It’s ‘Appraisal’ time! The annual (so I’m told) admin event, wherein we get sent a form to fill in and forward to our ‘Line Manager’ as discussion subject matter for a subsequent ‘interview’ to be arranged.
I’ve hitherto somehow managed to avoid this box-ticking dreck – by simply, er, ignoring it. I have no idea how this panned out in previous years; presumably the boxes got ticked or I’d have been chased up about it. (Wouldn’t I?) This year, however, the reminders are greater in number, suggesting I’m going to have to conform. So, what of the Personal Performance and Development Review Form? Well, it commences thus:
‘This form is designed to facilitate a discussion which should concentrate on your achievements, expectations and outcomes, and how these relate to your performance, development and career aspirations. It will also focus on how your plans fit in with School or Professional Services’ strategic plan and the University’s Corporate Strategy. The Personal Performance and Development Review is designed to help you to realise your potential and recognise your contribution to the University. The process is intended to be mutually beneficial to both you and the University. Above all, the review gives you a chance to discuss issues that are important to you in a fair and open fashion.’
Eeesh! Take a chill pill, will yer!
Part 1: Achievements, in which I’m expected to discuss whether I’ve achieved the objectives agreed at my last appraisal. Well, that shouldn’t take long.
Part 2: Expectations, towards agreeing objectives for the coming period. Simple – get published. (Although I won’t discuss that I vowed to myself at the turn of the year that, if I don’t get published by the end of this one, I’m out. Might rue that one, matey; time speeds by, research grinds slowly on.)
Yeah, I’m being flippant, I know. It’s just that I’m not interested in this kind of thing. I’ve no time for the projects dreamed up by those who attend meetings to discuss ‘strategic plans’ and ‘Corporate Strategies’ and other such management-style terminological guff. Sorry! And I don’t have ‘career aspirations’; why should I?
It’s at times like these that I’m inclined to quote the last line of The Commitments.
I think these appraisals can be useful, e.g. for graduate students, to take a step back and assess where they are. But that’s not going to work if it’s dressed up in management-speak. I’d also hope that the form would be short, and without too many boxes to tick.
The conversation will, presumably, go “Do you remember doing this?” – “Yes” – “And this?” – “I can explain everything” etc. etc.
What I hate about those appraisal forms is that they have the same format for EVERY University employee, and (at least for me) it gets pretty difficult (and annoying) to try to shoehorn scientific activity into that general format.
What are your career aspirations?
In an ideal world, to get tenure!
What steps have you taken during the last year to take you there?
Why, working non-stop to try to pump up my publication record, sir! Is there any other way??
A previous employer of mine (not Nature) overworked the appraisal process to a mindboggling degree. At each appraisal we had to define how we had met:
(a) Personal objectives, agreed at start of year.
(b) Departmental objectives, which feed into business unit objectives, themselves part of the company Vision.
© The company values (one of which was ‘boundarylessness’, for god’s sake)
(d) Generic skill sets (e.g. mentoring, time management, etc.)
I can’t quite remember how the arcane mess worked, but some kind of four-dimensional interlacing of these elements spewed forth a score out of five, which wasn’t allowed to be 1 or 5, lest the department look too good or too bad. Your score determined your payrise. Everyone got a three, and a new appreciation for the works of Franz Kafka.
HR likes these forms as a method for building up a case to make someone redundant. Therefore they would like them filled in as negatively as possible. Or maybe I am just a little cynical.
One of my jobs is to appraise the busiest people in the Nature office (they are of course not on Nature Network as they are too busy). It is, I think, the most impossible challenge I have had in my years at Nature, and I have had a few. They are just too busy working to have appraisals, go to meetings, have lunch, have holidays, etc. I am not very popular when I point this out though.
I have, I consider, a good relationship with my boss, who is also my ‘Line Manager’ for this. We’ve known each other long enough such that, if I have an ‘issue’, I am comfortable taking it up with him; and similarly, if he was, er, ‘concerned’ as to my ‘performance’, he would let me know. I also realise (although I shouldn’t put words in his mouth) that he doesn’t relish the whole charade either. But, as he’s the one who has to do the appraising, he’s compelled to play the game.
I think Bob has a point as regards students, who probably require more ‘structure’; however, we have Association and mentoring systems in place for them.
When I was considering moving last year, my boss said, without any pressure, “I want you to stay”, which was good enough for me. However, Brian’s comment could be ominous for me: if I don’t ‘produce’ before too long, I may find myself high on the list. As long as he doesn’t ask me, “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” Because I might gag.