I wrote what you see below two years ago and today someone asked me how I thought they were doing. We’re both volunteers and I was flummoxed. How on Earth was I meant to answer? I’ve lost the art of corporate obfuscation. So as a memory of times when I really knew how to appraise I thought I’d re post this and see if it resonates with any of you.
Back in the day when I worked at a law firm we had regular appraisals. As I climbed the greasy pole I began to give them as well. I am not sure I ever really nailed them.
Back in 1981, when I enjoyed my first, it went something like this:
Partner: ‘Sit down, Geoff.’
Me: ‘Thank you.’
Him: ‘Well, how do you think it has gone?’
Me: ‘Well, ok. I think.’
Him: ‘Good. So…?’
Him: ‘Must get on.’
They improved. I became one of them. We improved. We took it very seriously – in theory. It was just that, on the day, things kind of slipped.
Partners were to offer constructive criticism.
Him: ‘Oh and well done.’
Then we were encouraged to press for some self analysis from the associate.
Him: ‘Really how do you think it has gone?’
We agreed to focus on the specific job done, so the associate had a reference point.
Him: ‘How do you think it has gone? Specifically.’
And at all times we would be positive.
Him: ‘No really. Well done.’
And then we reached 1995 and forms appeared and we poured over them and the associates poured over them and we read what was written on the forms and we discussed each answer with the analytical minds you would expect to be brought to bear by a serious, top notch law firm. Prepared, we went into the appraisal meeting…
Him: I liked the way you filled in the form…
And it still went much like the above except, afterwards, we filled in the boxes that recorded what had been said and the responses. And that was the opening salvo in weeks, if not months of negotiation between interviewing partner and associate around what might, or indeed should have been said and the likely responses had the partner actually said what he had now written.
We gave HR more power to make us behave. We ignored them. HR took sticks to us. Then planks, and girders. They went on courses in mind management and torture to try and force us to say what we should say.
They thought they had the answer: the 360° appraisal. They were sure, if the associates could appraise us then we would them. It was sure to be symbiotic you see.
Of course not. These are young men and women who wanted to become us; they knew what was expected from a partner/associate appraisal. Say what they thought we wanted to hear. And us? Say what would keep them working hard.
Finally they scrapped the annual appraisal as a stand alone set piece; instead there would be more regular appraisals, with the purpose of ensuring every associate was assessed against a matrix of basic levels of skill expected of someone at each stage of their career and then judged against the experience they had in fact received.
Not micro management, more water torture. They called it Career Milestones; soon we called it Career Millstones, weighing everyone down.
I’m sure it’s improved.
But I retired and my new employer took a different view on how to carry out appraisals…
Me: you know you wanted the door fixed…
The Textiliste: oh for heaven’s sake, not again. Just leave it to me, would you?
I think, in future, I’ll find someone like minded so we can appraise each other