Posted on

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

Share this: