How to Survive Every Performance Appraisal Ever


How to Survive Every Performance Appraisal Ever

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It’s that time of the year.

The sun has emerged from the shadows and gone are the pleasant mornings that give you hope. Christmas and New Year have long bid goodbye and the only break to look forward to is May 1, a tribute to a long, lost labour movement. You realise that even the financial year is ending soon, and even before you grasp the hopelessness of the situation, you are hauled over coals to your annual performance review, that inescapable cesspit of corporate life. It’s like waiting for school results, but there’s not a spot of cheer at the end of it: Only sadness and disappointment.  

For the next 12 months, your life in the corporate world will track the following cycle: Disappointment in March and April; grudging relish in June and July as the measly bonus and pay hike register on your balance sheet; overindulgence in material possessions in August, September, and October in the mistaken belief that you are richer by billions; holidays in December; and apprehension in February.

Performance review meetings are a little like winter in Mumbai: You wait for it all year round, and you hope it will be pleasant after all the misery. But it’s over before you know it and there’s no change in your life whatsoever.

Remember the first multinational that came to our shores, the East India Company, and how we did a fine job of kissing their ass?

Come end of March, I always find myself in a room with a few “leaders”. It is supposed to be “my” performance review, but for some weird reason, they can’t stop talking about themselves. This time I had the honour of having two very successful ones. Proficient ass-lickers both. This species is not new to this country; India has been blessed with them historically. Remember the first multinational that came to our shores, the East India Company, and how we did a fine job of kissing their ass?

As it happens every year, their monologue of my failures was only intermittently broken by verbiage such as “leadership”, “development”, “strategic”, “cooperation”, and “vision”. Leaders have the superpower of using a lot of complex words to form sentences that mean very little. To the uninitiated, “strategic” and “cooperation” are lingo from the corporate Bible. What it means is that you are required to report your colleagues’ indiscretions, serve the overlords with dollops of servility, and laugh at the boss’ sexist jokes.    

I did what I do in every performance review… nod wisely and smile well. It’s like being a panelist on Republic TV, you’re constantly being shown hostile behaviour by a middle-aged man for no reason at all. So when one of them said, “The research was good, Mad Marx. But, you should have demonstrated more leadership,” I didn’t tell them I was the sole member of my team. I nodded and smiled.

“Your articles have great content, but they lack that zing,” said the other. I ran a “zingy” headline about recession silently through my head: “Cheers! All will burn and you will be fucking roasted.” I didn’t say it, natch. I just nodded and smiled instead.

For a while now, I have had a clear rule for these performance reviews: Never disagree with the reviewers. You should too. I applied it the day I was fucked over for a promotion because I pointed out errors in the boss’s piece on South Asian currencies. The Soviet Union and performance review meetings are two places that have no place for dissent.

I’d also made it a rule to never stand up for my colleagues if the bosses didn’t like them. I did that twice for two extremely talented individuals in my team. In the end, they prospered, but I didn’t. So if you have to throw your colleagues under the bus to move ahead in life, as Nike says, just do it. My last rule was don’t ask stupid questions. If your boss says he reads Russian writers like Charles Dickens, just congratulate him.

After trying to grease the corporate pole for fourteen years I’ve realised one absolutely important thing: At the end of the day that nobody wants to hear bad news (except lawyers).

The trick is to be insanely positive and you will come out with flying colors. If the world is going into another recession and the boss asks you where the markets are headed in six months, double the current value of the Sensex. Or tell him to download the Narendra Modi app: The country seems to be a magical fairyland through the prism of the app. End the discussion by flipping out your wallet at the coffee shop for that tasty muffin or a cheesy croissant he always wanted to have, but didn’t want to pay for.

Do these two things and you’ll never have a bad performance review in your life.

After about 20 minutes of the monologue, mine ended with the declarations of my below-inflation salary hike, noises of a “promotion and a big hike next year”, and a promise to “drink the fuck out in the evening.”

“Don’t choose some place businessy,” one of them said as I was leaving. He was the guy who’d told me spruce up my English for the next piece.

I did not respond with a comment or a question. I just grinned widely and gave them a thumbs up.