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Submitted by uwavegeek on


Good afternoon.  I have an interesting problem.  I have a good employee who won't sign his review based on one or two areas that need improvement.  I dont' want this to turn into a personell issue (e.g. sign it or your fired) but I also don't feel ethical in backing down from what I (and my boss) consider a fair evaluation.  Any advice or insight in this would be greatly appreciated.


Backstory (for those who are still reading ;-):

One of my employees was promoted a little prematurely (I say this because it was thought that he might leave the company if he wasn't promoted).  I was against it on general principles (and the MT promotion rule) but was overruled, partially because I was still new in the role/company.  Long story short, an engineer was promoted to a higher level role that requires more in the way of communcations, design review quality, leadership, etc.  but excelling at others (technical ability, innovation etc.) When I did the evaluation, I found him lacking in a few of the 'softer areas'.  My boss (the VP and the former director of my team) agreed with my evaluation.  Upon delivery, the employee took issue with the 'needs improvement' portion of the review and said that he wanted to talk to my boss (his old boss).  Four weeks have went by and still no signature.  I'm struggling with the balance of trying to not overly 'pinch' the relationship but also remain firm.  

afmoffa's picture

Let him sign the document "Joe Smith, under protest." Give him one week to cool off, and then begin coaching him on being a grownup at work. Here's why:

Almost every company with a policy of having written reviews also has a policy of "Your signature means you have read this. It does not mean you agree with it." The recalcitrant employee probably knows this, but perhaps he figured it out after he'd already twisted a refusal to sign into a point of honor. If he's really dumb, he has probably told four or five of his water-cooler buddies "No way I'm going to sign that thing; I got to make a stand." That's a rookie mistake, because now there is a perceived social cost to his admitting he was mistaken.

In his mind, signing the document now means that he agrees with you. He can't do that without losing face. Offer him the fig-leaf of adding "under protest." It gives him cover and lets him tell his spouse, his buddies, and his bathroom mirror that he got something out of you. Let the baby have his bottle. Now, that "under protest" bit is going to be a HUGE black mark in his personnel file. You'll remember it. If he gets transferred, his new manager will see the "under protest" and will jump to an accurate, but damning, conclusion.

Or you can fire him. As his boss, you can require your employees read memos, articles, and entire books so long as you provide the reading material and company time to read it. He hasn't read a four-page document you gave him last week. Remember, by refusing to sign it, he is stating that he has not read it. You can't punish beliefs, but you can absolutely punish behavior. Refusing a direct, reasonable order is a behavior.

Coaching might work. Cooler heads sometimes prevail. But chances are you've got a ticked-off, petulant manager working for you, and he has a "does not play well with others" note on his report card. So make plans for how you'll fill his job if he leaves.

mfculbert's picture

I do not know the rules and regulations of your organization. Is there a clause for you to submit the form with your signature and a statement, possibly confirmed by your boss, that the employee did not want to sign because of the requested improvements? Anyone with experience will understand that the unsigned document is even more condemning than the criticisms that are on the paper.

If he is talking to his peers and undermining the team you really do need to move to replace him. 

Good luck.

timrutter's picture

Three questions jump into my head after reading this:

Are you doing O3's?

Have you given him feedback on what the implications of his behaviour are?

Does it actually matter whether he signs it off or not?

uwavegeek's picture
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Thanks folks.   I am doing O3s and using the feedback model, as such, I have built a decent relationship with him.  I've given a soft ultimatum stating that he needs to sign it with his comments or I'm going to submit it stating that he refused to sign. 

In reviewing the DISC model, I'm pretty sure I have a high amount of 'S' which feels like it means 'softy' at the moment.   I've had bosses that would have fired him on the spot for this and I don't have that in me. 


Thanks again.



stephenbooth_uk's picture

I'm concerned that the theme of prior comments seems to have been based on the assumption that the employee is in the wrong.  I've seen nothing to confirm that.  From your description I see a story of someone who was promoted to a position he was unsuited for and is now getting a kicking for it.  You believe that you're in the right, the employee probably had an equally strong belief that he is in the right.

Does your organisation have a rule that signing your review merely indicates that you have read it, not that you agree with it (as suggested by AFMOFFA), some do and some don't (my current employer does have that rule but, I've been told, the employer of others in the organisation I work for, a non-employing joint venture partnership company, does not and if they sign their review they are signing to say that they agree the the review is a fair and accurate reflection of their performance)?  Is that clearly printed above the signature line/box?  If not then the implication is that by signing the document he has agreed with it and if he dopesn't agree he is quite within his moral and legal rights in any vaguely free country to refuse to sign.  If you compel him to sign through threats to his emplioyment then you've just crossed the line into an area where any half way competant lawyer could cost you and your employer a lot of money.

Have you given this employee prior coaching or provided training or other support in the areas you think he's weak in?  You mention having given feedback (although your use of the phrase 'as such' makes me wonder how close you are sticking to the model).  Was it recent?  Was it focussed specifically on those behaviours?  When he responded to what he could do differently is that what he actually did?  Have his skills in those areas improved?  Did you reflect that in your review?  It is perfectly possible to say in a review that there is a weakness in an area but that there has been improvement, "Bob has some weakness inthe area of vebal communication and negotiation but some improvement has been noted in recent months.  I shall review Bob's improvement in these areas with him on a weekly basis with a view to providing support as and when needed."  Far more palatable than just flagging up a weakness.

Have you discussed with this direct what exactly he is unhappy with?  Maybe he feels that he's improved and you're not recognising that, maybe he feels that you haven't told him about these concerns so he thought he was OK then you've pulled them out fo thin air at his review as an excuse to ding him.  I don't know, and until you ask him and have a discussion about it neither do you!





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uwavegeek's picture
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Thanks for the detailed post.  I've been asking myself many of those very questions, trying to figure out how I can improve my own managerial techniques.

The policy is what you described, that signing signifies delivery of the review, not agreement.

I have coached him with limited results.  

His issue isn't with my wording, only that there are areas that need improvement.  His response is that his kids are not allowed to get B's so he can't accept getting one. 

I did give him another chance to change the 'grade' as he had another design review.  This one was just as poor as the last one with no apparent effort to improve, so the grade of 'needs improvement' remained. 

Thanks again.