Magazine article Management Review

Improving Your Performance Appraisals

Magazine article Management Review

Improving Your Performance Appraisals

Article excerpt

Employee performance appraisals that work share some common characteristics. They tell workers how they have performed and can improve then motivate them to do so. The process generates understanding and commitment, which together should result in increased employee productivity.

The fink between appraisals and productivity, then, depends on the effectiveness of the appraisals. Yet most of these encounters fall short of everyone's expectations-employers and employees alike. We'd like to address the problematic nature of these encounters-to appraise appraisals, so to speak-and discuss what managers can do to make them more effective.

We surveyed 260 managers m 190 organizations representing a wide spectrum of industries and government agencies. The vast majority felt that their managers, the bosses who had conducted the most recent appraisal of their performance, had given little or no thought to the appraisal process -to aU the things that should have happened before, during, and after the appraisal to make it pay off.

In effect, the participants in our survey said one thing consistently: "We're willing to work hard to achieve our objectives, but we're not sure how to go about it." How to go about it is what performance appraisal should teach; in many cases, it evidently fads to do SO. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

To understand what's wrong, it's necessary to acknowledge that performance appraisals are inherently problematic. In fact, there are four intrinsic problems:

1. Appraisals are confrontational. All too frequently, appraisals turn into encounters between two "sides." For the staff member, it's "me" versus "them," with "them" getting an opportunity to rake "me" over the coals. For the manager, it's the moment of truth when the worker finds out how he or she "messed up," and that better performance is expected. In this tense atmosphere, everyone forgets that appraisals should educate. Instead, they have just one thing in mind: Let's get it over with.

2. Appraisals stir emotions. Since both participants expect a confrontation, emotions on both " sides" rm high. Outbursts of temper, sarcasm, and spite are common; so are hurt feelings, resentfulness, even tears. Whatever the emotions, they reinforce the image of the appraisal as a "necessary evil."

3. Appraisals are judgmental Many managers dislike appraising because they're called upon to act as judges and counselors. They dislike both roles. The judge's role requires "distancing, " which many managers find discomfiting; the counselor's role requires knowledge and experience that many managers lack.

4. Appraisals are complex. Effective performance appraisals are difficult to do. They require a full understanding of the worker's job and of his or her performance. They demand psychological insight and interactive skill. Even the best appraisers rarely describe an appraisal as "simple" or "easy."

These four characteristics are intrinsic to appraisal. Yet there are also many extrinsic reasons why appraisals fad. These fall under three headings: a poorly constructed appraisal process, a wrong attitude toward employees in the appraisals, and inadequate appraisal skiffs. A POORLY CONSTRUCTED PROCESS

The appraisal process itself is often poorly constructed. Problems surface in four ways: * The hit-or-miss approach. Many managers rarely, if ever, prepare for an appraisal. They "play it by ear. " * Confusion about objectives. Often managers are confused about what they should accomplish in the appraisal. They don't realize it is more than a recital of shortcomings-it is an opportunity to instruct, to teach workers how to overcome their shortcomings.

* The only-once-a-year outlook. Many managers think of appraisal as something that happens once a year. They should, of course, think of it as something that goes on all year long. Appraisal should be a day-in, day-out activity. * Overreliance on forms. …

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