Here’s an article by Joel Spolsky from year 2000 that provides some context for my today’s burning brain feeling.
Treating your rocket scientist employees as if they were still in kindergarten is not an isolated phenomenon. Almost every company has some kind of incentive program that is insulting and demeaning.
Then, you filled out optional “self-evaluation” forms, which your manager “took into account” in preparing your performance review. Finally, you got a numerical score, in lots of non-scalar categories like “works well with others”, from 1-5, where the only possible scores were actually 3 or 4.
Many of my friends, especially the ones whose talents were very significant but didn’t show up on the traditional scales, tended to get lousy performance reviews. For example, one friend of mine was a cheerful catalyst, a bouncy cruise director who motivated everyone else when the going got tough. He was the glue that held his team together. But he tended to get negative reviews, because his manager didn’t understand his contribution. Another friend was incredibly insightful strategically; his conversations with other people about how things should be done allowed everyone else to do much better work. He tended to spend more time than average trying out new technologies; in this area he was invaluable to the rest of the team. But in terms of lines of code, he wrote less than average, and his manager was too stupid to notice all his other contributions, so he always got negative reviews, too. Negative reviews, obviously, have a devastating effect on morale. In fact, giving somebody a review that is positive, but not as positive as that person expected, also has a negative effect on morale.
Circa 2005, I was fortunate enough to lead a team of 8 members and got an opportunity to read a lot about team dynamics and managing team. I learned a lot of things. And this was one of them.
And the incomparable Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) book was an eye opener. In my opinion anyone who didn’t at least read that book should be kept away from “managing people”.