Have you ever been asked to rate yourself?
My Apple co-workers and I joke about how hard it would be to objectively rate your own physical attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10.
Does personality count? In real life, totally. In this exercise, nope.
Does style count? Hair, yes. Clothes, no.
You get to rate yourself as though you had time to groom, but are now naked. Pretend you are at your ‘It’s-Friday-night-I-hope-to-get-lucky’ level of presentation.
A fair-haired (and fair-minded) Specialist says we should all just give ourselves 7s. High 7s, if we’re taking it out to one decimal point.
An Asian-American FRS (that’s Family Room Specialist, essentially an iPhone replacer waiting for the pay bump that comes with the Genius title) laughs that you may as well ask someone to rate their current self-confidence on a scale from 1 to 10.
How crushing would it be to find out you think you’re a high 6, but your co-workers call you a low-to-middling 5? That’s when you wonder, for the first time since third grade, if 5 is halfway to ten or closer to zero?
And if someone gives him or herself a high 8? It’s pretty obvious they think they’re a 9, but want to seem humble.
At Apple, employees are asked to write up an annual Self Review. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t directly effect your raise percentage and your chances for promotion.
You’re asked to list predictable things like what you accomplished that year, how you feel you’ve grown, and what goals you will set for yourself. You will wish you had time to fabricate goals that didn’t sound like you were just making them up after reading the question.
Unlike any job interview you’d see in a TV sitcom, you are not asked what your greatest weakness is. I presume this is because too many people try that lame trick of presenting a weakness as a potential boon for the employer. “I can be overzealous about my work!” or “Sometimes, I’m too in love with Apple!”
The online gaming comic Penny Arcade calls bullshit on this tactic, “What? You can’t say that your biggest flaw is that you’re just too awesome!”
Your Self Review is coupled with a Performance Review written by your direct manager, who not only lists your “strengths” versus your “areas for development,” but also rates you on a scale from 1 to 5 on things like your customer focus or your teamwork. You receive an overall rating as well.
All of your introspection plus all of your boss’ praise boil down to, “Good work. You’re a 4. Standard raise applies.”
My manager assured me that 99.9% of employees get a 4.
You have to work towards failure to rate a 3. You’d get fired long before surviving to earn a report of 2. I guess you’d have to steal something to rate a 1, and she couldn’t remember ever seeing an overall 5.
So, think about that in terms of the 1-to-10 scale for attractiveness.
You’re graded on a plateau, not a curve. Everyone just gets an 8. If you get a 6, you’re on your way out. You lost. You don’t get to pass on your fugly genetic material. There are no 10s, thanks for playing.
It reminds me of manly man advice I got from a former NFL star. He said if you meet someone you think is an 8 all-around? MARRY HER! Because you will spend your entire life looking for a 9, and buddy, there is no 10.
It kills me that everyone gets the same rating. Two employees may be recorded as 4s, but if one is really a 3.6 and the other is actually a 4.4, it doesn’t seem fair.
I get that corporations require quantitative data and that qualitative reports without such metrics would be too difficult to leverage for any meaningful decision-making, but still, numbers aren’t everything.
Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, apparently agrees.
Last February, during Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, a representative from a conservative think tank called the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) asked Cook to commit to only make moves that were profitable for the company.
The Mac Observer’s Bryan Chaffin reported that Cook replied, “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI.”
ROI stands for Return On Investment.
“Bloody” is widely regarded as the strongest curse word Cook has let slip in an otherwise faultlessly graceful self-presentation as an executive since taking the reins after Steve Jobs.
Cook went on to say that the same applied to environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple was a leader. He pointedly suggested to the NCPPR representative, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”
I doubt they dropped the stock. AAPL shares have split an eye-popping 7-for-1, and announcements of the iWatch and latest iPhones on September 9th will probably continue to drive the price higher.
So why complain? The real reason, you might guess, is because when the largest company in the world professes to care about the environment, the oil lobby gets scared, jumps in, and spews accusations that the well-proven fact of climate change is only hearsay. But I digress.
I’d have to list Tim Cook’s progressive stances as a Strength if I were writing a Performance Review for Apple.
