“I can get paid twice as much to be this unappreciated!”

I think most permie PMOs have had this thought during their end of year reviews. Sadly, there isn’t much glory in the PMO. Okay, we do a vital set of tasks, but those tasks – and therefore our value to the business – are limited by whatever understanding and expectations exist within the minds of our department heads. And if you’ve been paying attention to this blog you’ll know that understanding can be quite limited.  Packs. Minutes. Check RAIDs. Monthly finance review. Repeat.

So you’re trapped doing essential but unchallenging work, but that’s fine as you’re achieving your agreed objectives and – with an eye on a bonus – take on extra work where possible. The formula is meant to be simple: Achieve Objectives + Anything Extra = Bonus and Recognition.  It’s even in the terms of your contract: £x basic + bonus based on performance.

But at year end you discover that your company uses a bell curve for assigning performance scores. “Fine,” you think, “I’m as good as anyone in the team. Maybe even better…” But then the real shock comes. The bell curve you’re on isn’t just occupied by you and your PMO colleagues – it’s actually loaded with everyone from the Change division. Suddenly, you and your “never released a pack late” achievements are being measured against the glory hunting PM that can’t introduce himself without mentioning the multi-million pound project he landed last month.  The only consolation is the shaking wreck of a human being that was once the PM’s BA is also on the curve (poor guy, I do hope he got his life back after that project!)

So on a curve with scores from 1 (you’re getting performance managed out of the business next year so stop Christmas shopping and start saving) to 5 (what kind of car will you buy with your bonus?), where do you think you and your reliability will land? Well, let me just squish that last drop of optimism out of you… From my experience it is pretty unheard of for a division of around 100 people to have more than two scoring a 5. Maybe a dozen will get a 4, which will lead to a decent bonus and likely promotion.

Accept it. You’re getting a 3. Unless your line manager is a negotiating warrior and desperate to argue your case above all others – keep in mind they’re on the curve too – you’re getting a 3. You’re achieving objectives, but that’s about it. It’s the easiest score to give. There’s all sorts of excuses for denying that 4.  You didn’t promote your personal brand. You didn’t work long enough hours. You were difficult to work with (translates as “you challenged your peers as you’re meant to”). Or, in my case, I’d only been with the company for 9 and a half months and it would be unfair to the people that had been around for a whole year. To compensate for the cop out, I got a small bonus and a star. 3* = achieving objectives, shows potential.

The result hadn’t taken me by surprise. Nearly all of the permie PMOs had already received their feedback before I got mine, and I’d seen their anger and pain and had spent most of the morning consoling them, or just letting them vent. Some, one in particular, had really exceeded their objectives, scored 4’s in mid year reviews, then got let down at the end of the year. The only people unaffected were the contractors. They did the same job, same effort, got twice the pay, and didn’t have to participate in this annual charade. The only negative they had was the risk of being let go at short notice (low risk, most were there well over two years) and some envy from the perms. They watched the drama in disbelief that anyone would ever consider getting involved in such an activity.

I left the meeting on good terms. I was told that I was appreciated, I shouldn’t judge the company harshly even though, my manager conceded, the scoring method is flawed. But whilst we exited the meeting room with smiles and joking about how – it turned out – neither of us had got the 4 or 5, I had made a decision. I’d decided before I even went in to pick up my feedback.

I was goin’ contractin’!

“I can get paid twice as much to be this unappreciated!”

But I was wrong.

To be continued… Part 2

Written by Stuart Taylor

Born and raised in Walsall, West Midlands; currently living in Buckinghamshire; career in project management; runs a lot but isn't getting any slimmer...

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