While having a chat with a friend recently, we appraised some of the people we worked with in various institutions. Throughout the years, the colleagues who left their work and stayed seemed to be arbitrary, not as a result of any hard or soft skills. We agreed that it was partly because the performance appraisal system we had was wrongly understood by many of the managers of the companies.

For those managers, ideas for improvement needed to wait until the day of appraisal, which is held once or twice annually, and which depended on employees status. It was a completely top-down process. As the appraisal’s result was also tied to annual salary increments, it used to be highly emotionally charged. A minor issue that could have been straightened out immediately awaits the end of an appraisal period. Concerns to appraise the appraisal system itself had been brushed off by the higher management.

When it came to an exceptional colleague at our company’s big plant operation, it was still problematic. He was Danish. As admitted by all, he was a workaholic with a hands-on engagement in his field. In the performance appraisal of his reports, it was merely a formality. And yet, the appraisal systems never recognised that his working culture and process could be expanded outside of his department. The whole idea of appraisals was to identify and adopt best practices.

The whole phenomenon is reminiscent of the story of Roy Riegels, who became famous by running the wrong way. Playing centre for the University of California at a 1929 game, he took off in the right direction upon recovering the ball, but after spinning away from tacklers, he turned and ran dozens of yards toward his own goal line before a teammate stopped him. Riegels was dubbed ”Wrong Way” after that point, but in an inspiring turn of events, he is noted as an example of overcoming setbacks. The appraisal system at most of the companies I worked at could have used such an overhaul.

Now, it looks completely awkward to see people struggle to conduct periodic appraisal reviews. In a way, it is like developing someone's biography. Samuel Johnson, a man of letters, is of a monumental personality and the man who gave a reason to James Boswell to come up with what is generally considered the greatest English biography. Boswell also included anecdotes as complements of his writing about the lives of English poets, which were deemed to be one-sided appraisals. It should never be too subjective, although some of this is unavoidable for measuring people’s soft skills.

Customer satisfaction is one among many other appraisal routes. A guest at a famous hotel was bitten by a bedbug one night and wrote a letter of complaint on returning home. He received an apologetic letter claiming that this had never happened before. However, the guest’s letter was enclosed with the notation scrawled across the top: “send him the bedbug letter.” Ever since the expression bedbug letter has meant a form of letter apologising for poor service or a defective product. This customer feedback has served as the best means of appraising performance and assessing new products on many occasions.

George Crum, the New York cook, was an inventor of a dish in 1853. Yet it was only when a client in the restaurant where he worked complained that the potatoes he had been served were too thick and undercooked that he began to reconsider his recipes. The savvy cook sliced some potatoes paper-thin, soaked them in water and fried them in boiling oil. The customers raved about them, became the restaurant's speciality, and were soon dubbed ”potato chips.”

PUBLISHED ON Oct 30,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1122]

Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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