SMART goals my ass
January 29, 2021 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I have to somehow get through my annual performance review and I am really at a loss. In need of advice and useful scripts to do an end run around my full-scale burnout and rage.

So, my job is a neverending trash fire. It was godawful pre-pandemic, and has only gotten worse. I know I'm supposed to feel grateful to be employed but I am not, not even a little. I hate it so much, and I hate pretty much everyone involved with it. (And especially, I hate myself, for not finding anything better yet! yay!) When people ask me questions in meetings lately I mostly just...can't even answer. Our teams are fully falling apart; meetings are chaos, I'm not sure anyone has even noticed! To make matters worse, my boss thinks she is just my very bestest friend and no level of chilly detachment has managed to dislodge this idea from her skull.

So now I'm staring down the barrel of my annual review and I just honestly have no idea how I'm going to even get through it. I don't mean, "how do I do a Real Good Job and get a Raise," because I don't give a shit about that. I literally need tips on how to make it through the hourlong meeting without screaming, weeping, vomiting, calling my boss unspeakable names, or throwing my computer out of the 3rd story window into the street.

What the fuck am I supposed to say when my boss asks me about my "goals" or my "professional development"? I have no goals in this company or even in this industry, and the only professional development I'm interested in is figuring out how to get by on the earnings from a coffee shop or barback job in my 40s.

I think I need a script to straight-up read off, except that every time I try to write one I just end up screaming STUPID EVIL MOTHERFUCKERS at my computer screen. Maybe you good folks have some ideas, though?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Work & Money (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You get to feel the way you feel. You don't have to be grateful for anything.

I've pasted some of your comments, with quotes for what you could say. The idea here is that everything you hate becomes an opportunity to change it in to something you don't hate. Goal: make your job less of a fucking nightmare. Now translate that into corporate-speak.

[So, my job is a neverending trash fire. It was godawful pre-pandemic, and has only gotten worse. ] "The past year has been a challenge, but I see it as an opportunity to develop practices that can better support our work."

[When people ask me questions in meetings lately I mostly just...can't even answer.] "I think it's been hard to focus on our core goals and priorities. Can you help me with setting priorities?"

[Our teams are fully falling apart;] "More consistent structure and feedback for our teams could decrease turnover."

[meetings are chaos,] "Could we discuss ways to make meetings more focused and productive? I think we should always have an agenda and designated facilitator."

[I'm not sure anyone has even noticed!] "More timely and clear feedback on our team's performance would go a long way."

[To make matters worse, my boss thinks she is just my very bestest friend and no level of chilly detachment has managed to dislodge this idea from her skull.] So be her bestest friend back by giving her a chance to do better by implementing all your ideas.
posted by medusa at 9:09 PM on January 29, 2021 [43 favorites]

Best answer: Same thing as everyone else does: make up bullshit lies about wanting to take more professional development classes and improve diversity and learn more about your industry and learn some new skills when you have to take over someone else's job too. Nobody actually cares if you do this shit as long as you make noises on paper towards that as a "goal." Sign up for a few classes of whatever if they insist.

These days with Zoom, assuming you're not in person, you can certainly do physical stress relieving moves under the table where they can't see it on camera. Wring your hands, pinch yourself, whatever as long as they can't see you doing it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:10 PM on January 29, 2021 [14 favorites]

And to get through the meeting: be an anthropologist observing the horrific, violent rituals of the most savage culture on earth: the Capitalists. Take notes for your book.
posted by medusa at 9:11 PM on January 29, 2021 [15 favorites]

* "Haha, surviving this pandemic. Isn't that everyone's goal?"
* Something that is a true personal goal for you, and is vague enough that it could plausibly be misinterpreted to apply to your current job. Making positive contributions to the world, having the opportunity to put your creative talents to use where they will be appreciated - that sort of stuff.

