.

Matters became worse when she was told by her boss that, after discussing the company’s financial troubles with the higher ups, THEY (not he) decided to eliminate her job.

They agreed she was doing a good job.  But they didn’t feel that SHE…as well as THE JOB she was in..was adding enough value to the business.

Read that last sentence again.

Good performance wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t a performance issue.  It was just time to whack her job.  And her.

And her manager blamed the decision on his bosses.

Yeah, right…

What a spineless, freakin’ wimp!

This is why people hate performance reviews and one of many reasons they’re under fire today. 

Anyway…let’s get back to her situation.

I’m not going to call out her company here – that ain’t my style.  But suffice it to say that if you’re an HR pro working in a financially-troubled industry like oil or steel manufacturing you probably have a reason to feel vulnerable.

But even if you aren’t, global competition is intense. Many organizations continue to feel the pressure to cut costs and headcount just to remain competitive.  And, many use annual reviews weed out low performing (or even middle-performing) HR folks who don’t add enough value.

And will continue to do so.

So, if you work in such an organization, this means that you can’t afford to be lazy in preparing for your next performance review.

You need to start immediately.

To that end, here are 8 actions you should be taking right now if you want to ace your next performance review and remove yourself from the line of fire…

1.  Start tracking and documenting, now!

Don’t wait until the end of the year to gather your results.

Start today by creating a folder on your desktop and use it to save all the e-mail feedback and kudos you receive from customers, peers, and managers throughout the year — including your boss, his or her boss, and all other leaders between you and the CEO.

This will ensure that you’ve got all your accomplishments captured in one spot.

It’s easy for an overworked boss to forget how excited she was about that great new mentoring program you launched in February – if your review is not until November.

2,  Get buy-in on your current year’s performance objectives now!

Don’t wait on your boss to get the process started.

If you don’t have an agreed-on set of performance goals established for this year, take it upon yourself to write them down and get your manager’s approval, pronto.

If you support internal clients, include their expectations as well.

Like most managers, he or she will take your internal clients’ views to heart at review time, so you’ll want to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

3.  Make sure you’re working on the right stuff by checking in regularly.

Don’t take for granted that your amazing accomplishments are warming your boss’ heart — even if you’re following the game plan they’ve laid out.

In rough times, HR priorities shift quickly.  And, it’s wise to check in at least weekly to make sure your burning-hot priorities are the same as your manager’s.

The top performance ratings go to those people who are working on mission-critical assignments. So regular check-ins and updates with your boss will help ensure that you’re one of the folks that is plugged into those do-or-die missions.

Oh yeah, one other thing.

And this is important to note.

Although most bosses wait until the end of the year to actually write or submit your review, they may be required to submit your performance rating and your merit raise recommendation well before then.

So, this is another good reason to actively and objectively communicate your performance highlights throughout the year.

4.  If you got a bad review last time, get help – now!

If your review last time was not what you wanted, it’s time to put it behind you.

Yes, it may have been unfair.  Yes, your boss might have been a prick.  Yes, one of your clients may have had an ax to grind.  But, get over it.  It’s time to look forward and get some help.

Visit with your boss, your clients, your colleagues well before review time and ask, “What could I do to improve my performance?”   Then, take that feedback seriously.  It’s a gift.

If your colleagues demur, tell them “I’m serious; this is not the time to be nice to me. I’m asking for help. What could I be doing to become better at my job?”

You don’t have to confess all your sins and tell them that your prior year’s review was crummy – that’s none of their business.  Just focus on getting their suggestions for improvement.

5.  To get the top rating you must show clear business impact.

It is not enough to say that you’ve done a bunch of stuff.  You have to connect these activities to important business objectives. Only then do they become accomplishments that have impact at review time.

You will want to arm yourself with hard data.

You want to say things like, “before I started, we had X problems…but based on my work on the Y project, we’ve improved by Z%.”

Then really seal the deal by stating that, in your opinion, your contributions have helped achieve some larger organizational goal like reducing costs or improving retention.

