7 May 2009

Handling Appraisal Blues

Another of those routine coffee table discussions, and it was probably the caffeine laden spirit that enabled us to talk endlessly on topics without regard to the work slowly piling up downstairs in our email boxes.

The guy sitting next to me was cribbing & raving. He blamed the country, the politicians, the academicians, the lackluster approach to technology, his employer, the endless rot for high-paying salaries, the MNC’s turning us more into maintenance armies and so on. I just emptied the last sip of coffee and waited for the real drama to unfold. And it did. The ranting soon settled down shortly on the core topic – “Appraisals”. He had not received the rating he desired. Instead of a 5, he seemed to have received a 4. And it seemed the end of the world for him.

Why people worry so much about appraisals is the one unsolved puzzle that has mystified me since my times in this industry. After all what major difference does it make to your career, your aspirations, your belief in your capabilities – just because some person (say Tom) sitting on a chair higher than yours decides that you have not made it up to that grade. Agreed that it might impact your salary bottom-line – but why should it affect your confidence and make you feel bad? Also the salary aspect might only get widened by a few minuscule inches. Do you really need to crib and lose your head over that? And surprisingly during the appraisals everyone gets the feeling that he/she has actually done a damn good job that year. Many times I’d like to ask them to regress and re-check if they have actually contributed value. Look at themselves from a third-party viewpoint and do a reality check of whether they deserve to get that extra number. This quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a good starting point – “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done”.

Now I’ve never been in the appraiser's (say Tom's) seat myself but I can understand that Tom faces a tough task in front of himself. He has to gauge a person from a narrow set of objectives (usually copied over from last years objectives) and in addition Tom has to ensure that everyone doesn’t receive a 5 because that wouldn’t fit nicely in a bell-curve distribution. Tom is as hapless as you are and is just matching the metrics handed over to him.

Some of my colleagues have narrated interesting anecdotes regarding appraisal discussions. One of them after a particularly bad appraisal blurted out “So if I’m so worthless, why are you keeping me here. Release me from the team”. To which his supervisor panicked and responded “Oh no… don’t get me wrong. You are a great asset and we want to keep you. We have great plans for you”. Reminds me of those Dilbert cartoons.

My personal experiences with appraisals have been moderate. During my first appraisal, my project manager then, a real gem of a person, called me and actually asked me to increase the self-ratings. I was puzzled. He laughed and said that I’d get used to the trick later. Well I haven’t. Even today I prefer to rate myself considering what I could have done and what I ended up doing. Don’t find the need to jack up the numbers because my neighbor does it. Not that I’m anyway scrupulously honest ;-), but the fact is that I don’t care what numbers are conjured up for me by anyone else. All I care for in the end is that I learnt something that year, I applied something fruitfully & I got a fair value back.


  1. This matter will help someone to try to come over the confused mindset before appraisal.

    Overall encouraging for those who are in this rat race :)

  2. Good one. Me too had a colleague who said - if you don't give yourself good ratings, why do you think your manager will? I remember this stmt in every appraisal, but never manage to overrate myself.