Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Template of Homo Cubiculum

When I posted the comments about performance appraisal the last time around, I hinted at the uselessness of the practice from the point of view of well established scientific principles and some torch bearers of the process world.

However, as Nicholas Taleb will no doubt underline with his unapologetic pen, business and corporate world are not supposed to follow the way that science dictates is optimal. Genetically, human beings are not equipped to be rational when it comes to questions involving highest of stakes. I have reasoned in my past post that however harmful performance evaluations are, we will continue to take part in them.

So, having accepted the phenomenon as an unnecessary but existing evil, let us look at the populace who has to deal with the same. Since it is the unholy grail of employed existence, the lives of the  cubicle creatures tend to revolve around the evil event. The commitment, big picture, customer focus, vision and mission, synergy and strategy, and the entire juggernaut of jargon are little more than useless Lego pieces used to fill up the infinite minutes that one has to spend in meeting rooms. The focus remains unwaveringly on the rating sheet, and the corresponding infinitesimal increase in increment over others, that fraction of an inch gained in the contemptible climb along the corporate ladder.

However, it has been my observation, that in this regard, people approach the pitiable podium in different ways –  basing their habits on the ancient  ways of livelihood of human being.

The first group of employees approach it as did the hunter gatherers of yore … who lazed and lolled about most of the day, before reacting to the pangs of hunger to be stirred into violent action. Some of them clubbed down their prey when required, with primitive lack of subtlety or sophistication. And others took some more time in preparing the snare that would trap an unsuspecting meal into the guile and then guts of ingenuity.
This is the group that depends upon the activities of the last few weeks, the feverish collection of accolades during the last month – and a calculated siesta for the rest of the period under evaluation. Evolution has taught their not so active mental mechanism that public memory is fickle, the immediate impressions are stark, and the rewards require to be reaped before they fade away.
However, as the hunter gatherer ancestors had to depend on fortunes to ensure the presence of edible meat in their vicinity when the stomach demanded restoration, these corporate creatures have to depend on the uncertain chance of there being a fa├žade during the home stretch on which they can etch their grubby paw marks.

The second group prefer the way of the farmer. They sow their seeds and irrigate throughout the year, as and when season is favourable, adding fertilisers of different degrees and fluidity according to events and ethics, and wait to harvest the resulting returns of cash crops. Often backbreaking, their stolid agricultural pursuits are also dependent on elements of chance. Rains and sunshine, the right kind of fertilisers, hunters and gatherers chasing their quarry across the carefully ploughed field, messing up the harvest just when it is ripe.

The Indian contingent in my workplace constitute another variety of ancient templates made mundanely modern. The nomads. They roam from place to place, living off the fat of the land as long as provisions last, as long as the residents don't chase them away, as long as the caravan is capable of taking them to the next port of call. The home left behind, in this case, does not really matter in terms of wildlife to chase, fertilisers to apply or cash crops to reap. They are closer to the places they visit, striking up rewarding relationships with the residents on site.

The deviant of the nomads are also based on image of the old ancestors, the emissaries of the monarch back home, loyality stamped on lips, zealously planting flags across horizons, claiming each well trodden stretch of land to be the New World. They are the account manager types, brandishing the coat of arms – the shining laminated MBA degree, in a bid to strike up alliances.

And then there is the independent contractor – the mercenary, the ronin. One who fends for himself and is detached. Who is a free soul, not too worried about the grail as long as he can loot his booty in the crusades.

Of course, in the dark corners of the cubicle, in the quest for the eternal rating, there crops up another profession – older than the most ancient. Where exceeding expectations of the supervisor takes on a whole new perspective. However, let us pretend that everything is squeaky clean and look the other way, one of the most frequent and followed best practices that can be picked up from corporate culture.

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Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

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Amsterdam, Netherlands