Appraisals: the biggest waste of time short of washing submarines

May is almost upon us and, as is the tradition in the organisation which employs me, this is the month in which the annual employee appraisals are done.  I’ve thought about this and I’ve reached the conclusion that in no other field of our industry is there a greater disparity between the seriousness with which something is presented and the importance it actually has.  Even the boilerplate committment to Safety shoehorned in at the beginning of every report or presentation might perceivably get wheeled out in the event of a court case involving thirty-four dead workers and a hundred-mile long oil slick, but I can’t think of a single reason why anybody other than perhaps an archaelogist in the year 2855 would have the slightest interest in reading an employee appraisal which is more than two days old.

What started out as a good idea has, like so many other things in the oil industry (schedules, for example), become a perfunctory and tedious waste of time mainly due to a complete misunderstanding by all parties of what it is for and what it is supposed to measure.  If we take a typical employee appraisal form we see it consists of numerous areas in which the employee is being judged, but each party interprets them quite differently, as I shall explain below.


TECHNICAL COMPETENCY

What HR thinks it means: We’re still pretending this matters two decades after we contracted out the clever stuff and started employing people based on social class and levels of arrogance displayed in the interview.

What the Manager thinks it means: Is the Employee as clever as me?

What the Employee thinks it means: Is this a trick question?  Obviously I’m technically competent or they wouldn’t have put me in this job.  Not at age 42 anyway.  Or would they?  I did hear that they couldn’t find anyone else…

TEAMWORK

What HR thinks it means: Despite our organisation being among the most dysfunctional, inefficient, and treacherous outside of a 1930s Soviet worker’s collective, we’d look silly if we’d spent all this money on management training and they still couldn’t lead a sailor on a pub crawl.  So let’s pretend people work in teams, like the galley slaves in Ben Hur.

What the Manager thinks it means: Does the Employee do what he’s told?

What the Employee thinks it means: Do my colleagues think I’m a dick?

BOLDNESS

What HR thinks it means: Does the Employee have the ego and unfounded self-belief necessary to reach higher management?

What the Manager thinks it means: Is this one of the awkward Employees who doesn’t do what they’re told?

What the Employee thinks it means: Did I get wrecked at the Christmas party and call the boss a “doofus”?

ORGANISATIONAL ABILITIES

What HR thinks it means: Can we put this favoured Employee with no relevant experience in charge of a major project next year?

What the Manager thinks it means: Does the Employee send their weekly report on time?

What the Employee thinks it means: If I was in charge, half these assholes would be fired!

LISTENING

What HR thinks it means: Is the Employee “on message”?

What the Manager thinks it means: Does the Employee agree with me?

What the Employee thinks it means: Do I know the 10 Golden Safety Rules?

INTERNATIONAL MOBILITY

What HR thinks it means: Can we send this Employee to territory controlled by ISIS?

What the Manager thinks it means: Careful! This Employee could return and be my boss one day!

What the Employee thinks it means: Will they send me to Singapore on a full expat package?

ADAPTABILITY

What HR thinks it means: If we send the Employee to territory controlled by ISIS, will they complain?

What the Manager thinks it means: Does the Employee do exactly what I say, even if it is highly questionable?

What the Employee thinks it means: How well do I cope when the company procedures are found wanting?

ACCOUNTABILITY

What HR thinks it means: Can we rely on this Employee to take the rap for future fuckups?

What the Manager thinks it means: Is this one of those Employees who keeps asking for things in writing?

What the Employee thinks it means: Do I fulfill my job description?

OVERALL ATTITUDE

What HR thinks it means: Is the Employee from the right university and social class?

What the Manager thinks it means: Does the Employee brown-nose sufficiently?

What the Employee thinks it means: Do I turn up on time and adhere to the dress code?

ACHIEVEMENTS

What HR thinks it means: Can we put something in this otherwise useless Golden Boy/Girl’s appraisal to justify promoting him/her beyond their abilities?

What the Manager thinks it means: Did the Employee do more than he was paid to?

What the Employee thinks it means: Did I do my job?

CAREER PROSPECTS

What HR thinks it means: We need to show the big bosses that their Golden Boys/Girls are on course for greatness.  The rest?  Fuck ’em.

What the Manager thinks it means: How do I make sure the Employee doesn’t get ahead of me?

What the Employee thinks it means: Most of the managers appear to be useless idiots.  How do I join them?

HSE OBJECTIVES

What HR thinks it means: Something they can wave in front of journalists in the event of a large explosion tearing through an offshore platform leaving behind a row of charred corpses in Company overalls.

What the Manager thinks it means: The Employee should go on a refresher course for the identification of different types of fire extinguisher.

What the Employee thinks it means: I shouldn’t kill anyone.

OBJECTIVES

What HR thinks it means: Apparently these are needed in case we ever need to fire anyone for being useless.  Not that we would.

What the Manager thinks it means: Copy and paste the Employee’s job description.

What the Employee thinks it means: I’m doing these already!

TRAINING REQUIREMENTS

What HR thinks it means: An unfortunate requirement to retain that “Investment in People” plaque.

What the Manager thinks it means: The less Employee training, the better my budget looks.

What the Employee thinks it means: How do I get on that seminar in Bali?

MANAGER COMMENTS

What HR thinks it means: If the Employee goes on a shooting rampage at some point in the future, we’ll be able to blame the manager for not warning us.

What the Manager thinks it means: An opportunity to add a snarky remark about the Employee, baseless criticism recorded nowhere else, or a meaningless soundbite.

What the Employee thinks it means: An opportunity for the Manager to justify his/her existence.

EMPLOYEE COMMENTS

What HR thinks it means: Let’s pretend we give a shit.

What the Manager thinks it means: Why does this oik get a say?

What the Employee thinks it means: Nobody read what I wrote in the past 7 appraisals, especially the one last year where I said I’d attempted suicide, so why bother this time?  I’ll leave it blank.


Yet still we keep doing them.

“I don’t seem to be making any progress…”

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