Saturday, December 26, 2009

Evaluations and Rankings in a Big 4…Part II

In the first part of this post, I kind of summarized how we go through the evaluation and ranking process for the juniors and seniors. The process is really fairly easy and after five years, I can go through them with my eyes closed. But despite the familiarity with the process, it’s not really as easy as it sounds (and may not really be that effective all the time). Here are just some of my reflections or reasons why I state it this way:

First of all, ideally, one should evaluate and rate a junior right after the engagement is done. However, this is seldom done, especially during the busy season (I mean, heck, you don’t even have time to sleep, much less rate your junior or senior right after the engagement).

The result?

Everything boils down to the evaluation period and you really have to refresh your memory about everything that your staff did during the engagement. And since I didn’t make it a habit to note down my thoughts and observations, the trip down the memory lane can become a major headache for me (which, I know, is also similar to the other managers’ experience).

Secondly, it can be really subjective some times (okay, most of the time). Let’s face it, we sometimes have selective memories and what do we seem to remember the most? The shortcomings of the staff during the engagement.

Why do I say it’s subjective? Because if the staff just happened to rub the senior or manager the wrong way (even though the staff is a good auditor) or just happened to do something (even not related to the engagement) the senior or manager didn’t like, these will be reflected in the evaluation, even if what happened is a very rare occurrence. Is this fair? I don’t think so. Does this happen? Definitely it does.

Third, who is really in the position to rate the junior or the senior? Who knows the staff’s performance firsthand? Who has the ability to back up what kind of evaluation the staff received? Is it not the one who worked with him or her as the manager or the senior of the audit team? One would think that the answer to all these is very simple and very obvious.

But then again, it’s not as simple as I first thought. Sure, I’m the one who evaluates my staff. I’m the one who discusses the same thing with my staff and, later on, with my boss. But heck, there were times when my boss actually overturned my rating! One of them even questioned me in front of other managers and told me pointblank that my rating was wrong! Ouch!

Fourth, do these really make a difference, first to the staff / senior being evaluated and second, to the firm, as a whole? I’ve rated some of my staff for 4 straight years and my comments or ratings were the same. Even those “constructive criticisms” I indicated in the first year of evaluation were the same “constructive criticisms” I wrote in the 4th evaluation. This kind of defeated the purpose for the staff or senior because nothing is really absorbed and everything is just a cycle, something that is repeated over and over again.

What of the firm? Do these evaluations really help make the firm better in delivering its services? Or are these evaluations just “for compliance only”, something that we do just to show the outside world that we are trying to maintain “quality people” to ensure “quality audit”? Honestly speaking, if there was really any improvements brought about by these evaluations and by booting out those who did not meet expectations, these were so little, I hardly felt them.

Lastly, on the Forced Ranking system, this one is where I sometimes see the saying “majority rules” becomes true. If one, two or three managers worked with the same staff or senior, the ranking given by two out of the three managers will prevail, regardless of how the third manager ranked the staff or the senior.

For what we call the ‘top performers’ among the staff, there’s really no debate about them (most of the time), they’re really ranked at the top 5 among the staff (it’s just a matter of saying who’s first, second, third and so on and so forth). It’s in the middle level and the last level of performers that we, managers, sometimes reach a stalemate, and when this happens, somebody has to compromise his or her evaluation and ranking just to ‘break the tie’. So the evaluation sometimes takes a back seat over the ranking because the latter really has to be done and has to be done fast. Is this effective and efficient? I don’t know. But this is how it’s really done.

In the final analysis, the ranking and evaluation processes of a Big 4 auditing firm (read my disclaimer in the Part I of this post) may look and sound good to an outside party but, internally, this may not be the case. It’s good that there’s a system wherein we can evaluate the staff or the senior for their performance. The Forced Ranking, well, I have to say that this is a good way to weed out the not-so-good performers and to highlight who are the best ones (and you can start chasing them to become part of your team) and right now, I can’t think of anything better.

So if you can think of one or would like to share your experience in this aspect, feel free to leave me a note below. And so I end this rather long post. A Happy Holidays to everyone!

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