Professional development:
* Depends a lot on your specific job, but maybe suggest things that you wish folks in your organization kind of as a whole would get better at? Eg., "I've really noticed this year how important teamwork is. I'd be interested in some trainings - for myself and my group(s) - on different meeting facilitation methods [or other similar things that would have the potential to address the dynamics and workplace culture failures that have been causing your burnout ]."
* Lean into the pandemic excuse for your possibly new concern about teamwork/team-building skills.
* Can spin this as leadership skills development for you; possibly 'leading from beside', if you're in a lower level role.
* Alternatively, transferrable skills that could apply in your current role but would also be useful in helping you enact a job or career change.

Or, on preview, what medusa said.
posted by eviemath at 9:12 PM on January 29, 2021

How do you feel about getting some distance by playing a character? Would answers that are not really true for you be acceptable here? Are you able to keep a straight face? Or would cracking up a little during your meeting be an improvement over anguished screaming? If so: make up a persona, imagine their goals, write up a script for their meeting, and follow it. You can give them a quirk or four. Like they really like woodpeckers, and so they are trying to find ways to involve woodpeckers in their work, either as graphic design elements or as decorative elements around the office or as tap-timing-based sources of entropy for generating cryptographic keys. "I know it's a bit of a pipe dream, but I'm committed to finding the value that woodpeckers can bring to our company. [pursed lips; determined nod]"

Adjust the distance of this creation from your actual persona as necessary to stay within whatever bounds feel appropriate while remaining as far from your reality as needed to avoid the thrashing and gnashing.
posted by whatnotever at 9:12 PM on January 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

I recommend you make a sincere list of business oriented self improvement goals where each sentence ends with "so I can get a better job and never have to see any of you horrible motherfuckers ever again".
Then when it comes time for the meeting, say the quiet part very quietly indeed.
Worked for me.
posted by Carlo at 9:14 PM on January 29, 2021 [18 favorites]

Here's a few ideas, that may not work for your situation:

Do you have a feel for if your boss thinks the annual performance review is largely a waste of everyone's time or actually useful? anecdote: i work in a big bureaucracy, and corporate HR policy requires everyone to set an annual performance plan with personal growth objectives & so on. I'm pretty jaded & am not interested in climbing the corporate ladder or working massive amounts of overtime each week to get a 5% raise, and my last couple of bosses have quietly but openly mentioned that they regard the annual performance review process to be largely a big waste of everyone's time -- so the deal is basically: my boss gets in trouble with HR if any reports haven't entered an annual performance plan into the HR IT system, so I need to write some goals in the boxes so we don't get flagged as non compliant by HR because I didn't set any goals, but my boss doesn't really care what the goals are. For my last performance review I proposed a personal growth goal of doing something that I was already doing, which was listening to podcasts in some vaguely but tenuously related area to my job.

Are there things that could be done to make your work situation more tolerable? not "how do i take on more responsibility and stress and provide more value to the company to earn some more bucks" but maybe "i'm interested in changing my role to work from home part time / full time because of insert-semi-plausible-reason, is that something we can negotiate?" .... "i'm interested in reducing my hours?". You don't need to wait for an annual performance review to negotiate this kind of thing, but it could be something to consider raising if it is something you actually would like.
posted by are-coral-made at 9:21 PM on January 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Please take me at my word that this job is unsalvageable. There is no sum of money or change of duties that could persuade me to remain for even one second after I am hired elsewhere.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:39 PM on January 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

Lol, your boss knows how you feel. Trust me.

If you want to just get through this fill in the following blanks:
[list job task] [list to what level you will do it to] [give a date]
example: I will paint 50 teapots without error or breaking any by August 30th.

Do this 5 times. Don't spend more than 10 minutes on this. Then have a beer. Call it a day.
posted by Toddles at 11:07 PM on January 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

It will feel silly, but can you try to pretend you are two people? Yourself, and the person who is your very good friend who you are going to help endure this meeting. Talk to yourself about what you would suggest your good friend say, write it down. It is easier because you are not so intimately involved in the details of your good friend’s situation so you can bullshit more effectively. You don’t care about these other people so tell your friend what they need to hear to get through it. Basically create empathy for yourself and distance from the situation. Yeah, dissociation is unhealthy in the long term but it’s a legit coping mechanism for crisis points, which is what this sounds like it will be.
posted by Mizu at 2:18 AM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth I have never been in a job where my superior has considered the annual performance review as anything but a mere formality (there was, hoever never any potential bonus tied to it either), so my advice might by of limited value, if your boss really wants to dig into this.

