Another flashback.  I was at a networking event this week and the subject of employee evaluations came up.  The Vice President of Marketing of a Fortune 500 company was talking about the new evaluation system their HR Department had just rolled out.  Mike, the VP of Marketing, was selected to be part of the pilot program to test the system and guage its effectiveness.

Mike was not thrilled with the new system.  Apparently, it was cumbersome and time consuming.  Although it allowed you to select from a list of criteria, it also forced the evaluator to comment on critical areas.  Mike didn’t like that part.  I didn’t want to remind him that as the head of his team, the more concrete and specific the feedback he gave the employee, the better the process was for the employee,  especially if there were improvement issues.

This discussion reminded me of the evaluation process that existed when I was starting out in my corporate career in the 1980′s.   The evaluation forms back then were not these fancy forms that are generated by an HR software program. Nowadays, everything is neatly and beautifully displayed and you have the ability to access the form online, give comments, and sign it electronically forever to be kept in your HR Department’s electronic repository.

Back in the day, the evaluation process was not as stringently followed as it is today.  There was a lot more flexibilitiy and leeway given to managers and department heads and as such, it was your responsibility to ensure that you prepared evaluations for your team members and had a formal review with them.  HR was not holding your hand through the process and sending you countless reminders as they do today.

For starters, the evaluation forms were very long.  They required you as a manager to write extensively in each of the categories and also give specific examples. Since the HR oversight was not as visible as it is today, the evaluation forms themselves were often hard to read.  The managers kept blank copies of the forms. Sometimes the blank forms were copied so many times that there would be words missing from the edges of the  form. The quality of the document could be so poor that the wording was hard to read.  Remember that I started out my career working for Citibank, not a slouch of a company by any means.

But here’s the great part.  The evaluations were handwritten .  As a reviewing manager, you had to handwrite each and every LONG evaluation form for each member of your team. Do you have any idea how time consuming that is and how much your hand hurts when you’re done? But here’s the even funnier part.  As an employee, if you had a boss with lousy penmanship you could never read or understand what had been written.   The running joke was that the more illegible the writing the better the review.  Why?  Because how can you improve or act on something when you can’t understand what your boss wrote?  So you basically ignored the review and convinced yourself that you were doing just fine.  Sometimes for giggles, if you had a boss with horrible handwriting you would ask them to decipher something he or she had written on the review.  Most of the times they couldn’t.  The writing was so bad they themselves could not understand what they wrote.  So how effective was that evaluation?  I’ll let you decide.

I shared that story at the networking event and a Generation Xer asked me why the evaluations weren’t typed.  I reminded him that PCs were still rare in corporate settings in the 1980′s and only secretaries had typewriters.  The staff and management did not.  You could opt to have your secretary type all the employee reviews but 2 things would happen:  she’d hate you for months to come since the forms were long and the timeline for completion was tight. You would be forcing her to type for days on end, backlogging her normal work. Secondly, evaluations were supposed to be confidential and nothing violated that confidentiality more than giving it to a secretary to type for you.  Typically only the very top executives on the team would do that.  These execs worked in very posh settings and their offices were removed from the rest of their team. Their secretaries were not only pretty isolated but very protective of the executives and their reputation so the chances of  a breach were minimal. The confidentiality issue was moot.  If you were lucky enough to receive a typed evaluation form you almost framed it because they were so appealing to read and understand.

The next time you complain about having to complete online evaluations for your employees think about what a pain they were back in the day.  Some things do get better with time.

What about you?  Do you have copies of  the old handwritten evaluations forms you received from your boss back in the day?  How legible were they? Can you imagine the look on a Millennial’s face if you gave them a handwritten evaluation today?

Happy Friday, everyone!