The Political Context of Employee Appraisal: Effects of Organizational Goals on Performance Ratings

By Shore, Ted; Strauss, Judy | International Journal of Management, December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Political Context of Employee Appraisal: Effects of Organizational Goals on Performance Ratings


Shore, Ted, Strauss, Judy, International Journal of Management


The current study investigated the impact of the political context of performance appraisal by examining the effects of organizational goals on performance ratings. A second purpose of the study was to investigate whether it is possible to reduce the effects of political influences by providing raters with normative information. Participants rated a "subordinate's" performance subsequent to receiving lenient or harsh organizational goals and normative performance information (present or absent). Results suggest that leniency goals resulted in significantly higher performance ratings than severity goals. However, normative information had no effect on performance ratings, attesting to the robust effect of political motives on performance appraisals. Implications for human resource management were discussed.

The overwhelming majority of U.S. organizations use some form of performance appraisal as a means for improving employee and organizational performance (Murphy and Cleveland, 1995). Performance appraisal has been an important issue to both scholars and practitioners for many years since many human resource decisions are based on appraisals including salary increases, promotion, career advancement and training opportunities (Bernardin and Beatty, 1984; Landy and Farr, 1983). For example, the feature article in a recent issue of Business Week highlighted the difficulty that U.S. corporations face when trying to terminate poor performers due to the reluctance of managers to give candid performance evaluations (Orey, 2007). Because of their significant impact on the status of the employee, managers have both an ethical and legal obligation to conduct appraisals in a fair, honest and unbiased manner (Axline, 1994). Unfortunately, very little research has explored die educai issues involved in performance appraisal. In this paper we examine one dimension of ethical performance appraisal - the influence of the political context (operationalized as organizational goals) on performance ratings.

The main focus of performance appraisal research over me past several decades has been on unintentional rating errors (i.e., improving rating instruments, evaluation procedures and cognitive processes of raters), with minimal attention given to factors that result in deliberate rating distortion (e.g., Bretz, Milkovitch and Read, 1992; Tziner, Latham, Price and Haccoun, 1996; Tziner and Murphy, 1999). However, recent models of performance appraisal have focused on the social/organizational context of employee appraisal in which rating errors (e.g., chronic leniency) are attributed to the rater's goal-oriented adaptive behavior radier man an inability to provide accurate ratings (Cleveland and Murphy, 1992; Levy and Williams, 2004; Murphy and Cleveland, 1995; Tziner, Murphy and Cleveland, 2005; Wong and Kwong, 2007). In particular, some scholars have proposed that rater perceptions of organizational politics are related to rating accuracy (e.g., Bernardin and Beatty, 1984).

Organizational politics has been described as behavior perceived to be self-serving that is often at the expense of others and possibly the organization (McShane and Von Glinow, 2007). Studies have documented adverse consequences of organizational politics including decreased job satisfaction, organizational commitment, organizational citizenship behavior and work effort, and increased employee stress and absenteeism (e.g., Witt, Hilton and Hochwarter, 2001; Vigoda, 2002). However, with the exception of a few anecdotal studies (see Longenecker and colleagues; e.g., Longenecker, Gioia and Sims, 1987; Longenecker and Goff, 1990), the effect of political behavior on employee appraisals has received relatively little attention by organizational scholars (Tziner and Murphy, 1999).

Researchers have recently distinguished between a rational and political perspective of performance appraisal (Murphy and Cleveland, 1995; Gomez-Mejia, Balkin and Cardy, 2006). …

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