Still, it seems to be if you want to shorten the ordeal as much as possible, the best course of action would be to voice no complaints whatsoever (because then your boss might feel the need to defend themselves/get into justifications) and only suggest personal goals that don't require anything too specific in term of actual, tangible support by your boss (because then they might feel a need to manage your expectations, and that again could result in a pointless conversation). For minimum discussion, keep your goals as vague as you can get away with.

Potential goals:
- network more with other departments
- keep up more with industry news
- work on resilience/coping skills in stressfull situations by practicising mindfulness

I think neither of those would require much of input from your boss; so they should get you out of this conversation quickly enough.

Usually I would also suggest simply asking colleagues what they are planning to say and then say roughly the same thing, but it seems like you can't stand to talk to anyone there more than absoutely necessary.
posted by sohalt at 3:24 AM on January 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't have a better answer than either of Medusa's, but I just want to say I love the question and would have kept reading for a while for what it's worth. I'd go and read Sarah Jaffe's new book.
posted by history is a weapon at 3:51 AM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

I somehow feel that a person who made it their business to work with folks just to craft the BS content that these reviews require could make significant bank. This feels like a niche service waiting to be provided.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:07 AM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Adding that I feel blast hardcheese's sentiments, having been there myself multiple times. Giving the people what they want is likely the only way these meetings can progress smoothly.

The goal is not to fix the toxicity- the goal is just to get through the effing meeting. To do that, you have to give them the answers that let them tick the boxes and complete THEIR side of the ridiculous review process. Only then is it blessedly over.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:10 AM on January 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am so sorry you’re (temporarily! I believe in you!) stuck in this bullshit job. When I’ve found myself in a similar situation, I’ve leaned on my previous year’s review. Do you have access to that? Cut and paste and call it a day! Maybe change a word or two if you think anyone will notice. I wish you the best with your efforts to find a new gig this year.
posted by little mouth at 6:24 AM on January 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

What the fuck am I supposed to say when my boss asks me about my "goals" or my "professional development"?

I read lots of things and watch things, videos, documentaries etc because they are interesting, yes, but also in the name of personal development. Some of this benefits whatever position I have at work now or in the future. While some of it is obviously (seemingly) work related (furthering my understanding of Excel, for instance), I'm truly interested in these things otherwise I wouldn't pursue them as topics. So, when my review comes up–which I find daunting and awful even when perfectly happy where I work–I talk about whatever I've been reading/studying/viewing/attending to further my 'professional development'. And even brief overviews of such materials and how they've been useful to me can take up a large chunk of the meeting. This takes the pressure off of 'me', personally while still be about 'what I'm doing'.

My goals are whatever my current work-goals really are mixed with boilerplate items. And I'm either really working towards them–or I'm not because the workplace makes it impossible. But the goals are there and they are stellar. If my workplace happens to be toxic, those goals are not reachable due to no fault of my own, but do I have goals? Yes, of course! And I have a list in front of me to refer to as I speak. So, I have goals. But I never say anything negative about the roadblocks to those goals (and, yes, sometimes a roadblock is a shortcoming of mine). This meeting is akin to a job interview: no negativity. I don't allow for any negative commentary on my part, even when invited to do so, ever. If the workplace is toxic, they don't want to hear it and I am in no position to change it.

The "appropriate" time to air grievances is during an exit interview. It's the only safe time to do so, but even then–the workplace benefits from this feedback, if they are smart. But it never benefits the employee, even when they are safely out the door, even if it feels good to get this off your chest. I, personally, keep exit interviews as boring as possible. I don't go into things. I want to trust I can use this work history on a resume and them as a reference down the line.

