Principles of Effective Performance Management
Pratt, Henry J., Records Management Quarterly
Performance management and appraisal systems often fall short of expectations. Many employees spend half the year trying to forget their last performance review and the other six months dreading their next one.
Instead of creating and maintaining healthy supervisory-employee relationships, performance appraisal is often viewed in a negative way, from the top manager down to the individual worker. Such a negative attitude, of course, isn't conducive to organizational efficiency and employee morale.
In critically reviewing past and present performance appraisal systems, a little perspective on the background of performance appraisals is in order. Performance management is not new. Researchers found a reference to performance management, an "Imperial Rater," in the Wei Dynasty in China which flourished during the third century A.D. Although performance management theory and practice in the United States started with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, the widespread use of performance appraisal techniques with blue-collar employees didn't start until after World War 1. Appraisal systems for measuring managerial and professional employee performance weren't used extensively until about 1955.
The earliest performance appraisal programs during the Industrial Revolution were relatively crude and simple. Workers were evaluated and paid primarily on the basis of quantity output-the number of "pieces" they satisfactorily turned out. Frequently, management provided for bonuses and other tangible rewards to recognize employee contributions to the company.
It was not until later that managers recognized that in many jobs, the quality of work produced also affected an individual worker's impact on the organization. Then, evaluation procedures and compensation plans were expanded to incorporate work quality, in addition to quantity.
Various appraisal systems used were based on standards set up to measure worker performance. In the simplest systems, those standards were established through direct observations by the boss, often with a stop watch in hand. In the more-elaborate systems, detailed standards were developed in advance for every small movement of the worker. For example, you could find in such standards, phrases like reaches two inches," "grasps and pulls upward," or "releases the widget within five seconds," and so forth. Performance elements contained in the stop-watch approach, as well as the detailed worker standards, were then combined in approving time standards for each job on a production line.
Work output gradually shifted from directly-measurable physical activity to more-complex tasks requiring the application of greater skill, knowledge, and ability. That's when more elaborate performance standards or yardsticks became necessary. At first, these yardsticks were very subjective in nature, and were typically based on the supervisor's assessment of the character and personality traits seen in subordinates. The character and personality assessment was then combined with the boss' overall evaluation of quality and quantity of work produced.
Among the personality and character traits assessed were such ambiguous elements as loyalty, honesty, attitude, initiative, cooperation, resourcefulness, and ambition. Many early appraisal systems also covered elements like attendance, promptness, compliance with job instructions, acceptance of responsibility, and adherence to tour-of-duty rules.
Thus, early performance measurement was often highly-subjective and allowed rating officials far too much personal latitude. When faced with worker complaints and appeals of their performance ratings, supervisors had a difficult time explaining their evaluation subjectivity. Management needed a better way to appraise employee performance that would emphasize more job-relatedness and easier-measured elements with the core factors being work quality and quantity.
When the concept of management by objectives (MBO) became widely recognized in the 1950s, both managers and supervisors looked to MBO to provide a more-meaningful way to appraise the performance of professional and managerial employees. Two basic types of performance management systems for managers and professionals were developed.
The first was based on goals, where the subordinate would accept, or commit himself to achieve certain pre-approved goals, in line with those of his organization. In the second type, key accountabilities (often called key job impact areas) were identified. Then, performance standards were set for major activities necessary for success in these key accountability areas.
Were these goals and accountabilities appraisal programs effective? It soon became apparent that these two programs had certain strengths. But despite them, the trendy programs didn't prove as useful in appraising professional and supervisory performance, as expected.
Since goals and objectives are primarily forecasts of what could be achieved, employees soon recognized that a variety of external influences might affect actual job achievement. Sometimes the boss made allowances for these external events, such as budget cutbacks, abrupt work rule changes, or impacting economic problems. At other times, subordinates were unfairly held responsible for matters beyond their control. Obviously, the latter situation was unacceptable.
