It’s Partyyyy Time! Or is it? …

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Last weekend, I attended a Nigerian party in the LA area with some family and friends.  In true  Owambe fashion, the “turn up” was real.  Food, drinks, music, “money spraying” were in full effect and everyone truly had an awesome time.  We partied into the wee hours of the morning and the next day, I woke up sore and achy from dancing to Wizkid in my high heels.  I remember at many points that night feeling like…myself!  I ate enough jollof rice to feed four big women and then proceeded to dance and sing at the top of my lungs with friends when Sir Shina Peters played, as it reminded me of my childhood.

There was no worry of eating or drinking too much as I was surrounded by love and friends and family.

This is what I call a party.

Now, contrast this with the so-called parties hosted within Corporate America.  Sigh…

I have had the dis pleasure  of attending more than a few corporate parties.  I shouldn’t even call them parties really.  Events is more like it.  Take the Christmas party at one of my previous employers, a very conservative Accounting firm. Here are a few of my favorite observations:

  •  Deciding how to dress for one of these is almost impossible. The task at hand is to find an outfit that is not too short, not too long, sexy but not too sexy, flattering but not too form fitting, conservative but not business-suit like, etc… Inevitably, I end up with the contents of my closet scattered all over my bed before I decide on something.
  • The menu is another one.  Now, I have been described by some as “bougie”, but let me tell you, sometimes you just want food you are familiar with.  Somehow, my definition of party does not include some dried up veal or King Fish-caviar or drinks such as Cynar and Punt e mes. Often, after these “parties”, I have been known to stop by the nearest drive-through or Chipotle on my way home.
  • Now everyone knows that at these dinners, there is a fun end and a boring end of the table. The fun end is where you sit with your peers who are hopefully not arrogant, self-important jerks.  Here, you can maintain some semblance of real talk and not have to worry whether you used the salad fork to eat the main course.  No one cares too much. As long as you manage to remember to drink out of your own glass and not that of person next to you (haha, this happened!), then you should be ok.
  • If you find yourself on the boring end then… Via con Dios! Here is where real talk ends as you are seated next to some big shot, or big shot wannabe who continues to crack dry jokes you do not understand, but you are obliged to laugh anyway.  The kind of fake laughter that makes the side of your face hurt and can cause facial spasms later.  Here, the steak is very rare, almost raw and although said big shot is allowed to order endless bottles of wine, you, my fellow dual citizen, dare not exceed your 2 glass maximum!!
  • Here’s one that never ceases to amaze me!  Some of my fairer-skinned compadres still manage to turn all the way up at these events! Invariably, someone ends up (a) sitting on a partner’s lap, (b) making out by the bathroom,  (c) grinding obscenely in the name of dancing, (d) telling very, very inappropriate, sometimes racist or sexist jokes, (e) passing out (f) drinking way too much, which I guess causes all of the above.
    These have all happened at these events and the thing is, in many cases the perpetrators not only remain employed, but this seems to have absolutely no negative consequence on their careers.

I often think of how it must feel to be that free.  To know that you will be ok, no matter how much you screw up.  The stern faces of my Nigerian parents and grandparents come into focus in those moments, reminding me of how much they toiled so I could be here, rubbing shoulders with them. I used to think that I would stop feeling this way once I rose to the level of management and was no longer at the bottom of the totem pole.  Now as a mid-level manager, I know this feeling will never change.  I will never be able to completely relax in this world.

So no matter how many times they call it Christmas party, or Thanksgiving potluck or company picnic, or corporate happy hour, it will never be a real party for me.

What are some of the things you have observed at company parties? Please share your thoughts.

Performance Evaluations: Who Should I be This Year?

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Most people I know do not like the process of being criticized evaluated; much less in the workplace.  At least once a year, someone, likely your boss, gets to provide feedback on how you have fared. If you are lucky, this process is constructive and painless, where your successess are highlighted and rewarded and your few shortcomings discussed in a collaborative way.  Many of us are not quite so lucky.

I am sure many social experiments can and have been conducted on performance reviews. I, for one, am usually amused by the use of euphemistic terms such as “Areas needing improvement” or “Development needs”.  Rather than saying, “You just don’t cut it” or “Start looking for another job”, these terms are replaced with the aforementioned, even though every experienced person knows what they mean.

My particular beef with this process is how almost completely subjective it can be.  No matter how hard you try during the year, you can never really score a perfect 10; unless your boss wants you to.

Let me give you an example:

Some employers use a forced ranking system where they list a bunch of attributes and basically grade on a bell curve.  One of the attributes we are typically measured on is Passion and Determination to Achieve.  This means that you stop at nothing to achieve your targets which by the way, get more unattainable each year. It may include employing tough tactics with your competitors, other departments and even your coworkers just to get ahead.  After all, a forced ranking system means that if Joe is ranked 1st, Jane would have to be ranked 2nd or lower, so no ties.  This attribute is the often most important  and is usually rated highest which is no surprise: it’s how we achieve results.

Another attribute is Empathy which measures your willingness and ability to relate with others and help them solve problems, even sometimes at your own expense.

Is it really possible to score a perfect 10 on both at the same time?

One of my natural strengths has always been the former.  Having been blessed with the competitive gene, I  work extremely hard to achieve KPIs as this is how I am measured quantitatively.  This may mean that I am not always available to chit chat and schmooze with coworkers. But it does mean that my numbers are met and often exceeded.  However, rather than passionate or driven,  I have been called aggressive, pushy, a bulldog and some other less than flattering names because I do not go out of my way to socialize and am more likely to go straight to the point.

Being a West-African woman adds another dimension. I was raised to distinguish between work time and play time.  I was brought up to speak carefully about my personal life, divulging as little as possible and only to those who needed to know.  So I may not be the loudest at the lunch table, nor will I be the one pretending to understand pop culture references that are foreign to me (hmm, I think I should do another post on this).  Point is, I am pleasant without letting it affect my work.

Once, during a discussion on my performance and upcoming promotion, my White, male boss said to me, “You can definitely do the job but you just don’t smile enough”. This was hard for me to deal with seeing as neither him nor his boss nor anyone else at their level walked around the office all smiles.  Why were the rules different for me than for them??

To further complicate things, I have observed other colleagues who would probably score very highly on the Empathy attribute be considered soft and weak and unable to lead. They too, have been passed over for promotions.  Many companies pride themselves on valuing diversity, which is not only about skin color and gender, but also about personality types. Still, I find myself contemplating if there truly is room for diversity at the top.

So … what would it take for me to not only fit in but move up? Will my fate be determined by whether or not my boss likes me, or is there a more objective form of performance reviews?

Please leave a comment and let me know how you feel about the review process at your job.  Is it objective, fair, easy to understand? Or do you find yourself wondering, “Who Should I Be This Year?”