When I'm not at work, I do my best to avoid checking work emails or my Outlook calendar. That's not easy when that stuff gets sent directly to the iPhone, and I certainly loathe the annoying chimes that start to go off around 10PM when coworkers with children put their kids to bed, then log into their work computers and start firing off emails and setting up meetings. But that's precisely why Steve Jobs invented silent mode on the iPhone.
The advantage of ignoring all those late-night messages, of course, is peace of mind and relaxation. But there are times when I walk into work and pay the price in the form of an unwanted surprise. Today was one of those days. The problem wasn't that a meeting popped up last night after I left work, it's that I didn't bother to check today's calendar in advance. When I walked in this morning and checked Outlook, a dreaded one-hour, 11AM meeting was staring me squarely in the face: Performance Appraisal!
Ahh, the annual P.A. I should have known it was coming--the fiscal year ended in May, and late June/early July has always been performance appraisal season. But my manager put it on the calendar weeks ago, and it seemed so far off at the time that it slipped my mind entirely. But sure enough, today was that once-far off day, and I figured I've used the "I can't make it, I have a bad hamstring" excuse enough times that that well is officially dry.
I have mixed feelings about the performance appraisal. On the one hand, it reminds me a bit of the horribly uncomfortable IDP discussion in that the P.A. is inevitably an awkward conversation. It's not often that you have someone sit across the table from you for a full hour and tell you to your face what they--and all of your closest co-workers--think of you. Whether the feedback is good, bad, or indifferent, it's a bit of an unusual situation. Usually when people tell me how they feel about me, it involves more yelling, a lot more spontaneity, and a fair amount of obscene gesturing.
If your manager is showering you with praise, you have to fight the urge to smile giddily and say something like, "Of course! You don't have to remind me that I'm awesome!" If the feedback is bad and it becomes clear that your coworkers universally hate you and consider you dangerously incompetent, what can you do? You certainly can't talk your way out of unlikeability, and any attempt to explain your actions over the past year will come across as a series of pathetic excuses from a defensive loser. The main advantage the performance appraisal has over the IDP discussion is that it's a much more one-sided conversation--you pretty much sit there and listen and don't have to do nearly as much talking about feelings, hopes, dreams, and goals...and that's obviously a very good thing.
Though awkward, the P.A. is extremely entertaining at the same time. Unlike school, full-time work doesn't involve test scores and graded homework assignments...which is both good and bad. The P.A. is the one time each year that someone actually grades and assigns a score to your work...and it can be nice to know where you stand. And who doesn't spend time wondering what their coworkers think of them? To receive a piece of paper with their word-for-word comments about you is delightfully informative. The comments are listed anonymously from a large number of people, but it doesn't take a genius to quickly figure out who said what.
The funniest part of the process is that there are only two characters of text in this entire booklet of information that anyone really cares about: the individual performance rating. There are pages that cover what you accomplished (or failed to accomplish), along with comments from co-workers, qualitative discussions about strengths and weaknesses, and on and on. But when it comes right down to it, everyone is looking for that magic little number that factors into the bonus calculation...the rest is just details. They say that actions speak louder than words, but in the world of finance, numbers speak the loudest.
Fortunately, another P.A. is behind me, which brings twelve more months of relatively awkward-free days at the office...or at least a few months' worth until it's IDP season again. Instead of the formal one-hour production that takes place every year, I wish they could just post the performance ratings on a bulletin board somewhere, listed anonymously by employee ID the way colleges handle test scores. As for the feedback portion of the P.A., just tell me real-time when I screw up or when I'm awesome...or at least the latter...