Persons who achieve a higher proportion of their goals over time are likely to be more competent than those who do not. But an appraisal system that rewards luck and disregards real effort and competence is more capricious than fair, and is not likely to be respected. Another problem with appraisal systems that rely primarily on setting goals and assessing their achievement is the process used in goal-setting itself. Soon, employees being evaluated on the basis of goal achievement, realize that setting lower goals is a much "safer" career strategy than to strive constantly for higher more difficult to attain ones. Rather than work hard to achieve tough goals, more likely they will negotiate with the boss to approve easier-to-achieve goals and objectives.
In view of the difficulties with performance appraisal systems based primarily on goal achievement, combination systems have become increasingly popular throughout the U. S. today. The combination systems take advantage of the best features of various systems (goals and objectives, quantity and quality standards, and key accountability elements). Wider use is now being made of peer ratings and of appraisals or review by higher-level supervisors to try to avoid the usually heavy subjective influence of a single evaluator.
Innovative use is now being made in some organizations of a self-appraisal system, especially for managers and higher-level professionals. Advocates of the self-appraisal approach say it has these advantages: (1) It motivates the incumbent to take more responsibility for his own performance and growth; (2) Appraisal can be performed as often as believed necessary throughout the year because it can be initiated by the person being assessed; (3) It can be clearly focused on job behavior, avoiding confusion with other issues such as compensation, promotion, lateral transfer, or training; and (4) Performance ambiguity is decreased, creating the potential for more timely and specifically-focused job behavioral changes.
To be truly successful, a performance appraisal system should incorporate the following principles of effective performance management:
Employee Involvement. It is critical that managers and supervisors involve their employees in the design and later-required revisions of their performance appraisal system. By giving employees the opportunity to play a meaningful role in designing or revising their appraisal program, you build a greater understanding, commitment and support of the program from the start.
Workers should be asked to help bring their position descriptions up-to-date, assist in defining critical and non-critical job elements, make rough drafts of performance standards for supervisory-management review and approval, help design appraisal forms, review and comment on proposed appraisal procedures, and help develop training materials.
Supervisors and higher-level managers should retain their prerogatives and control over broader performance management issues, such as formulating and communicating organizational mission statements, approving annual goals and objectives, and enunciating bottomline values. In many organizations, top management is the final approver of performance standards for Chiefs of Division-level or higher work units.
Objectivity Emphasized. Effective performance management is not simple. Doing it well requires considerable empathy, strong emotions, and much care and concern. Appraising employee performance is a complex and confrontational undertaking for most supervisors and managers.
In the American culture, heavy emphasis and value is placed on work, what happens in the nation's workplaces, and the manner in which assigned tasks are accomplished. Within certain bounds in a democratic society, what really matters in our workaday world is results, not the personality and character employees display in getting the job done.
Therefore, it is important that a performance appraisal system emphasize the elements one can most objectively" measure, such as work quality and quantity, accomplishment of goals and objectives, and completion of key accountabilities. The system should not deal with subjective factors such as worker personalities and character.
Linkage of Goals. Individual worker goals, as approved by the supervisor, must linkup with the overall mission and goals of the organization. The bottom line of an effective performance appraisal system is to improve performance, in line with mission needs, not simply to measure how employees are completing tasks.
Without this vital linkage of employee and organizational goals, a tug-of-war can occur. Employees may be working hard and giving their all, yet pulling in opposite directions. Occasionally, organizations find it necessary to redirect workers to get them to pull in the same direction, only unhappily to discover later that they are now all pulling the wrong way. To avoid such problems, goal setting should be done from the top down and each worker's goals tied to those of the overall organization. Hold Boss Accountable. A major part of the performance appraisal of managers and supervisors should be tied to how well they plan for, motivate, and assess the performance of their own employees. Persons who manage or supervise others have a joint obligation`to their organization and to their workforce. A firm depends on its managers and supervisors for the effective performance of the entire organization. Employees trust these same managers and supervisors for a great deal of their career development, financial security, and future job success. One cannot overemphasize how much these managerial and supervisory activities contribute to a healthy organizational environment: articulating goals; approving fair performance standards; monitoring employee performance; appraising workers on a year-around basis; providing feedback and support; and skillfully coaching, counseling, and motivating subordinates. Effective managers and supervisors spend a great deal of their time on such critically important activities, but unfortunately their own performance appraisal is not sufficiently tied to how well such tasks are completed. Form Isn't All. One or two forms do not a performance appraisal system make or break. Nevertheless, in many organizations the managers and supervisors get far too involved in trying to design or revise the "ideal" performance appraisal form. Appraisal forms need to be attractively designed for employee understanding, clarity, adequacy, and completeness. Forms should be professional in appearance, and accompanied by carefully worded and properly spelled processing instructions. But it's the total care and concern of managers and supervisors, not the form itself, that will ensure your appraisal program's success. Continuous Process. Performance appraisal programs often fail because the appraisal process isn't regarded as an on-going activity. There won't be any surprises at formal review time if performance is appraised, adequate feedback is provided, and necessary corrective action is taken on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
Giving feedback, both positive and negative, often presents an awkward and difficult situation for managers and supervisors. To be fully effective, feedback must be:
Clear. Vague, poorly thought-out, or contradictory feedback can have unexpected, adverse results.
