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Making the grade

Bob Goldman (WORK DAZE via Copley News) -- What are the five scariest words in the English language?

Ask some of the recently fired employees of the big technology company, Computer Associates, and they'll answer:

"Follow me; I'm with H.R."

According to recent press reports, these were the five words that were spoken by the company's human resource professionals when they introduced themselves to unsuspecting employees moments before initiating a brisk and invigorating termination experience.

While this column does not comment on the merits of individual terminations, especially when they apply to people who aren't us, it does seem like the management at Computer Associates could benefit from a little less human resources and a lot more human kindness. Even if what they did was legal; it certainly wasn't very nice.

On the other hand, there are companies that are nice -- so nice that they are giving their employees a special new benefit. They are giving them grades.

I'm not lying. If you work for Microsoft, Ford or Conoco, your annual review can include a letter grade. A to F. Why, it's just like elementary school, only now your Grade Point Average can not only show your performance in sandbox, it can actually impact your job, your career, your mortgage.

Showing the knee-jerk grumpiness that so befuddles management, some employees are rejecting the idea of report cards as demeaning, prejudicial and just plain dumb.

Of course, if every management idea that was demeaning, prejudicial, or dumb were rejected out of hand, we'd never have progress. Or memos. Therefore, it's very possible that a grading system may soon be added to the list of benefits at your company.

Are you an "A" worker or an "F?" Will you get extra credit and be on the Dean's List or will you have to stay after school writing "It's wrong to throw spit balls at the office manager" on the white board. These are important issues for today's workers and, guess what, here are some hints from someone who has spent a lot of time in the boss's office after hours, cleaning erasers.

1. Do your homework: Many employees think they can explain away their failure to do their work with excuses, like the always popular, "the IT department ate my report." Or, employees try to cram before the big meeting. This seldom works. You will be tired and crabby when the big meeting rolls around and may miss difficult pop questions, like "What's your name?" and "What exactly is it you do here?"

If you want to be teacher's pet, do your homework every night. When the boss goes home, go through her desk thoroughly, memorizing her tastes in chewing gum, analgesics, vodka. Or, break into her computer and read her e-mail. You could find proof that you deserve a much higher grade, like copies of the spicy e-mails your boss has been sending to the gym teacher.

2. Participate in class: No teacher likes a student who sits in the back of the class, reading comic books. When your supervisor gives out an assignment, raise your hand and shout out, "Choose me!" or "Will this be on the final exam?"

Your co-workers may accuse you of being a kiss-up, but don't let that stop you. Just remember that when you get an "A" grade and the promotion that goes with it, you'll become an executive and then you can read comic books all day long.

3. Don't forget extra-circular activities: Whether or not you have a great voice, you'll want to join the choral group organized by the accounting department, the Singing Bean Counters.

And, by all means, go out for the hot dance group from engineering, the always popular, Pocket Protector Tap Team.

4. School spirit counts: You may have been a geek in high school, but here's your chance to be one of the popular kids. Organize a Spirit Club. Be the first in your department to suggest working on the weekends without pay. And, above all, be sure to nominate your boss for King or Queen of the Spring Prom.

If they win, you could get to organize the balloon drop at the next staff meeting.

These simple hints should help you survive the grade-craze and keep you employed until the next lame-brain idea comes down the pike. As long as they grade on a curve, we've got a fighting chance to keep our jobs, at least until it's time to take the SATs.

In the meantime, if anyone from H.R. asks you to follow them, take a tip from the class clown. Don't.

Bob Goldman is an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at workdaze@sirius.com.

(c) 2001 Copley News

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