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Why Should You Appraise Performance
by Dr. Terry Stimson
Theoretically, performance appraisals provide information upon which promotion and salary decisions can be made. Appraisals provide an opportunity to review subordinate's work related behavior and develop a plan for correcting any deficiencies. In addition, performance appraisal offers an opportunity to review the person's career plan in light of strengths and weaknesses.
I started the last statement with theoretically, which reflects my bias, since I have seldom ever seen performance appraisals producing the intended results. Instead, it seems to me most performance appraisals are a ritual organizations go through because it is an internal requirement. I have not seen many managers that take the time to do performance appraisals properly. I hope some of you can say that your experience is different in your company and that performance appraisals have genuinely contributed to your growth and development in your organization.
I believe the potential exists for performance appraisals to do great things. I just don't think it normally happens. The one exception, in my frame of reference, is Upward Feedback for managers. I spent several years working with British Petroleum in Alaska and Australia on a process for providing managers with feedback from their direct reports. This process created more substantive changes in behavior than any performance appraisal process I observed. I will say more about upward feedback later in this lecturette.
Anyway, the reason I asked your Learning Team to develop a training program around the concept of Performance Appraisal is to give you a chance to create a new and innovative approach that works. So, I will be looking forward to seeing what you have developed by the end of the class. Here is a little background, which you may find helpful.
Performance Appraisals - Description
The following are descriptions of some performance appraisal methods and systems:
Graphic rating scale - This performance appraisal method uses a scale to rate an employee on his or her level of performance for each job trait. Some of these traits may include productivity, job knowledge and reliability.
Alternation ranking method - This performance appraisal method ranks employees from best to worst on traits. I am told this is one of the methods used at McDonnell Douglas when ranking employees for reduction in force (layoffs). Supervisors would rank all employees within the department.
Paired comparison method - This method pairs employees for every trait and compares them. This is suppose to indicate whom is better. I have not used this method for annual performance appraisals.
Forced distribution method - This method of performance appraisal is similar to a bell curve. This method distributes employees from top performer to mediocre performers by percentage rates. Those employees listed in the top percentages are normally given raises, while those at the lowest percentages may not be given raises.
Critical incident method - This method keeps a record of good and poor examples of employee's performance. These examples are reviewed with the employee on a periodic basis. I will agree with our reader that this method is not useful by itself for making salary decisions. In addition, as a former manager, I agree that keeping a record of incidents is good to discuss with employees.
Narrative forms - This method has been the most commonly used while I was a manager. This gave us the opportunity to give praise and constructive criticism. A discussion with the employee followed. My observation has been that the employee did not always agree with my constructive criticism but we came to closure on an improvement plan.
Behaviorally anchored rating scales - This appraisal method combines narratives, critical scale and quantified ratings by anchoring good and poor behavior examples.
(Dressler, 2000, p331-333). This method requires five steps and is complicated to administer.
Management by objectives - This method requires manager and employee to set measurable goals. These goals are discussed on a periodic basis. Clear expectations and feedback are important because if the employee is not meeting their target, the manager is able to discuss and get them back on track to reach the year-end goal.
360-degree feedback - This method of appraisal gives the employees feedback from the immediate supervisor, peers, subordinates and customers.
The supervisor usually does the actual appraising. The HR department serves a policy making and advisory role. The supervisor needs to conduct an appraisal interview in which the written appraisal is presented.
The appraisal needs to be thoughtfully prepared with good examples which support the points the manager wants to make. The manager needs to review the definition for the job and appraise the performance in relation to the written job description. In addition, the job description often isn't sufficient to clarify the manager's expectations since the job description is normally written for groups of jobs rather than specific positions.
The purpose for the appraisal interview is for the manager to provide feedback to the direct report on ways the performance can improve. This discussion needs to be a two way dialogue so the employee has an opportunity to clarify and question the feedback
I have a set of guidelines I use in many settings, which I call the Elements of Dialogue. These elements appear to be good groundrules for a manager to use in an appraisal interview.
1. Speak for Yourself "Use I"
2. Build on What Was Said
3. Suspend Certainties
4. Listen in New Ways
5. Listen To Your Own Responses
6. Encourage and Welcome Disconfirming Information
7. Focus on Inquiry/Not Prevailing
Generally Performance Evaluations will include:
1. Measuring performance gaps
2. Evaluating results against organizational goals.
3. Establishing standards
4. Assessing organizational culture effects
5. Reviewing interventions
6. Providing feedback
The major obstacles to effective performance appraisals may include:
Limited time - with all the responsibilities managers' have, it is difficult to make performance appraisals a top priority.
Too complex a process - instead of making the process easy to administer, practical and helpful for everyone involved, there is a tendency to make performance appraisals very complicated.
Lack of motivation - managers often don't believe that performance appraisals are valuable for either themselves or the employees so there is no great motivation to do a thorough job.
Fear of criticism - it is hard for most people to comfortably offer employees helpful feedback without feeling uncomfortable about giving constructive criticism. A process people go through when receiving bad news is similar to Kubler Ross' Death and Dying...the stages we use are called SARAH...
S - Shock
A - Anger
R - Rejection
A - Acceptance
H - Help
Once a person moves through all of the stages, they are finally ready to ask for help and are willing to listen. In my opinion, meaningful changes can take place at this point.
The problem most of us have is "blind spots" which keep us from being able to look at ourselves realistically. Therefore, I think it is hard for someone to try to give us helpful feedback because we have a tendency to react to the criticism. Therefore, it is easier to just give positive feedback or avoid giving negative feedback. As a result, managers seldom offer employees helpful feedback that will improve their performance.
I believe managers also need feedback on the ways in which they can more lead their organizations. I worked several years for British Petroleum here in Alaska and also in Australia doing Upward Feedback. A process in which appraised their managers anonymously on a written form, the resultswere compiled into a profile and presented to the manager, and a meeting with direct reports followed. The meeting with subordinates proved to be the most powerful part of the process in which the manager was told what he or she could do to improve their management style. Though it often started awkwardly, ultimately it proved to be a very powerful technique for creating change.