More than anything, I remind myself that every boss and manager I've ever had, every owner of every business has gotten though these types of meetings themselves in jobs and positions that were toxic or that they hated by doing these very things. They say what the other party wants to hear. This does not make you a bad employee. If the workplace is toxic, you plans and goals mean nothing. But you still have goals and plans. And hopefully, one day, you will find a job that will benefit from these.

I was asked once in a performance review something along the lines of whether I enjoyed my job. I answered that I did and went into the reasons why I did. But I did not enjoy that job. And the person asking me that question very likely did not enjoy their job, either. Most people don't enjoy their jobs (or even expect to enjoy their jobs). Enjoying your job has nothing to do with your job performance. It's especially egregious when the job in question is toxic. But the question was not asked in good faith and does not require an answer in good faith. That is true of performance reviews in general. It's a formality or some kind of review 'theater', and you just have to get through it.
posted by marimeko at 7:22 AM on January 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I somehow feel that a person who made it their business to work with folks just to craft the BS content that these reviews require could make significant bank. This feels like a niche service waiting to be provided.

This already exists and turned up in a search result when I was digging around trying to find what the asker asked for, which isn't advice as far as I can tell, it is a literal script to straight-up read off so they don't have to think about work one second longer than they have to.
posted by aniola at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: hahaha do you think they'll buy that my watching all seasons of Fargo in a month is "professional development" or only if my career goal is "accidentally murdering someone and enraging a mafia family"?

Aniola if you would be so kind as to post or memail me this person who just writes these corporate scripts, I would be much obliged.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:48 AM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Memailed you the link. Warning. It is a capitalist website whose employees probably also hate their job.
posted by aniola at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2021

Response by poster: (Yes definitely seeking actual scripts for making it through this one particular meeting, rather than advice on being better at or caring more about my job, two things that are never going to happen)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:53 AM on January 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

For a similarly angering meeting (but related to a lawsuit, not my job), it was important to rehearse a plan for questions that would make me lose my poise. I practiced sending my main self up to a cloud while my in-person shell said something soothing and redirecting.

So if they say, it seems like you've been less engaged lately...? You'll want an answer, whether that is, "oh really? I've had some personal things going on but will try to speak up more in meetings" or "I've found some of the challenges that our team is facing to be hard to untangle, so I'm afraid I do spend mental time spinning my wheels on solutions that never seem helpful enough to say," or whatever is a polite gloss on "things are just completely screwed so why say anything?"

Mentally practice how to handle the things that might cause you to lose your cool, is my point.
posted by slidell at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Mentally practice how to handle the things that might cause you to lose your cool, is my point.


Create a strategy and/or practice your response to questions that either purposefully or inadvertently put you at a disadvantage in the discussion.
posted by marimeko at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2021

The other thing you might want to come prepared to do is to run out the clock. Think of questions. "If I was going to do some extracurricular study to better advance here, what would you recommend?" "Thinking of the leadership here, what do you think made them successful? I don't know that much about CEO and CFO's backgrounds, do you?" "What trainings or habits have made you most successful." Just get them talking. The more they talk, the less you have to talk. Since they think you're their best friend, it should be pretty easy, I hope.
posted by slidell at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

Your question made me stop and reflect on how I go about these things.

A small part of my brain wants to give genuine answers and try to make things better.
But this seems to be quickly overridden by the rest of the brain, which likes to play a little game called "What answer would delight a psychopath?"

Funnily enough, I do well in job interviews.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2021

Coming back to this, in case it's helpful to anyone. I've been struggling with this too for various reasons, and recently my manager told me "You know, you can literally put 'take BlahBlah time management class on LinkedIn' as a goal."

I was at first surprised (that's possible?) and then mad. Every single example they give in the training docs for SMART goals are things like "by March 30, I will have redesigned the invoicing process and reduced processing time by 25%" or something seriously aspirational like that. You're telling me that I can put "take a time management class" down and have it be acceptable?
posted by Lexica at 2:50 PM on July 6, 2021

Hahahah, time management classes are pretty much all I did for goals this year.

Let's face it, in certain jobs where you will never be promoted and you're not management, it doesn't matter what goals you put down, you just have to fulfill your organization's requirements that you claim to have some.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:08 PM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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