Make sure your boss knows that you understand how your work is solving key organization’s problems.

6.  Do your own “mini self-appraisals” each month.

Conduct your own monthly mini self-appraisal reviews before you meet with your manager. Be honest with yourself — evaluate how well you are progressing against your objectives.

Summarize what you accomplished and give yourself a rating each month.   If you do these monthly “mini-appraisals,” you shouldn’t be surprised at the end of the year.

Be objective and evaluate the dents and dings in your performance too.  That is, dust-ups you’ve had with coworkers, missed challenges and bad hair days. You want to avoid surprise hits and anticipate answers in advance if you need to explain your shortfalls.

The beauty of “mini self-appraisals” are that they give you time to make mid-course corrections in your performance if you feel yourself getting off track.

7.  Focus on quantifying your out-of-the-ordinary contributions.

When time comes to write up or give input on your final review, some HR folks simply list everything they did during the year.  They believe that’s all that’s needed to get that top rating.

They believe volume counts.

So they submit pages and pages of activities they completed at the end of the year.  It reads like a detailed job description.

And, guess what?

That’s exactly what it is.

Most of that stuff is what you’re already paid to do.  And is a waste of time.

As you know, the top rating is a reward for exceptional performance, not doing your job.

So when you list your accomplishments, take time and focus on the net impact on the business.

Whatever you did, make a case for your beyond-the-call-of-duty contributions.

Sorry, doing the job you’re paid to do for yet another year is just table stakes – and will get only get you an average (or below average) rating in tough times. It is certainly not justification for the top review.

8.  Distinguish yourself from your peers.

As mentioned previously, just because you did your job, and did it well over the course of a year, doesn’t make for a compelling reason to hand you the top rating.

Remember, most managers only have a limited budget to dole out for ratings and raises so a high rating or increase for you means a smaller one for your peers.

In many cases, you’re ranked against your peers when your company calibrates what ratings to give.

So, when you are gathering your accomplishments, make sure they focus on ways you may have differentiated yourself from your coworkers, or where you took on additional responsibilities…or where you stepped up without being asked and completed a particularly challenging project that was beyond the scope of your job.

In most cases, to emerge from the pack, you will need to execute (and preferably lead) at least one BIPP during the year.  A BIPP is a “bold, innovative power project” that is a ground-breaking, out-of-the-box, breakthrough HR initiative that is clearly visible and sets your organization on fire.

If you’ve not identified your annual BIPP, you need to do it now.  To generate ideas, talk to your boss, your clients or google “best HR ideas” and check out the top award winning HR ideas launched last year from other organizations.  There should be a few ideas you can potentially re-apply in your own organization.

In tough times, falling in the average or low performer category you puts your HR job and career at risk. Hopefully, following these steps starting now can help you max out your performance rating when review time comes.

Onward!

Now it’s your turn…

What other ideas and suggestions have you found helpful in acing performance reviews.  CLICK HERE to share them or other thoughts on this article.

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Want more insights for enhance your performance and taking your HR career to the next level then check out:  WINNING BIG IN HR: 100+ Powerful Strategies For Accomplishing Great Results Faster & Getting Your Clients To Rave About You As A Human Resources Professional!   For more detailed information about this book, go HERE.

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals including WINNING BIG IN HR.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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14 Responses to “HR Director Fired After “Good” Performance Review — And How To Avoid This Happening To You!”

  1. Vickie Day Says:

    Alan,
    Your suggestions are incredible and wise for connecting with new and former H/R resources. As an executive search professional, I have been mining Linked In for talent and am impressed with the tools they offer globally. Many people I put to work in H/R are reconnecting with me, but the bigger picture is many of the senior officers of corporations are also seeking me out to find them H/R talent again. I wish you continued success as a leader in making creative H/R solutions and guiding individuals in difficult times! Good-luck!

  2. samarjit Says:

    Valuable suggestions – worth implementing.

