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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, October 16, 2009

Performance Evaluations: What Are They Good For?

A chat with a long time and respected journalist who, like me, is now "de-institutionalized" from mainstream media. As we waxed nostalgic over dim sum,
I asked him if he ever received a negative p.e. (performance evaluation)from his newspaper or his supervisor?

"Oh yes," he said. "For years I was up here (hand above head) then suddenly,
I was down here (hand under the table). I just assumed they got tired of me."

I also had my ups and down and I don't know anyone who hasn't received a less than satisfactory performance evaluation.

That got me thinking about the varying nature of management in news organizations. Mostly it's "management by reprimand," possibly because of the unhappy tendency of managers to personalize issues because they lack the tools to get the best out of employees, especially long time inhabitants of the newsroom.

Now it's always possible for senior journalists to suffer from burnout and who should indeed leave the organization. But longtime employees should be valued for their deeper institutional knowledge and their ability to share those skills that took years to acquire.

I admit a mea culpa or two in my management past: I could also be worn down by recalcitrant employees and it often seemed easier to find someone else. But I also bristled against a p.e. that gave me an average mark when I knew I deserved better. It's demoralizing and disheartening to feel so undervalued, especially when an employee felts he or she is giving the organization their best work.

What's worse is that p.e.'s aren't usually followed up with suggestions for improvement or any additional training. It's management by reprimand at its most insidious.

Do performance evaluations work? Not as I've known them.

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