Impact of Agency Investment in the Implementation of Performance Appraisal

By Balfour, Danny L. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 1992 | Go to article overview
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Impact of Agency Investment in the Implementation of Performance Appraisal

Balfour, Danny L., Public Personnel Management

This article examines the experience of several agencies in Florida state government with their standards-based performance appraisal system and develops and tests a researcr strategy for determining the effect of agency investment in its implementation. Findings based on interviews of personnel managers and a survey of employees that suggest there are limits to the usefulness of performance appraisal which management must consider when deciding how to appraise and improve employee performance.

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 made the implementation of standards-based performance appraisal systems a priority concern for the federal government. Since that time, most state governments have followed the federal lead in assessing individual performance on the job according to work-related standards (Tyer, 1982).

This article assesses the impact of agency investments in the implementation of a standard-based performance appraisal system. It reports the results of a study in several large agencies in the state of Florida. The empirical analysis in this study focuses on the following question: Do employees in agencies with high levels of investment (training, materials and other resources) in their performance appraisal systems perceive their performance appraisals to be more helpful and effectively implemented than their counterparts in agencies with low levels of investment?

Competing purposes of performance appraisal

Despite its long history and widespread use in government organizations (Lee, 1987), performance appraisal has proven difficult to implement (Rich, 1989), and has been described as, "the weakest link in the personnel administration chain" (Hays & Tyer, 1980).

The standards-based performance appraisal system is one of the most recent approaches to resolving the problem of how to measure individual work performance in a fair and accurate manner (Locher & Teel, 1977). The appraisal focuses on "primary tasks," or the essential aspects of a position. For each primary task, there must be a performance standard which describes, in a measurable fashion, the behaviors that constitute the satisfactory accomplishment of the primary task. These standards are expected to be the basis of an objective, behavioral-based performance appraisal system (Office of Personnel Management, 1981).

However, a recent United States Government Accounting Office (GAO) report (1989) on human resource management in the federal government reports that although most federal agencies have had their standards-based performance appraisal systems in place for nearly ten years, there remain numerous, persistent problems. They include: (1) failure to develop objective and measurable performance standards; (2) limited employee involvement in the appraisal process (3) lack of acceptance and mistrust of the performance appraisal and merit pay systems; (4) lack of consistency among raters; (5) time-consuming and cumbersome processes; (6) difficulties in counseling, providing feedback, and other interpersonal issues; and (7) lack of management support (GAO, 1989). These findings parallel those of earlier assessments of the federal performance appraisal system (Perry and Pearce, 1983; Nigro, 1982).

The report concludes that the Office of Personnel Management must exercise more leadership in order for these persistent problems to be solved (GAO, 1989). It is assumed that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the system and that it can work as intended with sufficient levels of training, resources and information (For a similar argument in regard to merit pay systems, see Seigel, 1987).

An alternative explanation for these perceived failures is that organizations are attempting to utilize performance appraisal for multiple and conflicting purposes. Figure I compares the two main purposes, judgmental and counseling, for which performance appraisal is employed in organizations (Cummings and Schwab, 1973).

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