Excerpt from “Corporate Crap” – Chapter 8: Performance Reviews

Published December 10, 2018

“I’ve seen the future; it’s a bald-headed man
from New York!”

The day I learned how worthless performance reviews are was the day I got fired from Alexander Grant immediately after receiving a stellar performance review.

There is a scene in the movie Lost in America with Albert Brooks that will forever remind me of my departure from Alexander Grant. Brooks’ character, a young and talented advertising executive, goes to a meeting thinking he is about to be promoted. Instead, his boss tells him the firm just won the Ford account and wants him to move to New York to work under a bald nebbish in a bad suit. Enraged, Brooks quits, screaming on his way out that no one should trust the firm with their future. “I’ve seen the future; it’s a bald-headed man from New York!”

My story is similar. When I joined the accounting firm of Alexander Grant in 1980, lawyers, doctors, and certified public accountants did not advertise. It was thought to be beneath the dignity of such professions. In the early ’80s this began to change. So the firm brought in this bald-headed marketing consultant from New York to pitch the partners on an ad campaign. I didn’t like the guy. He reminded me of a snake oil salesman. I made no attempt to hide how I felt because a) I was still young and stupid, and b) he was just a consultant.

On my two-year anniversary, my boss gave me a stellar performance review. He praised my work in creating a global communications platform from scratch for Grant Thornton International following Alexander Grant’s merger with Thornton Baker. He said he was looking forward to seeing me play a lead role in the firm’s new marketing initiative with the consultant from New York.

A week later, my boss told me I was being let go. The partners were so taken with the guy from New York that they made him a principal in the firm and put him over my boss. The guy said he wanted to bring in his own people. Like Albert Brooks, I saw the future, and it was a bald-headed man from New York. That stellar performance review I had just received meant nothing.

Today, thirty-five years later, most HR professionals, managers, and employees acknowledge that annual performance reviews are worthless…