Should You Dispute a Performance Appraisal?

Last Updated Jun 1, 2011 8:12 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I recently received my first performance review at my retail job, and while I was excited to see what feedback my supervisor had for me, I quickly realized the review was completely phoned in. The supervisor marked me average in every category, and at one point referred to me as Henry. My name is Jason. When I pointed this out, my supervisor admitted to being rushed and copying/pasting a lot of identical information from other evaluations. This justified the store manager in giving me a minimal raise.
I know I don't deserve straight average marks. I'm better than average in a lot of categories and worse in a few (pushing credit cards and warranties is my weak spot). How should I go about disputing this evaluation without coming across as completely full of myself?
On behalf of all of shoppers, thank you for being weak on pushing credit cards. I know it's damaging to your career, but it drives me nuts. I don't mind if you ask, "Would you like to sign up for our credit card?" it's when I say no and they start asking why and putting pressure on me pushes me over the edge. But, enough about my problems, let's talk about yours.

You have a few problems, none of which are going to be easily solved.

Problem: Your supervisor doesn't care about performance appraisals. This, of course, you already knew. He's not interested in giving real feedback or taking the time to truly consider what each employee's skills are. Lots of managers copy and paste when writing performance appraisals, but the good ones make sure that what ends up in the final appraisal is about the specified employee.

Solution: Ask directly for suggestions. Reality is, the appraisal is over. If you want true feedback and want to improve, you need to ask directly. Forget about the past appraisal. "Can you tell me an area that I need to improve in?" is a great question. Then you actually have to make the changes. If you ask and argue back or ignore the advice, it will not bode well for you.

Problem: You are, actually, pretty average. Ouch. Sorry. But average is average and if you're better in some areas (as you said) and worse in others (as you said) that is going to average out to be, well average. Even though the appraisal was not unique to you, the overall result may well be accurate. If you were outstanding then even a slacker supervisor is likely to notice it and note it in your appraisal. Even if the supervisor is a complete dolt and didn't notice, if you were going above and beyond on a regular basis, it's far more likely that the store manager (who made the decision about raises) would have noticed you.

Solution: Stop being average. Take the areas you know you need to improve in, even if it means pushing credit cards on people like me. (Shudder.) Ask your supervisor what you can do better. Jump at the chance to help out your coworkers. Ask for opportunities to learn new areas. "Sure, I'd be happy to cover in Kid's Clothing so Carl can take his break," you say. If you want success and recognition and a bigger raise, you need to be the person who consistently performs at a higher level than the other employees, in multiple areas. Ask questions to your more seasoned coworkers and learn, learn, learn.

None of these things are going to result in a spectacular new raise right now. Keep in mind that raises in retail tend to be small and uniform. Yes, you could run into the store manager and point out where your supervisor wrote Henry instead of Jason, but honestly, its doubtful that will result in a change to your pay. As you said, there are areas you need to improve on. Work on those and if you have the same problem with the next round of increases, you'll have a valid argument. Right now, if you point out where you're excellent, they'll just point out where you are substandard, and that's not what you want.

A first level retail supervisor who wasn't responsible for determining your increase is probably an inexperienced manager. You can't expect an inexperienced supervisor to do much in terms of developing employees. Instead, take control of your own career and learn what you can. Go above and beyond and my bet is that you'll end up much better off in the long run.

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Photo by Ed Yourdon, Flickr cc 2.0

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