Descriptive. Offering descriptive work examples, instead of unsubstantiated, judgmental opinions will help prevent defensive employee reactions.
Objective. Telling both sides of the performance story-the positive and negative-makes feedback more credible, palatable, and useful. Constructive. Suggesting ways to improve performance, rather than just listing what's been wrong, will make the performance review discussion more future-oriented, hopeful, and productive. A lack of job-related feedback, both positive and negative, can produce undesirable results. First, the absence of recognition or positive reinforcement of a job well done can lead to an employee's deteriorating job performance. Workers thrive on deserved recognition and awards for good work and the manner in which it's accomplished. When appropriate recognition isn't given by the supervisor, many workers understandably slack off with a feeling their extra steps are not being appreciated. Second, when an employee receives little or no performance feedback, he may develop poor work habits that have adverse impact on others. These habits might include tour-of-duty infractions, extended rest and lunch periods, unauthorized absences, habitual tardiness, non-compliance with work procedures, and repeated failure to meet deadlines. Where the innovative self-appraisal system is being applied on managers, supervisors, and higher-level professionals, performance feedback is just as critical. Feedback on the ratee is obtained and analyzed from trusted associates and peers, direct reports from clients and customers served, and the employee's superior. As the ratee receives the feedback data from these sources, he compares and contrasts it with data from the appraisal he has made of himself.
Areas of convergence will then likely emerge. There will be agreement, or near-agreement, regarding some job behaviors that are, for example, outstanding," some that are adequate," and some that are "not adequate." With the convergent information in hand, the person who has already assessed himself can hopefully determine which of his job behaviors, if any, need future improvements.
When you view your performance management responsibilities as an on-going process, rather than a once-a-year event, you will informally praise or criticize worker performance on a continuous basis, and provide prompt, corrective feedback and reinforcement whenever necessary. You will then have far fewer employees spending half the year trying to forget their last formal performance review and the other half dreading their next one.
Indeed, you will have a performance appraisal system that successfully balances organizational and employee needs, one that's reasonable and fair, one that incorporates all-important on-going monitoring and feedback, and one that holds the boss accountable for the effective performance management of subordinates. AUTHOR: Henry J. Pratt is a free-lance writer of magazine articles with over 200 published in such magazines as Management Digest, Business View, and PersonneL He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Colonel, Medical Service Corps, with a specialty in military patient records and administration. He held the mobilization position of Patient Administration Officer at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado for several years, and completed Reserve assignments at Walter Reed, Letterman, Brooke, Madigan, Fort Carson, Fort Leonard Wood, and Fort Riley.
Colonel Pratt completed a 311/2-year career in Federal personnel management with the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. He served as Park and Regional Personnel Officer, Classification & Wage Specialist, and Program Evaluation and Employee Relations Officer. Pratt received a B.A. Degree from the University of Montana, and an M.A. Degree, Public Administration from American University, Washington, D.C.…
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Publication information: Article title: Principles of Effective Performance Management. Contributors: Pratt, Henry J. - Author. Magazine title: Records Management Quarterly. Volume: 25. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1991. Page number: 28+. © 1989 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA). COPYRIGHT 1991 Gale Group.