#PunkHR – Appraisals – where Punk meets Mod and the need for a new movement

Posted: July 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, we continue. I have to admit, after recently meeting the legend that is Peter Cook (aka @academyofrock) I felt very non-Punk. This guy’s a proper rock legend who happens to get Transformational HR and applied OD theory. He digs all the punk and rock music. I am not really that Punk in my musical tastes. I’m a Mod and a Soulboy with a smattering of House, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Funk. I used to hang around with Punks though so I always got that and stuff like the Pistols, Crass and the Dead Kennedys.

The Mod thing though has gotten me thinking – especially as I watched that brilliant BBC4 documentary on Pete Townshend and The Who about Quadrophenia and then I watched – for about the trillionth time, the film. Quadrophenia is my favourite film of all time and always will be. The teenage angst, the identity crisis, the loves, the world of family and work. Fantastic. I got so nostalgic about my Mod days, that I listened to some 60s Mod stuff as I drafted this introduction – a bit of the Small Faces, Spencer Davis Group, Chris Farlowe, the Action and the Who themselves.

So this is all well and good but has nothing to do with HR let alone PunkHR you may be saying – but work with me on this.

Appraisals. That’s what this is about. And they don’t seem very PunkHR either.

No attitude; no spitting rebellion going on in that intimate 1:1 about performance and development.

No Appraisals are more of a Mod thing. Individuality – but working that within a “crowd”. A scene; a collective but all about me. What’s going on with me. What I like and need to showcase. That’s very Mod that. Distinguishable as part of a movement yet individual and different – a paradox that actually works in harmony with itself.

Hands up how many times – as a job holder, line manager or HR Practitioner – you’ve heard this one…”I want to know I’m being measured/rated the same as those people kind of doing what I do on the other side of the office. But I also want my personal and individual things reflected on too”.

Is that not a paradox like being a mod – same as AND fiercely individualised?

So how can you, as a line manager, rate them on a generic / identical almost robot-like principle with their colleagues WHILST ALSO nuancing their role assessment according to their complicated clients; demanding customers; tricky processes or challenging programmes of work?

So this has me thinking – is it any wonder we are not making the most of appraisals STILL. And it seems to be getting a little worse. People new to the workplace are all of a sudden confronted with objectives setting exercises; development discussions; competencies to check up on; improvement to be plotted on some 9-box grid; ratings that use words like Excellent; Meeting Expectations; Box 3; Grade C; – man, what a mess – and not even a rebellious Punk mess – more a Eurovision Song Contest kind of mess. Certainly not Punk and also not Mod.

So this PunkHR theme of mine is not being dissolved in favour of Mod but I think we need to be more Mod about appraisals. And The Jam/Paul Weller proved that Mod and Punk can co-exist. And this is my slant here (wow what a long intro you say…) be Punk about rebelling against years of messy, tinkering-like appraisal/performance management stuff and be Mod about something stylish, hallmarked, recognisable but INDIVIDUAL; MEANINGFUL; and ADAPTABLE.

Those 3 words were kind of the Mod ethos – coupled with an overwhelming sense of daring style. Mod – in its day – pushed every boundary known to (gentle)men and ladies. Mary Quant was SURELY an inspiration to Vivienne Westwood..? So there’s a link – Mod to Punk for sure.

Back to HR stuff anyway.

So Appraisals need to be INDIVIDUALISED; MEANINGFUL; and ADAPTABLE. So let’s rip up the existing copybook on this and create something so stylish it’ll have people saying “Yeah Baby” a la Austin Powers and doing the Wa Watusi in joy. You might need to Google Wa Watusi…trust me.

Imagine, an appraisal process – preferably decoupled from performance related (chuffin’) pay (ooh this makes me mad) – and something which has the individual at the heart of it; with stylish conversations about stuff that matters to people doing good work; and a focus on matching the agility of the role, the ever-changing agenda from day to day and week to week and month to month and so NOT

– an easy listening, elevator music appraisal which happens gently now and then over a latte and a biscotti. Nothing really matters, everything’s beige;
– a novelty fad record kind of twice a year spike like the obligatory holiday anthems; La Appraisalmacarena;
– a sit–down–and-be-told–what-you’re-doing-wrong kind of bootcamp / marching anthem;
– an overly engineered drum’n’bass-country’n’western hybrid where you come away more confused than before you went in; or
– a repetitive techno like robotic appraisal of meaningless noise.

We need a regular burst of creative appraisals around interesting, varied and clear 3 minute symphonies. We need to put the conversational song back into the workplace relationship that is between the line manager and the job holder. We want to move away from Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” to Marvin Gaye’s “Pride & Joy” – pride in the job; joy in the pay/recognition I get for it. The Temptations also sang “You’ve Got To Earn It” and so employers have to earn the right to get the best from their people and people have to earn the right to be let loose on the work with trust and regard.

