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Less Odious Performance Appraisals

Article excerpt

Less Odious Performance Appraisals

The performance-appraisal process is an integral part of most managers' jobs. Its function, of course, is to enhance the use of human resources in an organization. But while almost all companies have some sort of performance-appraisal process, many personnel managers are dissatisfied with their current systems.

The appraisals are also unpopular with managers. The yearly performance review is one of the most dreaded tasks of line managers, who consider it a necessary evil. Few managers have any training in the appraisal process; many question the validity or legal defendability of the evaluation. Furthermore, many managers--and employees--view the appraisal process as confrontational, resulting in an antagonistic relationship between management and staff.

Many of the problems with employee-appraisal systems result from an effort to use a single process to achieve two different, often conflicting, objectives: * generation of data for judgment decisions, such as raises, promotions, and transfers; * employee development.

Most companies and managers stress the administrative decisions and neglect the employee-development function. But when development is the main objective of the performance appraisal, the manager and employee share a common goal, contributing to a supportive, nonthreatening atmosphere instead of an antagonistic one.

Performance appraisals don't have to be an ordeal. They can be an effective tool for employee development and productivity--if managers are skilled in providing and receiving feedback.

Providing feedback

Providing effective feedback is a delicate process--more of an art than a science. The following guidelines for managers can serve as a framework to enhance the performance-appraisal process for the benefit of both the supervisor and the employee.

Be sure that your intention is to be helpful.

The appraisal interview is not the time to show the employee who is boss. Every point covered in the interview should involve an effort to "build" the employee by encouraging appropriate behaviors and modifying innapropriate ones. The employee should leave the appraisal interview with a better understanding of what is expected, a sense of open communication lines, and an optimistic outlook for future performance.

Know whether the employee is open to feedback.

If the recipient has not asked for feedback, check to see whether he or she is open to it. When using performance appraisals for development purposes, don't provide feedback in areas in which the employee is unlikely to be receptive. Behavioral change is unlikely to result if you do; such unwelcome feedback may even cause the employee to ignore other, useful feedback as well.

Many employees are unreceptive to feedback in the very areas in which they most need to improve their performance. Provide feedback in such areas during annual performance appraisals, not in appraisals that are used only for employee development. After all, judgment decisions are the rationale for annual performance reviews.

If the manager is careful to differentiate between two kinds of reviews--judgment and development--employees may be less likely to feel threatened by appraisals for development purposes. That leaves employees open to feedback in more areas. Having separate reviews for development also makes it easier for employees to view development with a team approach and to use the opportunity to get feedback that will enhance their appraisals at "judgment time."

Deal only with behavior that can be changed.

It is useless to provide negative feedback on an employee's behavior if he or she cannot change the behavior. Ideally, every position in the organization will be filled with a person who is perfectly suited to the job. But employees often bring with them limitations that can inhibit performance and prevent them from being the ideal subordinates about which managers dream. …