Poor boss's evaluation How-To
August 14, 2016 12:09 AM   Subscribe

How do you evaluate your boss that you don't really respect and who is part of determining your own raise percentage? Looking for safe phrases I can write for this person's review.

I have to write an evaluation for my boss. They are supposed to be anonymous but I don't believe this will be. I'm looking for some bland safe things to write. I do have serious issues with this boss. I understand evals are not the place to resolve the following problems but these issues make it hard for me to write about this person.

One issue would be the way this eval is being submitted to me and why I think it's not anonymous. It should be, but this person frequently skips procedures and rules. I think this person submitted it incorrectly so they could see it. One of my peers calls this boss 'dirty,' another says 'careless.' Both seem to fit and cause problems with our work. Our work is highly dependent on policy and procedure, so often this boss's overlooking them is corrected by those next in line or those who carry out the tasks. Of course that is burdensome.

This boss is big on 'leadership-speak' especially "transparency." But a typical example of this would be boss has conversation with an employee and says: (this specific person) tells me you're having issues with (some aspect of the job, or worse - your personality), tell me why (actual peer's name used) would say that about you? Employee is then extremely hurt peer would say that, issues not fixed or resolved but now employee angry at peer. Peer may have NEVER said anything to start with. Boss may have just made it up. I personally have been on both sides of this: boss told me something I knew peer of many years would never say about me, and in separate instance boss told a peer of mine I said crap about them I never said. That peer then angrily confronted me about it, and our work relationship has suffered because of it. I have watched this happen between others.

Another 'transparency' example is boss announces things to staff that may not be ready for public knowledge. A new management position opened, boss announced to all staff every peer that is being interviewed beforehand. Candidates then evaluated in public gossip mill well before their interviews. Staff on actual interview panels now aware and hearing other staff opinions about it all before interviews happen.

Boss thinks they are 'transparent,' they 'manage up,' and that they are 'a servant leader.' I would contest most of that.

Boss often hires family friends, encourages favoritism, is unavailable. Boss would deny that. Once boss put out actually anonymous "How's Leadership Doing?" box and was disappointed with results. Multiple staff members said boss plays favorites with her own race and does not support us (other race). As a member of a completely different group I would agree with the anonymous commenters. Boss's response was to post all over work - including in staff toilets - a typed letter about how boss does not favor his/her own race, racism doesn't happen here because we're such a diverse group. It was a mess! Boss told other group their experience wasn't real after they said it was.

Boss benefits from having strong, resourceful and productive staff. Work is a high stress, busy place with many high functioning people who focus on getting what's best for all done. The best things I can say about boss is they are generally nice to my face, I think I'm on the good side of their weird thinking, and boss generally stays out of my ability to get my work done. But I have peers that I care deeply for who this is not the case. Boss is not nice to their face. Boss seems to think weird stuff about them that's not justified. Boss gets in the way of their work.

Boss has gotten us more staffing when we really needed it (but I think this may have come down from boss's boss - my boss took credit however).

I'm nervous the hive mind might think this is a toxic job I should leave, but I can retire with excellent benefits for me and my spouse in a decade or so and think this boss will leave well before that. This person's odd leadership style doesn't interfere with my ability to get fair raises (I think) and generally feel personal satisfaction in my own position. I understand with a boss like this my position could easily change and hopefully I will address that if it gets to that point.

So what bland safe things can I say in an evaluation about this boss I really do not care for or respect, but I manage to work okay with and who will be responsible for helping to determine my raise percentage? I need to take all my personal baggage out of the picture and get past this task, because whenever I think about doing this all the ways boss has been pretty awful just sit right in the front of my mind and I can't even start it.

Thanks for any comments or advice. I really appreciate everyones time. I'm not setting up throwaway email but will email contact form if clarification needed. Thank you again.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Boss has a unique perspective and is a natural leader. Translation: he doesn't have a clue and he's a bully.
posted by Jubey at 12:26 AM on August 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

From a member who would like to remain anonymous:
I was in this situation. Like you, I did not believe that my feedback would be anonymous. In advance of giving the feedback, I told the boss this much in a verbal conversation. I and also told them that whenever I gave them feedback (which I had done in the past) my impression was that first they got defensive and then I felt attacked. I told them that I did not feel able to give them this pseudo-anonymous feedback because it felt like I would be handing them ammunition.

I did give the feedback, after this conversation. I was as specific and constructive as I was able to be. I felt that this difficult conversation improved our relationship greatly, although they still drive me nuts sometimes.

