On the train into London you cannot help but overhear conversations, either two or more people travelling together but still feeling the need to raise their voices, or an individual on the phone.  Whatever happened to the convention that imposing your conversation on others, especially in the morning, was quite beyond the pale?   

Anyway, this morning I was treated to a conversation a young woman was having with her friend via mobile phone.  She was probably in a professional services firm and was talking about her recent appraisal.  I listened with increasing vicarious gloom as she described the meeting.   

She and her colleagues had been invited to their individual appraisal meetings and none of them had apparently had even a hint about what to expect.  She then described how her manager had highlighted a relatively small concern, which she speculated was “… just to have something to pick up on and have a go at me about …”.  In other words, he had only found something to raise as a concern with her because he thought that’s what the performance appraisal process was all about.  To cap it all, she finished by saying, “… it wasn’t as bad as I thought, although Doris came out of her meeting looking glum.  Anyway at least that’s over and done with until next year”

Of course, I could be doing a grave dis-service to the manager – perhaps this lady had missed obvious messages about the process, or did genuinely deserve to be picked up on the matter in question – but otherwise it was a pretty depressing reflection on him.   

What is disappointing in particular is the feelings the employee had after what could have been a positive, or challenging and constructive, experience; she was relieved it was over and it was “not as bad as she thought” it might be.  It was just a process to be gone through and endured, a bit like root canal dentistry but without the benefits.  Such a waste of an opportunity.  Perhaps glum Doris made the same error of judgement as many others in assuming that generally good performance would mean that any less attractive measures could be ignored.  The whole purpose of appraisals is to be developmental, and you cannot achieve that by prolonged discussion of points you are already good at.  It should be neither a surprise nor a disappointment that your appraisal spends some time on the less positive aspects, but it is still obviously wrong if this employee felt this to have been done just for the sake of it.    

If only the manager had invested the time he used (or lost) to conduct the review meetings more effectively then perhaps the conversation I would have overheard would be -  ‘I had my performance review yesterday.  It was as I expected.   Although it was challenging I was glad to hear again about what I’m doing well and I’m still working on improving my …… ……  We talked about my plans for…….….  We’re having our usual 121 next month so I should find out about the training request by then …’ 

So the message for managers must be to sharpen up their act in relation to appraisals if they do not want their performance to be dissected live and at some volume on the 7.17 to Liverpool Street.