Weird World of Appraisals

by on July 19, 2006

One of the less wonderful things about working as a permanent employee for a company larger than a certain size, is that you have appraisals every six months. And every six months both you, your line manager, and anyone you care to talk to about the appraisal system agree wholeheartedly that the experience is awful. Having passed through several companies, each with their own interpretation of what makes a good appraisal, I have the somewhat dubious pleasure of being able to compare and contrast different systems. Having had my first appraisal at my new company today, here are my findings.

Those that are unfamiliar with appraisal systems will not want to know the details (and those that do will doubtless not want reminding) but without getting too far into it, the main characteristics of every system are “objectives” and some form of forced confessional. This is coupled with a subtle force of indoctrination throughout the experience that makes me approach the half-yearly torture with a large degree of dread. In recent years I find the only way to keep myself from falling into complete despondency when exposed to all this is to try to amuse myself by spotting elements of the process that have similarities to, say, cult religion (forced confession, abdication of self), brainwashing (distraction, circular logic and cognitive disconnect), tough love therapy (building up, knocking down).

The more I think about the appraisal process, the odder and more counter-productive it seems to be. For example, the fact that the better you are at doing your job, the less likely you are to have the time to achieve extra-curricular goals. Then there is the issue of how the appraisal forms are actually used – how significant are they in deciding who to promote? Nobody knows. Most of all, what if you just refused to submit to all this rigmarole? There’s nothing in my contract that says I have to confess my sins and “demonstrate clarity of communication in your day to day role” or “show outputs that demonstrate how you are passionate about digital” every six months.

Perhaps I should just lighten up and let it pass. After all, it gives HR something to do and at best provides some cynical merriment occasionally.

I still wish to hell we didn’t have to do it.


Good timing. I had to prepare my annual appraisal form for the coming year yesterday. Suddenly those unanswered e-mails, CDs I hadn’t played for years, and doing the washing seemed far more interesting than usual.

Several people have contacted me about this post, one of whom points out that another defining feature of the appraisal process is of course denunciation. This technique, designed to fry even the most benign brains with the fires of Machiavellian intrigue, demands that the victim’s colleagues list some things that the victim is “good at” and some things they are “less good at.” This usually takes about three hours thinking about in case the victim ever finds out who said what. Too harsh and it could back fire badly, too lenient and, well… who’s reading this stuff anyway? The old stand-by of “lacks some attention to detail” usually passes through the radar OK, as does my favourite “likes to work at his own pace.”

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