[Note: I wrote this originally some time ago, and humorously enough the evaluation reports are coming around again after being in abeyance, making this post relevant once again, given my feelings on the subject which have not changed.]
Earlier this week at work there was an all-hands meeting that, among many other things, addressed a concern I had heard referred to quite a few times over evaluation reports. After having gone into abeyance over the recent past, where in nearly three years I have only had one evaluation, and even that is likely more than many people have ever had, it was apparently a big part of the recent push for HR to get back on track. Throughout much of the week, one of my coworkers has kept on asking me if I had gotten the feedback sheet that she had received before, and I told her I had not, until my supervisor told me this morning that I would be getting it today except that it was waiting on HR and his boss, and I ended up getting it and, somewhat quickly, responding to it, albeit without a great deal of pleasure in the task.
I suppose it is at least mildly ironic, if not outright hypocritical, that someone who spends a vast amount of time and effort, much of it well-documented here, evaluating books, movies, cds, restaurants, and the general behavior of those around me. I am reminded of the experience I had with a friend of mine who went to the same congregation I did when we were both in college, who said in a fit of self-realization about our shared critical tendencies, “Both of us like dishing it out, but neither of us likes to take it.” It was true then, and to a great degree it is still true, at least for me. I would like to think that I am a fair reviewer, honest about biases, looking for something that can be appreciated or enjoyed in a given work, but honest about my evaluation of a material. That said, I have not in general tended to enjoy or appreciate the judgment I have gotten from others, which is a good deal less appreciative than I would like, and being the sort of person who is often both harder and easier on myself than others, and dubious of the justice of others who would evaluate me, subject myself to evaluation has never been something I have enjoyed.
Intriguingly enough, yesterday evening when I attended my first training in order to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, the subject of evaluation came up among many of the somewhat overwhelming series of informative comments, as there will be evaluations of court hearings and reports, with the goal of improvement. This sort of evaluation is not entirely unfamiliar to me, given the fact that I have participated in everything from judged viola and vocal performances to frequent evaluations of speeches in Spokesmen’s club, all of which also had the goal of encouraging improvement. In many of these cases, evaluation has been based on two principles that have made evaluation difficult for me even in areas where proficiency is high, namely that there is a goal to always find something to improve on, and that the evaluation begins from a baseline of extremely high expectations, which leads to very demanding and critical evaluations, far more than most people receive because they are judged to be less proficient and therefore not as much is expected of them. It would be one thing for those who had given much to expect much, but it seems to go without saying that those who are obviously gifted are generally not cut a great deal of slack, which creates all kinds of skewed systems of judgment biased in favor of mediocrity.
As it happens, the evaluation process for me at work began with self-evaluation, where I was given a set of criteria, each of them duly weighted, and told to evaluate myself on a four point scale: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, needs improvement, or does not meet expectations. For the most part, I saw no reason to give myself anything other than meets expectations, although there were a few concerns I had heard about the way messages were taken, which I commented on in one of the sections, and other areas where I had heard at least some pleasure at expectations exceeded. Given the fact that evaluating and reporting on progress and achievement is not only my job, but is something I do with a great deal of personal pleasure in my free time, it often puzzles me that I feel such a great degree of reluctance and displeasure about being a part of this task.
What would make it better, or what makes it so stressful? For one, situations like this trigger my deep concerns about fair and just treatment from authority, given that it is neither my general expectation nor my frequent experience that those in authority in any aspect of my life will behave in a manner that is just and reasonable. This high degree of ambient anxiety about the lack of goodness of those in positions of power and authority, and their lack of interest in providing for my best interests tends to make the experience a great deal more unpleasant than it would be otherwise. Given that I do not live the sort of life that would lead to less evaluation and scrutiny, how am I to make it less anxiety-inducing of a process, and how am I to build trust and rapport with those who do evaluations, so that they end up serving my interests of improvement and growth rather than provide material for criticism and suspicion? Such questions are easy to ask, and hard to answer.