I can be interpersonally kamikaze, though. This may not work for you.
posted by taz at 1:20 AM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can pick the couple of good things you have to say (nice to your face; keeps out of your way on your projects) and expand on them, while not commenting on any other aspect of their leadership. That they are nice to you might become "creates a pleasant and supportive working environment" or "is open and welcoming" or "is thoughtful and approachable" or any number of vague unfalsifiable phrases like that. That they don't actively get in your way might be translated as giving you autonomy in your work and creating an environment in which you feel valued as well as supported. Blah blah blah.

In other words, if you are sure that this boss will not make any use of any substantive feedback - and it sounds like you are sure that they won't - give up on the task of any sort of actual evaluation. Instead, what you're doing is a creative writing exercise or an exercise in the production of bullshit; you can turn off the part of your brain that is earnestly searching for your true beliefs about their skills and instead focus on making up something that sounds plausible and isn't falsifiable and takes up the necessary number of sentences. From this person's past record of dealing with negative feedback - in particular, their defensiveness about racial discrimination - I would not bother even trying for carefully curated honesty.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:24 AM on August 14, 2016 [13 favorites]

Aravis76 is spot-on and echoes my own thoughts. Pick a few things (truth optional) that you can spin, and then make them sound even better. The more filler you can tack on, the more ego-boost Boss will get from it. Use lots of business-speak. More is more!!

Bullies are rarely capable of critically evaluating praise and are loath to set any of it it aside or perceive it as anything but truthful- because it echoes their own opinion of themselves. So pile it on, using every flowery turn of phrase you can safely stomach. Use examples, compare him to other great leaders, etc.

That way, you can pad out just a couple of lines to a large degree and thus reduce the need to come up with actual concrete feedback. Make it look like you REALLY put a lot of of thought into it. As Aravis76 said- craft it like a creative writing essay. Make him think you were dying for this chance to finally put into words how awesome he is.

Bullies in leadership positions weaponize fear and praise. They LOVELOVE reviews because they offer ample opportunity to feed both of these wolves. (This, among other things, is why such archaic review processes are A JOKE.)

Use this chance to feed the wolf that serves you the most, where you are right now in your job, and say things that will bolster your boss's perception that you like him. By doing this in the most wordy, expansive, glowing way possible, you will effectively scramble right out from under; and much like Andy Dufresne, will emerge from the shitpipe smelling like a rose.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:49 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hmmm. Based on what you write I think you could say boss is enthusiastic about their leadership position, leads by example, is extremely responsive, action-oriented, communicates regularly with the team and inspires you to work harder.

I hate doing these bullshit reviews too. What a waste of time.
posted by Cuke at 4:57 AM on August 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

I have a different point of view and approach that I would use for this. The danger here is that even though 360 reviews can be BS (and yes, not anonymous, I've found this stuff open on company servers with names attached), HR and/or your supervisor's supervisor may use this information to either 1) give that person a larger raise and/or 2) undermine what some of the people might have made HR aware of (ie, what sounds like either racism or bullying in the workplace). Would you want to write something that contributes to supporting this person?

So instead I would write the 3 neutral sentences that you can write (ie, provides extra support when needed, or in your relationship with boss, does not get in way). Three neutral sentences, and leave it at that.

However, here is part 2. When you are asked to write a review for a colleague who is being undermined and someone who you respect - write that person a glowing 3 or 4 paragraph review.

But I would use the amount that you write to address this in a more honest manner.

I understand keeping your head low, but I wouldn't want to contribute to undermining peers and colleagues.
posted by Wolfster at 6:03 AM on August 14, 2016 [27 favorites]

The biggest thing about one of these is what you don't say. Try to write it in such a way that what you do say leaves plenty of room for the reader to notice what you didn't say. This is the classic letter of recommendation problem.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:05 AM on August 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Maybe it's a case of using some verbs obliquely to suggest their aims, rather than their output.

'Boss aspires to workplace transparency in hiring and task processes'
'Boss believes in ....'
'Boss aims to ..'
'Boss attempts to build team confidence ...'
posted by honey-barbara at 8:35 AM on August 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

The first question I'd ask is, "Why are these reviews not anonymous?" I would strongly suggest bringing up your concerns about anonymity with the relevant people and finding a solution on that end. There should be ways

If you can resolve the issue there, great. If not, I would be strongly tempted to write something in the review to the effect that you have concerns about the confidentiality of the review and hence decline to provide a review.

