Perspectives on Enduring and Emerging Issues in Performance Appraisal

Article excerpt

Performance appraisal is one of the most controversial human resources management processes generating a range of views and emotions that run the gamut from blind advocacy to outright vilification. As an example, consider a quotation from a personnel manager interviewed for this project:

In our organization everyone hates the entire appraisal process. The employee that gets a good performance appraisal thinks that the system is wonderful; the employee that gets a bad one thinks that the system is unfair.

Clearly, for better or for worse, most governmental (and non-governmental) organizations employ some type of performance appraisal system.(1) The purpose of this article is to explore critical issues and emerging trends in performance appraisal, concerns that are enduring and several "cutting edge" developments. A convenience sample of 18 personnel managers and supervisors served as a defacto focus group to test whether issues in the literature are relevant to practitioners and to generate specific examples illustrating the range of opinions regarding key appraisal issues. The sample is not (nor was it designed to be) statistically representative, but the analysis suggests hypotheses that may be tested in more rigorous designs.

Sample Demographics

The sample includes two groups. One group consists of ten supervisors employed in a small southeastern Florida municipality (population of 10,000) utilizing a city-manager form of government. The respondents range from first-level supervisors to department heads. The group possesses a mean experience level of 7.32 years in their present position. Seven of the ten possess a college degree, and two earned graduate degrees. Six of the supervisors are male and four female. In terms of respondent age, six are in the 36 to 50 age category and two in the 50 to 65 age category. Each respondent completed a short, 18 item questionnaire. The full results appear in Appendix A.

The second group consists of eight southeastern Florida local government personnel managers and officers interviewed in-depth on key issues related to the appraisal process. All of the respondents were interviewed at their work locations. The interviews ranged in length from 30 minutes to over an hour Five of the respondents are municipal personnel directors and one is a county assistant personnel director. The respondents range in experience from less than a year to over ten years in the position. The sample is equally divided between males and females.

Enduring Issues in Performance Appraisal - The Debate Over Its Legitimacy

The performance appraisal process is one of the most complex activities in human resources management.(2) There are numerous "veto-points" that derail even the most carefully designed systems. Rater bias, unclear performance standards, inadequate documentation, heuristical and attributional errors, and an absence of training are a few of the factors that reduce performance appraisal validity and reliability.(3)

Total Quality Management presents performance appraisal with a serious challenge.(4) Proponents of TQM argue that individual performance appraisal is a deadly sin and based upon a "flawed" theory.(5) No degree of adjustment or revision can overcome performance appraisal's inherent defects. These problems include using appraisal as a "command and control" device, inaccurate performance measures, "scapegoating" employees for performance problems beyond their control (e.g., poor management, work process flaws), and the promotion of dysfunctional conflict and competition.(6)

Performance Appraisal as a Command and Control Device

Is performance appraisal a command and control device? Half our respondents shared this view and agreed that performance appraisal is often used as a tool to intimidate and dominate employees. Clearly, performance appraisal is a very effective tool for controlling behavior, especially if important organizational rewards (merit pay, promotion, etc. …