  3. Christina Nelson Says:

    Alan:

    Your tips and articles have been an invaluable resource for me in my career. I would like to suggest keeping a running list of workshops/webinars that you have participated in throughout the year to show your continued investment in keeping yourself current with changing trends in HR.

  4. Ahmed Kamil Says:

    Practical approach worth immediate implementation. To avoid surprises to your annual feed back especially during tough times, this approach will pay rich dividends.

  5. Michael D. Haberman Says:

    Alan:
    Point #5 is really the key. They all agreed that her performance was acceptable, however, they did not see the impact she was making and the ROI on have her in human resources. If you cannot show the value of what you do then it does not make any difference how well you perform.

  6. Sooze Says:

    Alan: Great article, as always. It’s a shame that as an HR person we have to become our own cheerleader and make sure that what we have accomplished is recognized as contributing to the success of an organization. With that said, you have provided very good ideas, ones that I will most certainly use in the coming future.

  7. Machona C Says:

    Hi Allan

    What an interesting article? Very educative, especially #5 & 8. HR practitioners must add value to the coy and have a positive contribution to the coy’s mission. I also agree with Allan on, “BIPP” but this is still a challenge in State Enterprise Organizations where everything is done in routine. However, I’m very impressed with these suggestions and I bet would apply some of the ideas in 2016

  8. Satya Samy Says:

    After reading Alan Collin’s article and the reviews, it beats me to think that an organisation can fire a senior manager because of budget constraints. I agree with Alan’s practical remedy on how to avoid it. Where were the colleagues and other seniors who collectively supported and recognised the good work done by the departed colleague? Did they accept it quietly. Here is another pressure that can be adopted. Who is next on the firing list would be hard to digest. I assume the organisation decided after a collective decision process and the team relented on the decision. If it was an autocratic style decision then the same fear of who is going to be next surfaces. This type of termination creates waves and HR must inculcate to senior management team that medium to long term implications can be detrimental so that another similar action is not considered.

  9. Sara Oommen Says:

    Alan,

    This article is truly a reality and you hit it on the nail. Often we forget, and I too have been trapped and failed doing some of the things that you mentioned(#3). I have learned my lesson well and wanted to add that Point #6 – the monthly “mini self appraisals” is the real take away for me.

    Thank you Alan for your as usual and insightful articles!

    Best – Sara

  10. John Says:

    Alan,

    It is interesting work. After more 5 years as a star in the company, I was let go this July because of a major costing-down restructuring and a new Group HR Director who did not come to China before he made that decision. The cynical side was that I already saved millions for the company before the company each year with the cost initiatives aligned with businesses in the past few years, and left a highly effective team behind. Crap happends sometimes. Chewing on it just makes me sick and pathetic. Let go and move on. There are always better places to be…

  11. Abhishek Gadkari Says:

    Dear All, The former President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, once said Love your job not your company. Which means be the best in your job, Do the best in your job and result will be best. My former employer fired me because i was inefficient. But I judged myself and I decided to market my qualities. from last 1 year i got my position & Salary hiked. My good clients left my old company and joined my new company. Which ultimately gave me a feel I was not inefficient but the former company was inefficient for employee retention.

  12. Kelly Shumaker Says:

    Many folks are not comfortable talking about their accomplishments, but this is one instance where it is a career must to “toot your own horn.” I recommend using the STAR methodology: state the situation/task, list the actions that you took and the results from those actions. You must use business lingo (as Alan mentions in his points) and not just a list of tasks.

  13. Catherine Says:

    Great article Allan, thank you for the tips, quite insightful.

    Regards,
    Catherine

  14. Vivi-Lillian Says:

    Hey Allan, your articles are always on point..each time I read them I feel more equipped as a HR professional. I have an interview soon and can’t wait to pour my ideas on how to make performance reviews one of the tools to reckon with to get the company on top of the charts, if well understood go a long to making HR professionals the Stars in the company …the statement below got my hairs standing and I feel the HR departments holds all the keys to making performance reviews valued.

    This is why people hate performance reviews and one of many reasons they’re under fire today.

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