The Management Spork

I grew up in the 80’s.

One of the breakthroughs of the decade was the Spork.

It was half spoon, half fork and if you bought the deluxe version, it had a serrated edge making it half knife as well (don’t think about that too hard).

The Spork was billed as the end to all your cutlery worries:

  • Why lay knives, forks and spoons at the table when you could use the Spork?
  • Think of all the washing up you could avoid.
  • For picnickers the Spork was the dream implement.

Unfortunately the Spork was next to useless

It didn’t cut like a knife, was too clumsy as a fork and as a spoon it leaked. It was jack of all trades and master of none.

The best tools are designed to do one job, not botched to do many.

Enter the management Spork

The end of the year is nigh, so those of us in big organisations are busy dusting down our appraisal forms ready for the annual round of performance management.

We know that performance appraisal is vital to an organisation, it fulfils so many important functions. Performance appraisals are used to…

All in one handy and economical form and process.

But I’m not a fan, like the Spork I think appraisals would work better if they were designed to do one job well, not botched to do many.

Of course the link is tenuous

Comparing a 1980’s fad to a widely used management approach is hardly scientific.

So I will leave you with one last question:

In your last appraisal how did it feel when you were told your rating and annual increase?

  • Did it make you receptive to the developmental feedback?
  • Or did it feel like a weapon to force the conversation?

Feedback is great, when done well.

Is it time to rethink your H.R. processes?

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Read another opinion


  1. James, another great analogy. It’s definitely time to fix the performance appraisal. I’ve been on both ends… preparer and recipient… and neither is fun. As preparer, we’re shoe-horned into the guidelines given to us by HR – as a recipient, it’s painful to hear the output of that. Most of the time, they barely achieve one goal well much less all of those you’ve listed.


    • James Lawther says:

      I think you sum it up beautifully Annette…

      I’ve been on both ends… preparer and recipient… and neither is fun.

  2. Hello James,

    Once again you make a great point. And it occurs to me that you have not touched on the heart of the matter. So allow me to ask you a couple of questions.

    Would you agree that, as human beings, we are willing to pay a price (money, time, effort, barter) for that which shows up as being valuable to us?

    If you answer is yes, then I ask to consider the following questions:

    a) How many people in your organisation would be willing to pay (say just £20) for a performance appraisal?

    b) How many people would turn up for a performance appraisal if you did not charge anything, made it purely voluntary, and there were no consequences for declining the offer of a performance appraisal?

    c) How many managers and HR folks would be willing to adopt the practices that I have suggested here?

    It occurs to me that the performance appraisal is that which is imposed by the powerful on the powerless (or simply the less powerful). Whilst the powerful may be powerless to resist the performance appraisal they do resist it, as it violates fundamental human needs. So even if you focussed the performance appraisal on one objective, it occurs to me that the outcomes is unlikely to be any better.

    All the best,

  3. Hi James,
    Obviously, you don’t go camping very much as the spork or the three in one version with the serrated edge is revolutionary and loved amongst the camping and climbing community.

    I guess every variation will find its right home and perhaps the appraisal form and process may not have found its right home yet. That’s not to say its right home may be in the bin.


  4. I think I’d go for the “exception that proves the rule” tack on that Adrian, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

  5. I’m still trying to quantify the monetary difference between a rating of _____X_____ and ______X____ ?

  6. James Lawther says:

    Me too Phil

  7. For which Employee Evaluation process suffers from the most contempt around the world by the employees, managers
    and the whole organizations too. The plan should provide individual employees with specific goals,
    objectives and milestones needed to achieve their long-term professional objectives and goals.
    It seems like a classic case of ignoring the underlying issue.

  8. James Lawther says:

    I agree Luis, something about wood and trees…

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