Everybody knows performance appraisals are essential to good performance and good management-employee relations--in theory. In reality, they are about as popular as castor oil, among managers and employees alike. Why? Because too often the appraisal session falls victim to one or more of these seven deadly sins:
1. No discussion. Just sign the form.
2. One-way discourse. The boss does all the talking.
3. General, unspecific comments about performance.
4. Surprise ratings.
5. Wishy-washy ratings.
6. Ratings based on comparisons between employees.
7. No follow-up in day-to-day operations.
How skilled are you at avoiding these seven sins. Test yourself with the quiz below, prepared by Donna Deeprose of Deeprose Consulting in New York. Compare your answers to the analysis on the next page. Do you:
1. Encourage discussion by:
a. Saving all performance feedback until appraisal time.
b. Establishing a pattern of two-way discussion about performance throughout the year prior to appraisal time.
c. Clarifying to the employee that appraisal discussions are company-mandated.
2. Encourage employees to participate in the discussion by:
a. Showing a willingness to change your ratings if an employee can make a good case for a higher rating.
b. Being very friendly.
c. Asking the employee to fill out an appraisal form in advance, citing specific examples of his or her performance.
3. Make feedback specific by:
a. Keeping an accurate file of all situations in which the employee does not perform satisfactorily.
b. Keeping records of all situations in which the employee performs above par.
c. Relating performance to fulfillment of clear, well-understood objectives and performance standards.
4. Exorcise the surprise and trepidation by:
a. Filling out the appraisal form and giving it to the employee in advance of the discussion.
b. Holding regular feedback meetings throughout the year.
c. Keeping the ratings much the same as last year's unless the employee's performance changes drastically.
5. Move your performance ratings out of the middle range by:
a. Determining, at objectives-setting time, what the employee needs to do to earn each rating.
b. Grading employees on a curve so a statistically proportionate number fall into each rating category.
c. Rating them higher than average if they work hard and show an effort.
6. Avoid comparisons to other employees by:
a. Carefully purging your mind of all thoughts of other employees while determining one employee's ratings.
b. Comparing performance to expectations for each employee.
c. Getting advice from an objective person who doesn't know the other employees. 7. Make performance appraisals relevant to day-to-day operations by:
a. Converting opportunities for improvement into new objectives for the upcoming performance cycle.
b. Giving big raises for excellent ratings.
c. Firing employees rated unsatisfactory.
Performance appraisals should be opportunities for helping employees maintain and enhance good performance and improve unacceptable performance. You're on your way to achieving that if you answered 1(b), 2(c), 3(c), 4(b), 5(a), 6(b), and 7(a) to the multiple choice questions in the quiz on the previous page. Here's why:
1 Too often performance appraisals feel like judgement day to both employee and manager. You can change that negative context through performance management, a cycle that includes joint objectives-setting, feedback and problem-solving, and assessment. When you establish that pattern of performance discussion, appraisals become an anticipated, integral part of an annual process, instead of an uncomfortable, isolated event that everyone would rather skip. 2 "What's the point of my saying anything if my ratings are predetermined? …