Appraising My Past

I mentioned a film recently where the lead character was incapable of expressing emotions in case of embarassment. I suggested this changed as i entered the workforce, but then I thought about appraisals and…

I wasn’t bad at my job as a commercial lawyer. I wasn’t a bad manager of the department nor of the global group we formed after our firm merged with a series of European law firms in the 1990s and 2000s. But I was a dreadful interviewer (one of my colleagues put his finger on the problem: ‘You see Geoff, the idea is we get them to do most of talking’). I was an even worse appraiser of the associate lawyers and support staff, which sadly I had to do more often than was healthy, especially as I became more senior. Here are some examples; not all were my fault. It’s just that these tended to happen on my watch:

1. In at least three I dozed off; I know, that is inexcusable but in two case I’d been up for 24 plus hours without sleep prior to undertaking them (and that was also inexcusable, though in a different way) and in the third let’s say the person being appraised didn’t light many fires.

2. We had to abandon one interview when the toilets next to the meeting room flooded, and the stench was too much. For the first ten minutes, each of us assumed the appraisee must have been so nervous that he had had an accident… but even then, being British, none of us had the wherewithal to say anything.

3. We introduced an appraisal form that the lawyer took away to complete with our comments and then pass on to HR. We did this after several years when getting the partners to complete the forms rendered the whole thing meaningless because some are incapable of simple admin. We soon abandoned the new version after one appraisal form went forward with the summary paragraph saying that the associate was ‘one of the best, if not the best, four year qualified associate lawyer ever to work in [our] department’. Naturally, being lawyers, none of us who’d carried out the interview bothered to check the form before we signed it off.

4. One young man was already seated when I and my fellow appraiser entered the room. As we sat, we both realised he had the most tumescent and possibly fissile spot on his chin that we had seen. It was unstable in the way radioactive waste is unstable. And, of course, it was totally mesmeric. Neither of us could concentrate on the questions and his answers, and each time he put a hand to his face, I fear we may have quailed somewhat. I will now dream about that spot chasing me…

5. On another occasion one young woman, who I would have said before the meeting was of a reserved and nervous disposition, reacted so swiftly and violently to a large bluebottle landing on her papers that the fly’s remnants were spread over a significant area. She ignored the debris throughout the interview, carrying as if nothing had happened. Once again, we were mesmerised by extraneous matter, but once again, no one commented.

6. I took one lawyer to task over an especially shoddy piece of work that had caused significant embarrassment. The lawyer listened carefully, asked a couple of questions after I’d finished and then pointed out that it wasn’t him. Indeed it wasn’t; I’d muddled up the forms.

7. One of the more difficult appraisals was of those lawyers who were approaching the time when they might be put forward for partnership. This particular year, there were two who hoped to hear what we considered of their chances of going forward. The year before we’d made it clear to these two, there were significant hurdles to be overcome. Not least was the size and potential growth of the market they worked in. We were to disappoint them both. The first, Simon listened to my explanation and handed me an envelope. It contained his notice. Had we put him forward, he would have stayed; as we weren’t he’d lined up another job and didn’t intended wasting time. I was rather stunned and impressed. The next, Colin had a similar message. Possibly seduced by Simon’s clear-eyed response, I delivered the disappointing message briskly, possibly brusquely. Colin’s face went through several shades of green before he hastened round the desk to find a waste bin. He then sat down, cradling the bin for what seemed like an age. Neither of us spoke for fear of triggering something we’d both regret before he put it on my desk and left.

My colleagues never suggested I stop appraising, though. The thing was, I’m not sure they were much better.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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38 Responses to Appraising My Past

  1. Mick Canning says:

    That reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago – I’ve absolutely no idea where – about someone in a mining camp somewhere in the US who ended up as the cook. He was terrible. Burnt everything, and wondered why no one ever complained. It was because no one else wanted to do the job.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps you should have watched The Office

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sadje says:

    In retrospect, these seem hilarious. But at that moment…..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Annoné says:

    Wonderful, thanks. I don’t remember any horrors from the appraisals I had with you but perhaps they have been mercifully forgotten. You were always sympathetic and, most important, fun. (I am wondering if the Simon you mention is one of the trainees who sat with me; it sounds very likely. He was pretty hard headed).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. gordon759 says:

    Working in local government we had the joy of pointless form filling. We were always pleased the forms didn’t ask the questions that might have embarrassed our seniors, I was one of the archaeology team, and we really did have a skeleton in our cupboard (well part of one at least).

