Thursday, August 04, 2011

The measure of a man

He said earlier: "I have something to talk to you about," but then looked up to see his next "meeting" rise from her computer and then muttered that he had an appointment and that his topic could wait. An hour later, I was leaving and he said that he'd walk me out. I threw my papers in my bag and headed out with him. He asked a few questions indirectly without getting to the point. Had we been asked about any aspect of his performance? No, we hadn't. And then he just started talking and talking. Sometimes I interrupted to offer a parallel story for comparison, but his eyelids would bounce with slight impatience before continuing on at his disbelief at how his appraisal had gone.
Appraisals are a big part in my life. I'm creating systems for them. I'm being subjected to them. I'm occasionally taking part in the appraisals of others. And it is something that very few people take well. Some just swallow it, preferring to take what is given with passive acceptance. Others raise the fences, and launch spears to discredit the system (which will always have flaws) or the people performing those. Some, regardless of the appraisals high or low view of them, will just ignore it and get on.
He, however, had done what was "expected" of an appraisal, the thing that is often the least expected thing to do: he took it seriously. He spent hours poring over the descriptors and details; he tried to be as objective as he could in his own self-assessment to produce a copious document of reflection. What he was met with, though mostly complimentary, was a meeting that was about dancing the process step-by-step, arguing from authority's superior vision rather than any evidence. For what could they really know about his performance? They didn't ask for his observations. They didn't observe a single training he conducted. His main mentor wasn't there; we, his closest subordinates, were not asked at all. (But, of course, the system was not going to recognise the need.) And he was dumbfounded. And after, the conversation with me really was just him bouncing his experience off someone in an attempt to make sense of it.
He's my boss. And now, in terms of a major project that I and a colleague undertook, he is now a chief supporter. Our project is to have a transparent system of standards for appraisal. When we first talked to him about our project he was a skeptic and said it without blushes: There needs to be some blurriness in the system so the manager can have some discretion. That was a horrid idea to us, and how we were inspired into the project by our previous boss and mentor. Our previous boss had said that appraisal should really be a simple process of ticking off things with as little subjectivity as possible. My current boss had the opposite view until we used our tool to assist him in appraisals. He was shocked. If someone in their self-appraisal said they exceeded expectations, you could show easily that they only met them. It wasn't opinion anymore. And if anyone had any doubts about how to get higher, you just need to point.
Tomorrow I'll submit it higher into the atmosphere, which like the Explorer deep space spacecraft may yield life or may just end up for eternity in a dark void. But whether it is taken up by the company or rejected, it represent work, an achievement, and one that I'm proud of. An item that I'll raise in my own appraisal. Because it is what I've done. And it is what I want to measured on.
(This was written two weeks ago but, due to a technical problem, unpublished.

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