By Jenks, James M.
Management Review , Vol. 80, No. 6
New managing duties stir up more anxiety between boss and subordinate than scheduled performance appraisals. Yet, Pas are an integral part of the employeeemployer relationship.
So how do you relieve that tension and tap the full benefits of performance appraisal? Training is the best answer. Wen you do them the right way, performance appraisals are key factors in boosting individual productivity and development," says Lester R. Bittel, professor emeritus of management at James Madison University and editor of The Encyclopedia of Management McGraw-Hill).
"Better still," he adds, "managers who are well-trained in conducting appraisals are injecting a dynamic motivating method into their managing styles."
Ifs ironic," Bittel admits. "Most employees really want to know How am I doing? 'but they seldom ask. Many managers would be happy to answer, but they hesitate to take the initiative."
Your first step in training is to make sure that anyone making appraisals understands this rule: Judge the work, not the person. In other words, appraise performance, not personal characteristics. But how do you hammer that rule into your appraisers?
IMPROVING APPRAISERS' SKILLS If your company is like most organizations, it is sure to have on record specific examples of poor appraisals, ones that placed a manager in deep trouble. Combine some of these common appraisal backfires with, for example, the legal fireworks that can flare up. You'll grab your trainees' individual attention with these incidents, and you'll brighten up your training.
Take a case like this: An employee is fired and shortly thereafter claims his career was damaged by the discharge. Dragged into court, the company lays out a personnel record that shows criticism for a bad attitude.
Unfortunately for the company, though, the appraisals report no specific instances of unsatisfactory job performance. There are no comments in the records about failure to meet agreed-upon standards for the job. A litigationminded lawyer easily makes a judge and jury wonder whether the problem was the employee's attitude or the evaluator's. Me result: a big bucks award for the employee; huge legal fees for the company; big headaches for all parties concerned; even personal liability for the individual who did the appraising.
Here are some more fire me and I'll sue" cases that colorfully illustrate the consequences of poorly conducted appraisals:
A marketing manager received superior ratings. Because she refused to quit dating a salesman from a competitor, her boss demoted her. She resigned, then brought suit claiming she effectively had been fired. The court reviewed the appraisal records and agreed that her employer was guilty of wrongful discharge. It awarded her $300,000.
Appraisals of the manager of an engineering department did show steadily declining performance. It also showed that he had become sarcastic and disruptive in meetings. His boss warned him that if he didn't shape up he'd get harsher discipline. Two months later, the engineering manager was fired. He sued claiming that after 23 years on the job he couldn't believe the warning meant discharge. Nowhere did the records say that the engineering manager had been told he could be fired. The court agreed with the manager and ordered the corporation to pay more than $60,000.
Fl A candy company terminated a 32-year veteran and soon found itself in court. The employee's history included commendations, good evaluations and promotions. That's an implied promise of job security," said the court. The outcome: Another expensive employee victory with faulty appraisals playing a strong supporting role.
Using such eye-catching decisions to make your key points keeps your managers on the edge of their seats. It also delivers specific messages about accurate records, honesty and plain talk, and about recording what was said no matter how much the boss might prefer to omit written negative comments. …