Roland Dürre
Wednesday September 13th, 2017

Entrepreneur’s Diary #123 – Appraisal Interviews

Evening Event BICCnight “it at media“ in the foyer of the Funkhaus Bayern. München, 22/07/2011 picture by Stephan Goerlich

For today’s entrepreneur’s diary, I chose a very banal topic: The Appraisal Interview.

Together with Wolf Geldmacher, I founded the InterFace Connection GmbH in 1984. Immediately, we had ten successful years as the producers of the software HIT-CLOU and quickly became the leaders on the market for text systems on UNIX in Europe. Because we were a great team. It was a true delight. In retrospective, those were the ten best years of my professional career.

Before we founded InterFace Connection, I had worked for Siemens and Softlab. I wanted to adopt all the things I found good in those enterprises in my own firm. It was quite a number of things. However, there were many more things that did not find my approval and I consequently wanted to handle them differently – those were the more important things.

Among other things, I am talking the chance to decide what tasks were delegated to whom and also of deciding what, when, how and where the work had to be done. At Siemens, the delegation of tasks was “from top to bottom”. That was not what I wanted. And during the first ten years, thanks to a high degree of self-organization and a huge amount of self-responsibility both of the team and the people at InterFace Connection, this worked (very) well.

Both Siemens and Softlab had things I liked. For instance the yearly appraisal interview. It gave you the chance to speak openly with the boss of a hierarchical system at least once every year. I found this a good idea and did the same at the Connection. Regardless of the fact that we always were an enterprise of “open doors” – which means that all employees could come and pour out their sorrows over me and Wolf at any time. Today, I still recommend the “open doors”. However, I no longer recommend the appraisal interviews. The reason is that you do not need them.

At InterFace Connection, this is what happened: after three months (shortly before your probation time ended), there was the first appraisal interview and then, always before a years was over, there was the next. Thus, depending on the time a new person was employed, the interviews took place all the year round. There was also a structure for the interviews. Looking back upon the last year was a considerable part of the interview, then came the exchange of feedback and eventually the negotiations of a new income. I always asked my employees to be well prepared and saw to it that I, too, was always well prepared.

Basically, it went quite well. Except that a few wise-cracks thought it was perhaps unfair. After all, the entrepreneurial context of one month might be totally different from another month. And this could mean that a rise in income based on the current situation might not be fair.

We reacted to this and re-scheduled all (!) the interviews to take place at the end of the year. This had considerable disadvantages and made the topic a sad one. The stress level in November and December climbed another notch. That caused lack of motivation and exhaustion. Nor did the direct comparison make things any easier. At the time, I did not yet understand that there is no such thing as justice (or: there are many definitions of justice).

Perhaps one could construct a “justice based on need”. But justice based on achievement is definitely nonsense.

Today, I believe you cannot set dates for interviews of any sort by following a rule. Let alone if the date is in the far-away future. No, you always have to have an interview close to the occasion, when you have a good reason or at least a current situation that allows or demands it.

Especially communication between humans always has to take place when the necessity arises. For instance, dissatisfaction must never be conserved until the yearly appointment in order to then open the frustration nozzle.

More money agreed upon in ritualized interviews is only the second-best thing. It is better to talk about distributing the success exactly at the time the success happened. And it would be best to let those decide who actually were the ones who made the success possible. At team level.

Wages are a difficult topic. I already wrote about it quite a few times and probably will soon again write about it. Because it is not really goal-oriented that, in Germany, you get more money every year until you are quite old – up to retirement – and, on the other hand, decreasing wages are not really possible during the active time of a work contract. Simply because the achievement curve, even of a programmer, cannot point upward all your life long. But I will write about this at another time.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
For more articles of my entrepreneur’s diary, click here: Drehscheibe!

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