Ask any employee, at any level about what has the potential to drive fear into them come year-end and, if they are truthful, they will tell you about their performance appraisal exercise.
To hear some members of staff describe the process would bring tears to the eyes of any of Jamaica's hardened 'most wanted'.
So excruciatingly painful is the procedure that some people say given the choice, they would perhaps find it more pleasurable to have their extremities dipped in boiling oil, one limb at a time rather, than be subject to another round of evaluation by their supervisors. So, let's talk about it and try to break down some of the barriers of fear that surround the process.
The performance appraisal system serves as the primary method of feedback to the individual employee. Performance appraisal systems impact every employee in an organisation.
Managers and supervisors rate their employees, commonly, on an annual basis to evaluate individual performance. Although we don't like it, we all understand implicitly that there has to be a system of rating our performance at work and that not everyone operates at the same level.
For example, there are those of us who would rather be anywhere in the world than to be working with Company XYZ right now and they hate the very sight of their co-workers. They make a speedy escape at the end of the day and spend huge chunks of company time doing as little as possible. They have made an art out of dodging work. On the other hand, there is the busy bee, industrious Icelyn who just loves her job, her workplace and her colleagues and delivers at a high level. Both have to be rated.
The practice of formally evaluating employees has been around for a very long time too. I am reading 'Understanding Performance Appraisal: Social Organizational and Goal-based Perspectives' by Kevin R Murphy and Jeannette Cleveland which traces the beginning of performance appraisals way back to as early as the third century AD.
Their illustration draws attention to one, Sin Yu, an early Chinese philosopher, who criticized a bias rater employed by the Wei dynasty on the grounds that "the Imperial rater of Nine Grades seldom rates men according to their merits but always according to his likes and dislikes".
In 1648 The Dublin Evening Post allegedly rated legislators using a rating scale based on personal qualities. History has a way of shining a blinding light on our present circumstances. Many of us will agree with Sin Yu that our fear of the appraisal process has a lot to do with being judged on the basis of what another person thinks and feels about us, rather than what we bring to the table at work.
Let us call a spade, the shovel that it is: not everyone in this life is going love us or even like us all the time. Hey, no matter what she tells you, even your mother at one point (maybe in your teenaged years) harboured un-loving thoughts about you. Unfortunately for some of us, occasionally life will throw us a real zinger and place the future of our wallet and purse into the hands of a supervisor, boss or manager who do not like us one bit.
Perhaps we remind them of some pernicious character from another life, who knows? Sometimes too the feeling might be mutual, but that never solves the problem -- does it?
If you are on the receiving end of this equation and if you are dealing with a fairly sane and rational supervisor, here is my suggestion. In the feedback session of the appraisal, gently steer the questions towards your performance, especially in terms of meeting objectives, achieving results and developing competencies. Your success, of course, greatly depends on all the actual work that you have done over the past year so please, do not go into that battle with an unloaded weapon.
Perhaps the more painful part of the exercise for many of us is the many, many questions in that dreaded performance appraisal questionnaire that we have to wade through about our own performance.
That experience can by itself be mind-numbing as we try to stay focused on the slight difference in interpretation in the ratings and the responses on the sheet: 'always' 'sometimes' 'maybe'.
Well, I have come across some wastrels in my career who do not know the meaning of the word 'modesty' and so put themselves at the upper end of every score. On the other hand there are those who are so modest that they put themselves in the mid-range or below that in their scoring. I have one friend who absolutely adores the appraisal review process.
She is gung-ho about making a note of all her individual achievements over the months so that she can reel them off come appraisal time. No guessing and spelling for her she knows her worth. Perhaps we can take a leaf out of her book and keep a track of our own performance throughout the year. Keep it real though.
Finally, here are some stock phrases from Ragan.com that are used in our appraisals and what they truly mean:
Phrase: "Uses his position to dominate and intimidate others."
Meaning: Your colleagues are afraid of you.
Phrase: "Is too wordy to communicate a clear and compelling message."
Meaning: No one knows what the heck you are talking about.
Phrase: "Demonstrates a domineering work style."
Meaning: People don't like you because you are an insufferable jerk."
Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.