Do you – as I do – sigh with resignation whenever someone ushers in one of the most of springtime necessities: the annual appraisal?
Maybe you’re one of those people who has it worse. Maybe you’re one of those who has quarterly appraisals. Maybe you have targets to reach other than the goal of merely making it into work on time. Or maybe you’re a freelancer.
I’ve got my appraisal this week. The form maybe – supposedly – a good deal easier to fill in thus (so I’m told) making the appraisal process a whole lot easier, but even so the prospect makes me wince.
There are a number of reasons for this. My inner cynic looks for opportunity to raise his ugly head and throw his voice from time to time. A meeting between a line manager and one of his minions is one of those opportunities. Have both parties left their personal baggage outside the meeting room? Have they left their personalities outside too? Do either party really believe this will make the slightest bit of difference to the next twelve months anyway? Are both individuals just engaging in a similarly intricate and bizarre dance of the kind a drone bee does around his queen in the hive?
There is a more fundamental reason I find appraisals difficult.
I am not – contrary to what you might be thinking – comfortable trumpeting the minutae of my personal triumphs. Job applications and interviews are an entirely different matter of course. In those instances it’s expected that the interviewee will big themselves up. But in appraisals, we’re entering into the dance for an arbitrary reason, it seems to me. This exercise is for a piece of paper both of us who sign our names on the bottom know won’t be looked at again until next year.
Appraisals are – to my mind at least – the equivalent of being told by a frustrated history teacher to write an essay ‘About the First World War’. They can have a tendency to meander assuming they’re not one of those appraisals where ideas, plans and goals are imposed upon you. The latter equates to the history teacher writing the essay himself.
And then there’s that hideously important moment when your line manager comes to the meeting with a whole set of his own ideas. What a frightful pain in the arse that is. How to navigate that? Politely note them down and circle them for extra emphasis? Nod slowly, muttering something along the lines of “that’s a very interesting idea, I hadn’t thought of that”?
Ultimately however, I’m struck by how the time period under analysis is too short for my cynical/analytical mind to consider plausible. For example – how do I judge between what I consider is my best, most noteworthy achievement in the past twelve months when neither was achieved until the past two months and even then came about not because of l last year’s appraisal but instead a series of chance conversations when my previous line manager left?
With this in mind – and because I know my appraisal cannot be denied as much as I’d like it to be – I’ve done some extra preparation. I’ve appraised the past ten years. Or nearly ten years. Simply because it’s nearly ten years before I made a personal promise to myself to improve my working life and also because I’m a firm believer that broad brush-stroke analysis achieves more than micro-analysis.
In 2002 I promised myself:
1. To change careers from IT support to web design and development
I began this in early 2003, producing my own web design website – thoroughy-good.com – producing a company intranet.
I left IT support in April 2005 when I joined the BBC as a webmaster.
In mid-2006 I designed and produced two websites (broadcasters portal for election campaign broadcasters and the UK Gold World Cup website).
Later, at the BBC I delivered a number of web projects for TV entertainment programmes, including Facebook applications, websites working with BBC teams and external suppliers.
Most recently, I’ve produced and managed the BBC Academy’s flagship informal learning website for journalists inside and outside the BBC – www.BBC.co.uk/journalism
2. To do something creative; to achieve something I’m truly proud of
The original plan was to write a book. A book about the Eurovision Song Contest. And despite me doing a shed load of research on the subject (extended periods of time spent at the BBC’s Written Archive Centre in Caversham) I lost confidence in writing it. Could I write a book? Would anyone actually read it? Just because I thought it was interesting, would anyone else? Have started repeated times. Never completed it. Doubt I will.
But I have ended up blogging a great deal. Established myself on the interweb. I’m now introduced at meetings as ‘Thoroughly Good’. And as a result of blogging I’ve honed my storytelling skills, explored my fascination with documenting ‘real life’ by producing video diaries of experiences in the media industry.
I’ve produced online content on a variety of platforms consistently over four years providing a left field commentary on areas of interest for me – Eurovision and classical music – featuring in BBC Homepage promotion on more than one occasion.
3. Work in the media industry (and more specifically at the BBC)
In fairness, this point represents ‘appraisal creep’ because this didn’t feature on the list way back in 2002, although the idea of it was first explored in 1998 when BBC Technology offered me a fairly boring job for more money than I’m on now. Who says the BBC wastes money?
This BBC-obsession reared it’s ugly head in May 2003 when I attend Eurovision in Latvia and en became more of a real goal in late 2004 when I went on a radio production course and subsequently worked with Sandi Toksvig on her lunchtime show at LBC Radio.
I’ve continued to pursue interesting opportunities at the BBC during the six years I’ve worked there (except for an erroneous and miserable 6 months spent in one division). And – on one level at least – I’m satisfied.
4. Be on BBC radio
I’ve done this. I did it a couple of months ago. And I shed a man tear when I heard it back. Job done.
What I see happening in the next ten years:
1. The move from a technical role to an editorial role will be formalised
My BBC has created a bit of a problem for me. Renowned for being charming, tenacious and opportunist, I am frequently dismissed as nothing more than a generalist. A jack of all trades. And in an organisation obsessed with labels, he who shouts the loudest normally does so. So, I fear I’ll still be regarded as nothing more than a technical individual. And when you’re labelled technical, editorial people normally dismiss you. Though it shouldn’t matter, for career purposes it absolutely does.
And anyway – as far as I can see – my editorial skills are no longer a loss-leader. Being formally acknowledged for my editorial and creative skills is no longer a desire but a necessity.
2. Produce at least one big, comparatively ground-breaking idea and deliver it to the audience
To detail the idea I have here would be stupid. The media environment is a big, viscious basket of competitive unpleasantness.
But that idea reflects the informal learning and training environment I work in at the BBC Academy and touches on some of the practical mentoring and project management skills I’ve stumbled upon in the past twelve months and sees the fruits of a collective delivered to the audience.
3. Be on BBC radio more
I have a massive ego. I’m not apologising for it. Enough said.
4. Appraise my relationship with the BBC
Seeing as I’ve spent my time appraising myself both in this blog post and in my real work appraisal, isn’t it time to take a few steps back and question the organisation I work for and the depth of my connection with it? The strength of the brand fuels my creative output and further ambition. But just how strong is that key relationship? Could it withstand another five years of being buffeted about? Will there still be opportunities in five years time? Am I still as enthused now as I was when I joined?
I’m droning on. Just as I do in my appraisals. But these are the difficult questions. These are the core goals. And seeing as they’re difficult to fathom out over a ten year period, you’ll not be surprised why annual appraisals are such challenging affairs. Still fingers crossed. And do – when you’ve got one in your hand – raise a glass to the next ten years or so.