I received my very first performance appraisal six months after I started to work at General Electric. It was almost brutally frank (and spot-on accurate) in pointing out that I wasn’t doing a very good job. It provided the young kid I was then with the wake-up call I needed, telling me dramatically that my school days were over and that tough, rigorous performance expectations were now in place. My boss’s straight-between-the-eyes candid feedback—both on the form and in his words—was the jolt I needed to get me to move out of the world of school and into the world of work.

Later I became an HR manager with United Airlines and then with Frito-Lay, where I continued to receive performance appraisals every year from managers who took ...

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