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4 Reasons IT Leaders Hate Giving Performance Reviews

Dread sitting down with your IT employees to review job performance? Recognize the pitfalls and appraisals will be less troublesome.

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Programmers and systems analysts aren't the only ones who dread employee performance reviews. IT leaders loathe them just as much--but for reasons all their own.

"IT managers look at performance reviews as a necessary evil," said Robert Keahey, founder of SummaLogic, an IT consultancy in San Francisco, Calif. Keahey would know. "I've probably done a thousand of them in my career so I'm very familiar with the process."

Here are four reasons why performance appraisals can be an IT manager's enemy, and how IT leaders can learn to loathe them a bit less.

1. Some techies tend to have a bad attitude.
Forget about key performance indicators and abject objectivity. No matter how hard an IT leader tries to give a fair and just appraisal of an employee's performance, he or she is often met with an attitude that suggests, "I'm way beyond petty evaluations." Warned Keahey, "Most IT people tend to view themselves as special-class citizens. Most of them are technically well versed and have a lot of knowledge and insight so they often see performance appraisals as a career obstacle."

[ Related: 4 Misconceptions About Managing Techies. ]

2. No two techies are the same.
When gauging the performance of an accountant, clear-cut metrics such as compliance, effective client communication, and error-free reports easily come to mind. But standard metrics for IT professionals are far more elusive, according to Keahey. "It's hard for an IT manager to establish a baseline that would fit across an IT organization that states an expected level of performance," he said. "It's very hard to draw a baseline on what a particular job description should accomplish on a regular basis." That's because one IT programmer's skill sets can differ drastically from another's, despite them contributing the exact same value to an organization. That's all the more reason for IT leaders to be flexible in their evaluation of IT professionals, and be willing to be a slightly more subjective in their assessments.

3. HR is a pain.
The ever-evolving nature of technology "makes it tough for HR to define meaningful job descriptions and the accompanying criteria," said Keahey. Yesterday's Java cowboys are today's Ruby geniuses--changes in status that HR managers aren't likely to realize. The result: HR managers and IT leaders are likely to lock horns on the actual value of a programmer's performance. Sitting down beforehand with an HR manager to review technology trends, sought-after certifications, and specific skills sets can go a long way toward coming to an agreement on an employee's performance.

4. Money doesn't always talk.
Unlike in sales and marketing, it can be tough to attach a dollar value to optimizing an IT infrastructure or achieving an R&D breakthrough. "The problem is we have very poor standards against which you can measure real progress," Keahey says. Consider, for example, using the costs associated with system uptime to gauge the performance of a network administrator. "With service-level agreements being all over the map it's really hard to measure a set of KPIs [key performance indicators] that are meaningful," he said.

What about IT leaders who choose to measure a programmer's performance in terms of his coding skills? "Writing code is a meaningless indicator of performance in today's world; it's not about writing code anymore," warned Keahey. "It's about creating services from collections of objects and connecting these services, which only adds to an IT leader's frustration when conducting a performance review."

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