It Shouldn’t Come as a Surprise

Helpful performance reviews, the ones that have just the right balance of praise and actionable feedback, are difficult to get.

In some jobs, like teaching, the standards for success are so ridiculous that it’s easy to feel inadequate and defensive right from the start.

And in other jobs, like my summer job writing title contracts, performance reviews are more about whether or not you stayed on task than about the skills to actually do the job.

But when I was a Resident Assistant in college, I had one of the best bosses I’ll ever have. Clear, communicative, understanding, and firm. A few days before my year end evaluation meeting, she sent me the rubric that she would be using to evaluate me, and asked me to fill it out for myself.

I did it, and I was honest in my responses. For a few areas, I felt I had met the mark, and for a few others I felt that I was over or under by a little.

When I arrived to her office for the evaluation, she said: “I’m going to show you what I thought you deserved on the performance rubrics. But, if we did this right, your self-assessment should align with mine. Nothing should come as a surprise.

She went on to explain that if she had achieved her goal of keeping a clear and open communication channel with me, and frequently checking in, that there was no way I would be surprised at the results of my assessment.

And she was right.

In another college class I took, we were forced to grade each other’s papers using a very specific rubric. What we realized by the time we were done ripping each other’s papers to shreds is that our own papers were total crap too. The second and third drafts of the papers were a million times better, and we understood the revision and evaluation process much better.

I later achieved straight A’s in grad school by doing this – sticking to what the rubric deemed successful. And I was never surprised by grade.

It turns out that when clear expectations are laid out, and people are held accountable, no assessment results will ever come as a surprise. And when everyone’s on the same page about their strengths and challenges, growth is inevitable.