Many, many years ago, when I was in my first supervisory role at the BBC, I had to do my first annual appraisals. They were for my team who, by the nature of the role, were of similar age and experience to me so it was an awkward situation at the best of times. One of them had been causing friction with those she worked with and I was told to “deal with it”. I will never forget coming out of that session with my head in my hands having been eviscerated by this tall, smart, fiery redhead, who rightly pulled apart my clumsy and inappropriate attempt to list her faults. It was a big and important lesson. Who was I to sit in judgement of her? To play at amateur psychology, to “identify areas for improvement, to shrink wrap her in her Myers Briggs assessment?
Later in my career I had to do annual appraisals for my group of fifty people. By this time I had a much clearer idea of my role and saw it as helping people get better at what they did rather than judge, jury, and executioner. Most people know when they are getting things wrong or can improve in some way. If you get off your high horse and are trusted by them you can have really useful conversations about their work and between you work out what needs done.
Sometimes these conversations were challenging. We were going through one of the first phases of staff reduction at the time and people were scared. Often things got emotional and testing for both of us. Doing fifty appraisals well, over a period of a couple of months, was an unrealistic and near impossible task, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life and a privilege I won’t forget.