Above all else, I would second Wolfster's caution: if you write something positive, it will be used to support this person in the future. I talk to HR people frequently in my job, and a common theme is that bad information is left out of written documents, and as a result bad behaviors continue to fester and in fact become normalized. It becomes especially difficult to address these problems if people claim to have issues with a person, but the paper trail says just the opposite. You do not want to spin, to use management BS, or to be slick with words in order to make your review sound positive if you do not believe the person deserves a positive review.
posted by philosophygeek at 8:45 AM on August 14, 2016

A couple of possible approaches:

- say things that sound good but are actually neutral: Boss stresses the importance of transparency, communicates the importance of leadership to the group. Maybe communicates frequently with the team, responds quickly to input? (On preview, honey-barbara's approach.)

- Devote the majority of the text to detailed verbiage about a small number of very specific examples of something good they've done (if in reality the good thing came from higher up, so much the better): "In February we were understaffed and in danger of not meeting our targets. Boss understood the problem quickly and, instead of insisting on unreasonable goals and unsustainable working conditions, was able to bring on more staff, ultimately making the project a great success. We appreciated this because Boss listened to our needs and responded with rapid action and concrete leadership rather than with words. He took the time to really understand what would help us get the work done and allow us to offload less-specialized work so that we could utilize our skills more efficiently. I personally feel the increased morale in the wake of this also contributed to the project's success."
posted by trig at 8:56 AM on August 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Lie and say they are wonderful.

Enjoy the brief good will this will garner you from Boss. Look for a new job ASAP. The longer you stay, the more damaged and tarnished your career and professional relationships with colleagues in the industry in which you work will become.

Lie now, leave as soon as possible. Save your career and reputation.
posted by jbenben at 9:21 AM on August 14, 2016

Or take Wolfster's great advice if you must stay in this particular company and role (but I don't think that works because of boss hiring friends and such, soon that will go south in any numerous ways...)
posted by jbenben at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2016

Who besides your boss will actually read this? If it's just the boss, emphasizing the positive and the non-action verbs (intends to, believes in) are spot on. The equivalent of "this person means well." If you actually want to impact this person's policies and performance, compliment them for the one time they did something right. There's no safe constructive criticism in this context.

If this actually has an impact in your boss's career trajectory, write as little as possible, like the minimum pieces of flair. When doing my employees reviews, it's very clear when their reviewers are going through the motions (short sentences, vague statements like "nice" and "friendly" vs. impact). If someone cares deeply about the success of an employee, they'll write a long thing with lots of details and specifics.
posted by Gucky at 9:26 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think "boss stays out of your way and lets you do your job" is your best bet for positive spin here. I agree with others that you don't want to say too many positive things, because they could be used to help a bad boss stay in place for longer than they would have otherwise. But something like, "boss fosters an environment where employees are encouraged to take initiative and take the lead in their own areas of expertise" could be a safe way to go.
posted by MsMolly at 10:21 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would focus on your own satisfaction with your job implying that it's because of Boss, but not saying that directly. I agree with trig that examples of situations where Boss took credit for a higher-up's work are good. In fact, I would cram as many of those examples in as possible as reasons why Boss is so great. If Boss's bosses read it, they'll realize that all the good things Boss has done are actually things they've done.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:31 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

One strategy could be to describe the thing you don't like in a neutral way, in case anyone else reads this. "One leadership quality that Sal really embodies is transparency. For example, if Sal has negative feedback to communicate, s/he will share the names of the staff colleague(s) who gave that negative feedback so that staff members understand which of their co-workers are giving negative feedback about their performance. For another example, during the interviews for the X position Sal made sure staff knew which of their colleagues were applying."

For every negative example you give, you could easily act ask though you are listing it as a positive trait. Your boss "responds directly to feedback, explaining the justification for their original actions." Etc.
posted by salvia at 11:32 AM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Very little of what you have written is even remotely relevant to this task.

Write this:

"Our department's goals are X, Y and Z. In my assessment we are achieving them to a, b and c extents. Boss deserves much credit for what is being achieved.

"To reach X, Y and Z goals fully I believe that boss could do 1 with respect to goal X, 2 with respect to goal Y, and 3 with respect to goal Z."

Constructive, but not a pushover or ass kisser, and actually relevant to what management wants, which is the achievement of goals.
posted by MattD at 1:16 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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