I don’t think everything’s hunky dory with the company, if I did I would’ve never begun this column, but I refuse to be cynical about the shift Cook seems to be making. Apple will never be “transparent,” but he’s stepping towards public engagement in ways I respect. Marching with co-workers in Gay Pride. Publishing diversity reports to increase visibility and accountability. Making immediate, industry-leading audits of worker safety in Chinese suppliers. Rolling out slow but definitive pay increases across Retail.
Unfortunately, these moves aren’t salacious enough to get retweeted as heavily as the recent false assumptions about nude celebrity selfies on iCloud, but I see watch these developments as an employee and feel some pride.
So, you know, I give the company a 4 out of 5.
But then again, Performance Review is for employees.
I consider this column an Apple device, and so it deserves review at the End of its Product Cycle. It launched just before the iPhone 5S was announced and appropriately ends just after the iPhone 6’s announcement.
Let’s make it more like an awards show…
On the graph below, you can visualize the social media traffic McSweeney’s recorded for this column.
It spiked early with Let’s Get Ready to Rumble (9/19/2013), which had the most views, likes, and retweets. Part of this was because it competed in the Column Contest, so regular readers, fellow authors, and every friend those authors could muster read the entries to vote for their favorite. The traffic also got bumped up because Gizmodo republished the essay, rebranding it as a sordid tell-all. Gizmodo accounted for each spike in readership, but general interest petered.
Worst Apple Moment I Didn’t Write into the Column
There were several incidents I couldn’t publish for fear of revealing my identity or store location.
However, I will say that one of the most heartbreakingly demoralizing speeches I have ever heard, inside or outside of Apple, was unintentionally given by the head of Human Resources, Denise Young Smith.
By all accounts a dynamic and respected leader, she once explained how she and her team spent a year rewriting the Credo, a 24-point manifesto for Apple Retail which every employee receives and reads aloud when first hired. She said they realized the text, which summarized our beliefs, was so perfect that they only needed to change one line.
I almost bit my tongue off.
Your team spent a year on that project? To rewrite one sentence? Did anyone tell Steve Jobs? No, don’t cue the music to start the next award; I want to talk about this…
Best Unexpected Results from Writing this Column
1. I got republished by Gizmodo a couple of times. That would bring the article to a few thousand more readers, which opened my inbox to a few dozens more trolls. This was educational.
2. Daring Fireball, a blog I’ve loved for years, praised me for my takedown of a ridiculous NY Times article regarding battery life conspiracy. I was flattered, but it also added proof that hate is stickier than like on social media.
3. Al Jazeera interviewed me for an upcoming documentary on technology. I was afraid to reveal my identity, but they promised to hide me using digital blur. Who hasn’t always wanted to be interviewed behind a digital blur?
The nominees for which column most accurately depicted life as an Apple employee include, Product Launch (10/10/2013), Store Meetings (12/18/2013), and The Mothership (7/29/2014).
The nominees for the installment that best utilized a creative essay form include, Decision Chart (7/11/2014), Choose Your Own Genius (3/13/2014), A Sit Down Chat with Apple Head of Retail, Angela Ahrendts (5/15/2014), and Quiz: Are You an Apple Fan? (8/26/2014).
The nominees for the installment that tried hardest to sound like Chuck Klosterman include, Customer Service is the New Cold War (2/20/2014), Choose Your Own Genius (3/13/2014), and APPLE ENGINEER REVEALS iWATCH SPECS (4/24/2014).
Choose your own winners.
My ‘one last thing’ is this.
If you are Facebook friends with someone who works for Apple Retail, no conversation will blow up with more Likes and congratulations than when they announce they are leaving the fruit stand. They will express gratitude for their co-workers, but are noticeably careful not to express much more about how they feel, other than that they’ve learned a lot.
On Facebook, just like in Marvels, one of the most beautiful and influential mini-series Marvel Comics has ever produced, there’s a moral here. The message is that living inside can actually suck. If you live in a world of Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man, you don’t watch summer blockbusters of their adventures, you get crushed by a car the Hulk batted out of his way. Similarly, if you sell and service iPhones, false rumors are less funny, because they guarantee a hulk will be shouting in your face tomorrow.
Some things are best viewed from the outside.
What I read between the lines in those Likes and congratulations posted for and by Apple Retail employees, is that we, more than most, truly understand the privilege of being promoted to customer.
Thanks so much to everyone who sent me their hilarious stories.
Thanks so much to you for reading.