So how do we do this? You ask. Surely someone more clever, bold and imaginative has already cracked this? Well maybe so. I don’t see it though. Everywhere I go and others I speak to tell me the same thing – appraisals don’t work. My theory on how we do this is a bit like being a Mod or a Punk…it’s creating a new movement.

– First, find others who want to break from the convention. All the best rebellions start with the underground scene before going overground to mass recruitment and expansion. Mod and Punk started like this. Mod in the Jazz clubs in the late 50s/early 60s; Punk with the London scene 1976.

– Once you have others who think a little like you do, join together and discuss how to make your “slant” work within the confines of the conventions you have around you of course. Punk and Mod created their own places to go and be seen. Word of mouth involvement and inclusion was vital as underground status was important but inevitably, wider acceptance and interest would inevitably ensue. Being the first was important, making a difference and feeling good about how you chose to be even more so. Social connection is therefore vital here. Trust, shared belief in the cause, wanting to be someone doing something worthy and different. Very Mod and very Punk this too.

– Then PROVE how the new movement is what “the kids” want and need through stories; evidence – so you will have to name and document the movement. Inevitably new, stimulating, rebellious thinking attracts others. Myths, legends – tend to occur so by capturing them into true stories gives it more “realness” and then it can be associated with the movement. Conformists will start to take note and some of the not-so-early adopters may start to move to your movement.

– Create a BIGGER movement. Check in with others. There will be others across the business world who are doing similar things but maybe with their context/nuance around it. Inevitably, Punk and Mod spread from London clubs to provinces and linked up with other geographical outposts. London wasn’t the only place doing Mod and Punk first…just doing it with more numbers and perhaps more bravado. It exploded when people came together from across the UK.

– Make it mass-market. Pioneering organisations may want to adopt the movement and embed it to become the norm. For this read record labels, fashion labels and social entrepreneurs cottoning on to the next big thing and positioning themselves to capitalise on the new movements. Forward thinking, authentic organisations will see something like “Nu Appraisals” as something worth going for in making both a people and organisational differentiation. The best clubs wanted the Mod and Punk “Faces” there to show how hip and with it and in demand they were.

– Compromise on some ideals to make it work BUT NOT THE ESSENCE. So in order to promulgate a new way with Appraisals, we should create the movements that throw the disruptive thinking into the mix and throw off the shackles of over-bearing process and policy. THEN we can de-couple it from PRP (*grimaces*) and then we can liberate the masses and have meaningful appraisal conversations, with style, genuine interest, short, adapting, forward-looking, stimulating, personal, meaningful and ultimately successful.

INDIVIDUAL; MEANINGFUL; and ADAPTABLE – the holy trinity of Mod-like Appraisals for the Punk HR generation.

By the way anyone who thinks Mod was a short-lived scene that died with Hippy/Flower Power in 1967/68 – think again. Suedeheads: the Northern Soul scene; Jazz-Funk/Rare Groove; the Mod/Ska revival; the Casuals phenomenon; house music and the Indie/BritPop ALL had something Mod in them – even if only the appreciation of new styles and individuality.

Mod is not about a US Army Parka and a Fred Perry T Shirt. It’s about being a MODERNIST – adapting to something new, constantly. That means changes and that means not just stuck in the same groove.

Appraisals have become the easy-listening/Eurovision same old groove of our working lives. They are tolerated and add very little value to our (pop) workplace cultural history – we need some stylish rebellion. The Jam said it so eloquently “Just Who Is The 5 O’clock Hero?” Maybe we all are but appraisals don’t make us feel very heroic as they currently stand.

We need to create appraisals that are constantly about something new, low on process and high on impact. We need people to converse about improving; not transact through a tick list.

In HR we can help create this movement. With attitude and acumen; some style and rebelliousness; with creativity and boldness. Let’s not conform; let’s be Mod, Punk and New Wave about appraisals. Starting with how we appraise each other; and then working that up into a movement.

INDIVIDUAL; MEANINGFUL; and ADAPTABLE – that’s the modernist appraisal code I’m working to right there.

And our battle-cry will be a simple one…

We are the Mods. We are the Mods. We are, we are we are the Mods…

Wa Watusi on..!

  1. Never mind the punk – The Who are legend and we need a post on learning organisations called ‘Won’t get fooled again’ Perry

  2. Meg Peppin says:

    You’re so right. Something that should be good , individual, meaningful, adaptable has got sucked into the corporatisation of HR machine and is often depersonalised, mean and rigid. The best appraisals I ever had were written up on blank pieces of paper and took me to some fantastic place. The worst ones were rule booked and broke my heart in 17 places. What’s going on?
    Pop, punk, soul, funk – mods, rockers, groovers and movers , love em all. Yes to individual meaningful and adaptable – and owned by the appraisee entirely.

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