The Incident of ‘The Two Johns’ -an IT Manager confesses.

…in which Phil Factor takes advantage of the cloak of anonymity to confess to an embarassing mistake

As an IT Manager, I used to love doing staff appraisals. These rituals come by different names in different companies, ‘performance reviews’, ‘annual reports’, ‘staff assessments’ and so on. There are periodic crazes for pinning a different name on the process but the tradition itself remains the same, though the general method of going about it is tinkered with. I appreciated the value of standing back and taking stock of how ones ‘direct reports’, the staff who you were directly responsible for, were shaping up. To mull over the events of the year, advise them as best one could, and to do what one can to help the advancement of their careers. I looked forward to the process…
…until the incident of ‘The Two Johns’

In my development team, I had two programmers who couldn’t have been more different. They were both called John. Clever John found the world of work easy. He ploughed through every job he was given with supercilious ease. He was a useful member of the team, though he seemed to get bored with mundane jobs and overcomplicated the code just to keep himself amused. Dull John was a plodder. He didn’t seem to read enough to keep himself up-to-date and he was too inclined to ask for help. He was content to do just enough to stay invisible in the team. When the appraisal time of year approached, I put together reports for all the team, as usual. Because human nature dictates that it is easier to remember negative things about people, I used to keep a notebook with me to record every good thing that happened in the day-to-day work of the team. By the end of the year, the appraisals flowed naturally from these notes. Clever John was a work of unstinting praise, emphasising his readiness to take on more responsibility and the maturity of his attitude to the work. I liked the way he took on the ‘ownership’ of problems and issues when they happened and told him so. Dull John’s report was more of a struggle. I rather wanted him to realise he had a lot more potential and should take a bit more control, and drift less. Although the report was as bland and complimentary as such things have to be, I put the message pretty strongly, and wrote that everybody was hoping for more from him, as we’d all benefit, both he and the company. When the day came, I issued the reports and worked through the interviews. Dull John was first in. I’d been slightly apprehensive that he might have been offended by his slightly strongly worded report. To my surprise he was all smiles and expressed his entire agreement with the report. He had no issues at all and shook me warmly by the hand.

As he stood up to leave, I glanced down and noticed that he had Clever John’s appraisal.

Somehow I’d mixed the two reports. Working late, I suppose. The confusion of the same name, I shall never know. The brain can play tricks when one is tired.

I sank down despairingly in my chair wondering what to do next. Suddenly I realised the implication of Clever John getting Dull John’s report and I was gripped by a sudden panic. At that very moment there was a tap on the door and in walked Clever John.

Again, to my intense surprise, Clever John’s face was wreathed in smiles. Once more I was warmly shaken by the hand. The report had given clever John a jolt, but, thinking it over and chatting to friends about it, he realised how correct I was. Although he found the work so easy, he’d slid into complacency and was just drifting. He was taking it all easy after the hard graft of University and it had taken my annual appraisal to make him realise that the time had come to focus on developing his career.

Once more he complimented me on my insights, and left me a gibbering wreck completely at a loss to know what to do

Of course, I decided to do nothing. Suddenly, both Johns were the stars of the team and began to get noticed within the company for their drive and initiative. Dull John drew me to one side and confessed to me that I was the first boss he’d had that really appreciated his work and his true potential. I visited his home, and was delighted to meet his wife, now pregnant for the first time after several years of marriage. I became good friends with both Johns and it was not long before they both left the team with promotions, and they both began their meteoric career through the company and beyond, which continues to this day.

I suspect that there is a moral to this story but I don’t know quite what it is. A random mistake did more good than all the carefully-crafted appraisals I ever did. I’m just glad that the cloak of anonymity allows me to make a full confession.