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Appraisal Time: a Polemic

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

Appraisals are one of the least enjoyed aspects of organisational life: few people enjoy conducting them and still fewer like attending them. Often they are done badly and many times this is largely due to a poor internal process, supported by weak (or absent) training and confounded by other pressing business priorities.

So an important part of career development, skills acquisition, organisational growth and good governance, gets squeezed into 25 minutes of of a rushed conversation, ticking of boxes and a superficial assessment followed by formulaic goal setting, stipulating weak goals.

Sound familiar?

I have only one message for this module:

‘Performance Appraisal is Important’

So give it the preparation and the time it deserves, do it well – by asking good questions, and listening hard. Whether your internal process is good, bad or absent, make it your priority to sit down with your team members at least quarterly and discuss openly:

  • what they have done
  • how each of you assesses their performance
  • what you each want from the next period and for the next one to three years
  • what goals will help them achieve these
  • what their realistic and stretch prospects are

It is not neuroscience, rocket science nor even high school chemistry. Doing a good appraisal requires only two things:

  1. That you care
  2. That you deploy a dose of common sense

Polemic Over: Onto Process

Your organisation will have its own specific process. Frank Scott-Lennon gives us a good generic one in the Appraisals Pocketbook.

Appraisal Process


We have already covered the tools you need, earlier in the Pocket Correspondence course, so work your way back through…


Further Reading

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Why is an Appraisal like an Ice Age?

That’s a pretty bizarre question – even for a blog title.  So, before I try to answer it  …and to give myself time to think, let me tell you how I come to be asking it.



I have been pondering the use of metaphors in business and management theory.  If you have taken an interest in business books or management training for any length of time, you will have come across them – probably many.  Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Decision = Gate
  • Dilemma = Rubber band
  • Management styles = Greek Gods
  • Motivation = Pyramid
  • Negotiation = Ju Jitsu
  • Personality = Window
  • Progress = Traffic lights
  • Resistance = Onion

Some of these are more effective than others, of course.  All of them contain some elements of insight that make them useful.

Time to Play

I like models.  So I decided it’s Friday afternoon, and it’s time to play.  I wondered how easy or how difficult it would be to develop a metaphor for a randomly chosen management topic, using a randomly chosen concept.


My methodology – and I followed this honestly – was this.

Step 1
I picked a compendium of management ideas [1] off the shelf and opened it at random to give me the subject of my model.

Step 2
I then picked a book filled with different ideas[2] that happened to be by my desk (having bought it last week at the wonderful Book Warehouse by Waterloo Station).  I opened it at random to give me the basis of the metaphor.

The Results: ‘Appraising Staff’  and  ‘Ice Ages’

Step 3
Brainstorming – is that a metaphor itself, I wonder?

So, why is an appraisal like the ice ages?

  • It can be a bit chilly
  • When it’s over it eventually gets warmer and things get back to normal
  • There is often a cycle of ‘advance and retreat’
  • If you want to be sure to survive it, you need to prepare well
  • It can move mountains, carve rivers and refresh the landscape – resetting expectations of how to live
  • It gives everything and everyone the opportunity to start again
  • It’s a bigger deal in North America and Northern Europe than in South America and Southern Europe
  • You can learn all about it in training, but the reality never quite matches expectations
  • When it’s all over you soon forget about it… until next time

Well, it can do with a bit of a polish, but it wasn’t hard.
Next week, why managing your career is like the Higgs Boson.[3]

In the meantime, why not have a go?
Put your favourite established or newly coined management metaphors in the comments.

1. Dorling Kindersley Successful Manager’s Handbook, page 454

2. Science in 100 Key Breakthroughs, page 126

3. Same books, pages 766 and 332 respectively, but I will find something else for next week, I promise.

In the meantime, if you want to play this game, but need to know what the Higgs Boson is, try this 8 minute animated video from PHD Comics.

The Higgs Boson Explained - PHD Comics

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