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22 Jun 2007

The Great Corporate Dope Trick

Posted by Oblivion in General | 3:15pm

It's that time of the year again when one is subjected to the grind of filling the appraisal forms. A process no sane person would devise and an exercise no sane person would enjoy doing. I didn't enjoy doing it, and I'm not sane. When I finished the ordeal, I felt whoever had invented copy/paste/edit option ought be awarded a Nobel.

Not all people dislike it. As it is designed to be, many people indeed find it the best chance to summarize their past year's perfomance to the management so to effect in a promotion or a hike. They believe that the bell curve - that Great Intellectual Fraud, according to Taleb - is a fair mapping of correct and absolute judgment. They have their reasons to take it seriously, so I don't intend to dismiss them.

What interests is the vagueness and absurdity of its design. There's this section that asks the user to rate his performance in different competencies against his expectations. First, these competencies are not measurable. These are rather 'perceived' - whether subjectively or objectively. Second, the rating is meant to be cumulative, spanning one year, but the options are appropriate only for events/instances. Thus, the 'above average' rating is ridiculous. Yes, the ratings are meant to be against your expectation at the beginning of the year in consideration, so higher ratings than average don't appear to be flawed options, after all. But careful examination reveals that it is indeed incongruous with labour profiles (well-defined roles, repeatable tasks, limited power, functions with accountability), which most in the MNCs are. They don't outsource ideas profiles yet. The profiles don't deal with much uncertainty, either, as those of, say, hijack negotiators, extreme weather photographers, etc that rely on above-ordinary levels of anticipation and demand sharp decision-making ability.  

Your expectation varies depending on every performance. As you do better, you tend to expect more from yourself. Besides, with time, everyone becomes better at what he has been doing. In effect, expectation goes up incrementally. Expectation is nothing but a projection based on the inference of the past. It is inductive. As the sample size increases, your expectation would be according as your average scores. As the average goes up, so too your expectation. Performance in a single outing can be more or less than your expectation, and this, in turn, contributes to the 'average'. So, above-average ratings (exceeds expectations, outstanding, etc) fit only for instances rather than their collection. When one refers to cumulative rating and claims it is above average, it implies that he failed at assessing his capabilities realistically. Statistically, though, an above-average rating suggests brilliant performance!

Rating oneself is always a tricky business. The interpretation depends on various factors - how generous he is in defining what an achievement is, how encompassing his criteria are, and, importantly, how stupid the management is. The more 'above average' these factors are, the more favorable the interpretation would be of above-average ratings. Although the skill - or the lack of it - of the managment remains a constant factor for all subjects, the other factors vary. Eventually, the final rating turns out to be almost independent of the subject's projection.

All that impressive management bunk notwithstanding, it's just a game of instincts and biases. So there will be favorites and scapegoats. Scapegoats will, however, be very few, so the exercise works fine for majority and they are led to believe that the rating is an absolute mathematical equivalent of their performance. As a result, it stays. Ergo, no escape yet from those few minutes in the management cabin listening to flattery or abuse!

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