Performance reprisals

Performance reprisals
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First Published: Thu, Jun 11 2009. 10 32 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Jun 11 2009. 10 32 PM IST
Yes, yes, it is a little late in the year for discussions about performance appraisals. Surely, you say, April is the best time to talk of such demoralizing subjects. That is the time when office goers everywhere get cheerful emails from the people in HR requesting them to complete the annual performance appraisal process in a timely manner.
Employees, energized by this prospect, rise to the challenge and respond immediately. “Oh God, I cannot postpone this any further!” they think to themselves as they get up to go for a smoke, deleting the email en route without reading it. This is because 99% of all emails that HR sends to employees are cast into the trash folder without being read.
(I assume that a lot of HR professionals will be quite upset at this generalization. Please send me your thoughts on this trend of employee email oversight to autorespondfollowedbyinstantdeletion@gmail.com)
Then, just three weeks and 18 reminder emails later, you are cornered in your cubicle by your supervisor. Who proceeds to shove a sheaf of printouts in your face. You relent. And then you read: “On a scale of 1 to 10, rank yourself on how efficiently you have translated the company’s core competency in supply chain logistics management into operational transformations for clients leading to monetizable and sustainable…” THUD.
That was the noise of the employee spontaneously lapsing into a coma and falling off his swivel chair.
I was reminded of this integral aspect of office culture earlier this week when I read a magazine article. It was an illuminating piece on how our civil servants were being subjected to changing methods of performance appraisal. Later, I pottered around online and spoke to a few classified Civil Service sources to get an idea of how our much-maligned bureaucrats went through the whole grading and rating drama.
(With burning journalistic fervour, I also tried to download manuals and circulars from the website of the ministry of personnel, public grievance and pensions. THUD.)
I can confidently say that your own complaints will vanish once you hear the experiences of Cubiclenama’s newest secret source in the Services, Undersecretary Unnikrishnan.
UU told me how till very recently, officers were at the mercy of a mysterious document known as the Annual Confidential Report (ACR).
UU whispered into the phone from his office in a major metropolitan city: “When the ACR was in force, your appraisal was generally done by a reporting officer who forwarded it to a reviewing officer who then sent it to an accepting officer who then gave it to a Minister.” (Which, mortals like us know, is also the process for renewing a passport or getting a gas connection. But I did not bring it up.)
Then, there was the “Confidential” aspect of it all. UU explained: “Now, this report was secret. Your superior could write whatever he wanted and send it up. You had no idea how well you did, except for the rating you got, ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘outstanding’.”
The only catch was this: in case there were any “adverse comments”, then the underling would be summoned for explanations. This review of only negative feedback was the only insight one got into one’s review.
“Ah, so there was some transparency then?” I said. “Of course not. Everyone quickly learnt that the way to give a bad review but avoid explanations was to avoid adverse comments. Instead, everyone began to use damningly mediocre praise,” said UU.
So instead of outright calling officers incompetent, superiors said things such as “completes most of his limited responsibilities almost on time”, “maintained good work-life balance by never staying late” and “meticulous and organized in the field of privilege leave”.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was the overall rating. UU again: “In some states like MP, everyone got a minimum of ‘very good’. And then, there is West Bengal. Where Calcutta University requires a minimum of a Nobel Prize to pass BSc maths.”
So if you were from one of those tough-love states, getting an outstanding grade required solving the Kashmir issue on the side, over the weekends, in your spare time. Thankfully, change is happening. ARC has recently been replaced by Apar: the Annual Performance Appraisal Report that now has to be signed off by the underling. UU concedes that this is a step in the right direction. Also, overall ratings have been changed from a poor-good system to a numbered 1-10 (not that this will stop some states from lavishly doling out 10s).
So next time you are faced with one of those hideous appraisal forms, do spare a thought for poor Undersecretary Unnikrishnan. In fact, why don’t you drop him a line in support? Send me your emails in triplicate, along with one address proof and a copy of Form 23D for individuals. (Please use Form 47A if you are a Hindu Undivided Family.)
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 11 2009. 10 32 PM IST