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.
The common denominators of poor performance appraisals, which have been documented, are that individuals judge other individuals, not their work. They're usually biased to get rid of the person, rather than deal with poor performance. Appraisers may tell an individual to his or her face what they don't like, but they don't have the guts to write it down. DEVELOP LISTENING SKILLS Listening is a fundamental skill learned early in life. "Most managers take it for granted," says Bittel. "Effective listening, though, requires active, intensive and vigorous effort. Nothing is more important in appraisal interviews than for the appraiser to soak up every bit of information given."
Since no one can talk and listen at the same time, the first step to improve listening is to train people to speak less. Hard? Of course it is. One human resources manager complained: "It's hard to train managers to keep their mouths shut. And the higher their rank, the tougher it is."
Include role playing in your training on appraising, advises Bittel. The following are some clues that may uncover other anti-listening" habits:
Do they frequently interrupt when others are speaking?
n Do they finish other people's sentences?
Fl Do they jump to a conclusion before the person speaking has voiced it?
Fi Do they frequently change the subject from the one initially brought up?
n Do they fidget, tap their fingers, or scribble on a pad when trying to listen?
Do they look away from the person who is speaking to them?
Fi Do they formulate responses in their mind before the person speaking has finished?
All these characteristics can be corrected through training and practice. But the important element still remains. Do the evaluators really hear?
Concentration is the key to really hearing what others are saying. Concentration requires individuals to focus strongly for short periods on many often unrelated ideas and questions. That's a characteristic of appraisal interviews. Skilled evaluators build a bridge from past performance, to the resent, to goals for the future.
Role playing is also effective for training appraisers to hear. Give a demonstration of an appraisal interview to the class, even though you know that the scenario will never be played exactly the same in real life.
Next step: Move from your demonstration model to pairing off your evaluators to practice. As each pair completes its roles, let the other class members tell you about poor traits such as interrupting, completing sentences, looking away, jumping to conclusions, and the like. What the observers don't report, you should diplomatically discuss.
Appraisals must be objective and job-related. Still, rating only those characteristics that can be quantitatively measured can easily make evaluators overlook vitally important intangible assets-an advertising copywriter's creative ability, for instance. Appraisers should try to pinpoint intangibles, but what they must eliminate are biased judgments.
To lessen subjective comments, train appraisers to use critical incident logs. Here they note an employee's performance in specific situations which illustrate how well-or poorly-that employee performs. Then they use the log to keep the appraisal interview on target. They're able to refer to the log to support comments that do bear on intangibles, as well as to getting the job done.
A log should contain: date, incident, employee's action, expected performance, supervisor's opinion and any comments. Train appraisers to list entries like these in the log:
Special assignments carried out either well or poorly.
Actual examples of the employee showing leadership.
o Incidents which reveal employee conflicts.
Fl Examples showing the employee using newly acquired skills.
Specific results achieved that are above or below standards.
Demonstrations of initiative or judgment. PUT IT IN WRITING
During training, ask the managers to write up on practice logs a few incidents they've already experienced. Then review them, omitting all names. Watch for biased statements and correct them for the benefit of the class. Look for examples of logged achievements and point them out.
Take care to warn your appraisers to beware of keeping a book" on trouble-makers. Mat's a one-sided record that makes no references at all to creditable performances. Such a log could be considered biased. Some organizations ask employees who are involved in incidents to review the boss's log entries and seek agreement on them.
No matter how well or how often you train new managers and retrain experienced ones on effective appraisals, you can't expect peak performance without having the appraisal policies and methods in writing.
If you don't have written policies and procedures, get started developing them. Have an attorney who is experienced in employment law and court decisions review them.
Policies always serve better when in black and white. Without written ones, you'll have dozens, one from every person who conducts appraisals.
"A great advantage," Bittel concludes, "is that written appraisal policies make your training easier. They're essential guides for this traditional management task."…