Section 147 of the 720 review.
Agnes Puckering was as charming as she was tall. And at 5’2”, she was not much of either. As long-standing head of HR at the self-styled lifestyle firm Tchaikovsky, Lake & Idle (“TL&I – We Care. A Lot.”), Agnes was a survivor, constantly coming up with new-fangled initiatives to keep HR front-and-centre at the firm, from “take your grandpa to work day” to “absolutely mental health week” to complementary colonic irrigation sessions for the entire Private Equity group. And, to keep her grip on power and all employees suitably cowed, she also deployed secretive and random investigations into everything from “imprudent” beer consumption to “excessive” visits to the washroom to “shortcomings in personal hygiene" to “palpable BDE”, any one of which could and in fact had led the HR department to recommend dismissal.
But now her seven-strong HR team, known internally as the “Seven Swans” in an apparently ironic reference to their lack of social graces, was under threat.
It seems that, at the urging of the HR department, the firm had for a number of years run an annual “360 Review” of all employees, including the Managing Partner, Rupert Littleplumb, himself. And for just as many years the HR department, whose budget depended on the good graces of Rupert, had carefully edited (meaning completely re-written) his 360 to give him the most glowing reviews imaginable, with colleagues seemingly extolling his wit, wisdom, dashing good looks and sheer animal magnetism. To date this had worked famously, causing Rupert to throw his full and considerable weight behind the HR department and lauding Agnes within the firm and to the legal press as a ground-breaking thought leader in legal HR.
Unfortunately, due to a process failure attributable to Agnes having been on a harrowing week-long amphetamines-and-Häagen-Dazs bender, this year’s 360 had landed on Rupert’s desk in raw, unvarnished form. They say the screams of rage could be heard from Highgate to Harrow, and Agnes felt she had to act fast to keep her influence, indeed her very job. And, resourceful as she was, Agnes came up with an idea that she was convinced was pure HR gold.
Her stroke of genius? The “720”, an annual review so far-reaching it was billed as being “twice as good as a 360”. The key differentiator was the extent of the research: the 720, implemented by a secretive Third Party Service Provider known only as The Agency, claimed to be able to “reach deep into the very soul of every lawyer at the firm”.
Rather than relying solely on colleagues' reviews of each other, The Agency also interviewed grandparents, childhood friends, roommates, bartenders, Tinder dates, Uber drivers, CBT therapists, providers of spiritual ministration, and foot care specialists. It analysed fMRI results of lawyers’ pets when shown images of their owners, all internet activity for the past ten years, and many, many other data points. The result was promised to be “the most revealing account of the physical, social, intellectual, psychological and spiritual attributes of a human being known to man”.
All lawyers participated in the 720 and, in the spirit of Radical Candour (another Agnes Puckering favourite, as it allowed her to engage in full-throated criticism of any lawyer who dared to cross her), it was decided that all attorneys would be provided with all of each other’s 720s simultaneously. When the day came, the entire legal staff, together with Agnes and the rest of the HR department, gathered in the firm's largest conference room, and they began to read. At first a hush fell over the room, followed shortly by low groans and the occasional sound of gagging.
Then an unspoken yet incredibly tangible atmosphere of what can only be described as mutual disgust took hold and the temperature began to gyrate wildly, seemingly dropping by 30 degrees then rising by 90 as a gaseous, sulphuric miasma of pure, explosive ectoplasmic loathing was pumped by the angst of 280 tortured souls (287 if you counted the Seven Swans) into the stifling confines of the conference room as the truth about each was revealed to the other, eventually reaching the combustion point and immolating the entire assemblage in a fireball of hate.
The only survivor was, of course, Rupert, who had chosen to excuse himself from the entire 720 exercise on the grounds that Managing Partners need to rise above the petty squabbles, subtle forms of character assassination and angsty annual reviews that, he said, these kinds of mutual assessments might engender. But after having finally seen his own unedited 360 last year in all its hateful, wretched truth, Rupert was not unhappy with the result of the 720. Not unhappy at all.