Effective Communication in the Performance Appraisal Interview: Face-to-Face Communication for Public Managers in the Culturally Diverse Workplace

Article excerpt

This article first restates and then extends a thesis about the performance appraisal process first published in this journal almost 15 years ago -that the public manager's performance in the face-to-face encounter of "the appraisal interview itself is the Achilles' heel of the entire process." This 1983 article held that many public managers experience discomfort approaching the actual performance appraisal interview and difficulty in conducting it. For they usually are untrained, and may even be unaware of the scholarly work that has identified the skills that make for more effective face-to-face communication. At that time the published literature in this area offered little help to public managers, so the 1983 article presented six specific "microcommunication skills" to help public managers communicate more effectively in the performance appraisal interview.

This article restates those six microcommunication skills, and extends its 1983 thesis of their importance for two reasons - first, a significant but passing management approach; and second, a major shift in the demographic composition of the United States. Both of these factors have profound implications for face-to-face communication.

The widespread adoption of the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement by public and private organizations has stimulated an attack upon the formal performance appraisal process in general, and, more specifically, upon the performance appraisal interview itself. Scholars and managers who are TQM advocates suggest that the adoption of TQM reduces, modifies or even eliminates the need for the formal performance appraisal process and the interview itself. This article takes a slightly different position. It holds that an organization's adoption of Total Quality Management increases the incidence and importance of effective face-to-face communication.

The demographic shift in America's population and work force will have an even more profound effect upon interpersonal communication. By 2050, about half of Americans will be African American, Hispanic, and Asian American, and about half will be white. The United States is becoming a much more culturally diverse nation. The problems of face-to-face communication in an essentially monocultural work force may be insignificant compared to the interpersonal communication difficulties which may accompany the more culturally diverse work force that is forecast.

This article concludes by reviewing the previous models that have conceptualized interpersonal communication. It then presents a theoretical model, which may assist managers and stimulate scholarly research in the increasingly important area of face-to-face communication in culturally diverse organizational settings.

"Performance appraisal appears to be a simple management tool. Yet experience demonstrates just the opposite. That members of an organization should know how they are performing is obvious. And the superiors should tell subordinates about their performance is equally obvious. Yet some superiors avoid this crucial task, while others experience anxiety and discomfort doing it.

There has been considerable progress in improving the instruments of performance appraisal systems ...

Yet a paradox exists. A review of the literature indicates that much of the research and publications in this area have focused upon the empirical means by which to appraise performance - the development of the methodologies and the construction of the instruments by which to more objectively and validly measure employee performance. But despite considerable progress in a number of these areas, the delivery of the performance appraisal still tends to be resisted, if not avoided, by many managers because the central source of difficulty still remains. This occurs when the manager sits down to review his subordinate's performance. The appraisal interview itself is the Achilles heel of the entire process. …