When business and creative writing collide: the annual performance appraisal self-assessment

It’s summer.  That once magical time of year that, as an adult, I dread.  I’m not talking about appearing in public in a swim suit, although that does have its own share of horrors. I’m talking about trying to figure out how to sum up a year’s worth of work using corporate-speak phrasing and tying my work to homogenized character traits that some HR person believes to represent our company’s model employee.  In short, it’s time to do the annual performance appraisal self-assessment.

I’ve been in the professional workforce for over twenty years now, which means I’ve written more than twenty of these things.  One would think that by now I write a solid self appraisal in my sleep.  Perhaps if I could stuff that side of me that hates bureaucracy in a box and bury it until after review time I would be able to just write the blasted thing and move on.  Instead I seem to find humor in the whole process and fight the urge to give my pervers humor a chance to stretch.

In my young and somewhat irreverent past, I had been known to have fun with them.  Early on in my career I worked for a large law firm on the east coast as a paralegal – or rather as what is now known as a litigation project manager.  In this job, we had to do these rather long thoughtful reflections on how we viewed our career, where we saw ourselves in five years, and whether we felt the firm was using us to our full potential.  In the mistaken belief that no one really read these self assessments – since no one had ever discussed the contents of my assessment other than to tell me what a great asset I was to the firm, I decided to see if anyone was paying attention.  In the middle a long paragraph around where I saw myself in five years, I wrote a sentence that stated that I felt the whole exercise was a complete waste of my time since no one ever discussed what I had written in prior reviews.  When the performance review came up, it was more of the same “great job…valuable asset” discussion.  At the conclusion of my review, as I was walking to the door, the managing partner said, “Oh, and by the way – I do read the self assessments. Every. Single. Word. I predict that with the right boss you will go far, or more likely, your warped sense of humor will get you in trouble one day.”  So, I have learned to be careful of what I write in self appraisals.

Getting started on the assessment isn’t all that different from working through writers block.  I stare at the blank screen until I realize that I have to start somewhere so I just write.  Most of the time, my first pass at an assessment is like a free-form, stream of consciousness list of everything I have done over the past year.  Then I start to make my connections to the key or buzz-words that HR requires.  From there, I begin to craft the actual narrative and justification statements.  Because I do have this irreverent side to me, I occasionally go ahead and write in the quirky, sardonic things I would love to say.  (Ex: I demonstrate tact and diplomacy when dealing with my peers by not commenting that Jane’s presentation could be used as a natural remedy for insomnia.)  But I am always careful to remove them from the final document.  When I think I have the document complete, I set it aside for a few hours to a day before going back and proof-reading.

I suppose I have to admit that the self assessment process has some value other than forcing me to consult a thesaurus to come up with different ways to say “I rock and deserve a raise.”  It does make you think about your contributions to the company over the course of the year.  I can even admit that when my boss and I have not agreed on a rating, it has sparked a conversation around development opportunities or areas of improvement that ultimately serve to make me a better person and a better employee.  I guess the hardest part for me is reigning in my sense of humor when faced with the Dilbert-esque nature of the average self-assessment document.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

2 Comments

Filed under fun, Mairead Wapole, writing

2 responses to “When business and creative writing collide: the annual performance appraisal self-assessment

  1. Your article takes me back to my years at Dell Computers. Faced with a high employee turnover rate, the company tried all the latest HR self-assessment schemes. While working on some poorly thought out projects, it was often a real stretch to come up with positive things to say about my accomplishments or current lack thereof. Like you, I had a reputation for being what my bosses politely called “candid.”

  2. This is exactly the sort of employment ordeal I couldn’t resist making fun of. And I think people could spend their time on something much more productive. I had a boss once who spent his days in front of his computer writing bulletins filled with useless political correctness, but if you had a crisis (like you’d just had a fist fight in your classroom or one of your students had a seizure) he was somehow unavailable. I finally wrote up a booklet titled “How to sit at your computer all day and compose gibberish.” He got a copy and it never even occurred to him it had any relation to his own job performance.

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