    Convinced that our responses were rarely, if ever, read a colleague added a comment to a health and safety at work form. We worked in an office, our hazards were the same as everybody else in the building, so we thought it a pointless exercise. At the end, in a box labelled, “Hazards specific to your working environment” he wrote, “Inadvertently waking the spirits of the dammed who would wreak havoc on all mankind.”

    It was apparently several weeks before anybody noticed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      I had a colleague drafting the contract to build crissrail who was similarly convinced no one read the many schedules. He added a preliminary stage to the arbitration schedule dealing with disputes requiring the parties to dicuss the dispute Over tea at Fortnums with the party bringing the dispute paying. Took months before anyone twigged.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. noelleg44 says:

    I found this very reassuring, since I had to do interviews of medical school candidates for many years. None of them threw up, but I had some where getting whole sentences out of them required excavation. One jiggled his knees so violently that the table between us walked across the room. Others talked on and on endlessly, and I got to the point that if one more interviewee punctuated their discourse with you know, you know, I would walk out of the room.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved interviewing and once had the pleasure of interviewing someone for a position who had, himself, interviewed me. I saw the light dawn after a couple of minutes but did not let on that I’d recognised him. He didn’t appoint me…I didn’t appoint him! As Chair of a charity I once interviewed a Judge as a potential trustee. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews I ever undertook.
    Appraisal techniques are something that surely must have been generated as part of someone’s final thesis at University, the same as Supporting People, Universal Credit, or Liz Truss’ budget proposals. All of them totally unfit for purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. willowdot21 says:

    The the joys of being a boss

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Darlene says:

    After being a recruiter for many years, I must remember to share some of my amusing interview stories. I think I only fell asleep once, maybe twice, but I don’t think they noticed. Number 6 is hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can honestly say none of my appraisal sessions with others were nearly as hysterical. I did have one member of my team graphically describe where I could file his appraisal before walking out. Super post, Geoff.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. trifflepudling says:

    I’ll never forgot that guy who was interviewed by mistake on bbc news. He was a computer technician who happened to be around and they thought he was a legal expert on IT or something. Poor chap’s face was a picture when he realised he was on live tv!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ah Geoff – you have my sympathies. In my first management role, I was tossed in with my first job being to hire a full tea, never having done that before is a technical setting. It was swim or drown and I did a bit of both. Of those 15, two were, um, something a lot less than good hires. I determined to never make that mistake again and came up with a method that kept me alive for many years afterwards. My director one day tried to drop an appraisal tool on us and we hated it. It was worse than just free-styling our way through them, so again, I needed and made up a tool that worked so well they replaced it as soon as HR heard about our success. Now almost 2 decades later, we all hate the appraisal tool and ignore it until forced to deal with it, but what we put in is largely perfunctory nonsense. Sorry, with HR being what it is today, this may never be solved.
    Great read BTW – I was sympathizing with your torment right from the start.


  13. V.M.Sang says:

    Appraisal are a nightmare for both parties, in my opinion.
    Your story of the muddled appraisees brings to mind one parents’ evening at the school where I taught science in the 90s. After talking for a while, and telling the very nice parents their son had great potential, and was very clever, but wasted his time, the mother looked at me and said, ‘Are we talking about the same boy? I don’t recognise him from this.’
    Indeed, there were two boys with the same first name in the class. One was as I described, a bright but lazy boy, and the other, (the one I should be discussing) a very clever boy and a model pupil.
    Red faces asi had to admit I had got them mixed up!

    Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yep, it happened to us. Year 10 and form teacher asks if our daughter has decided on A-levels and future. Surprised, since she’s been set on being a vet since whenever and has sciences lined up we say so. Form teacher stumbles, suggesting that may be optimistic, at which point it dawns on my wife we have been muddled with someone else. Never did find out who…

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh my!
      Thanks VM, for bring up (finally) a screw-up that I’ve not made. I’ve certainly met my quota of others in the same genre.

      Liked by 1 person

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