Employee Performance Appraisal System Participation: A Technique That Works

By Roberts, Gary E. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Employee Performance Appraisal System Participation: A Technique That Works


Roberts, Gary E., Public Personnel Management


Performance appraisal is a controversial management tool searching for answers to ubiquitous problems in system design and administration. (1) The main objective of this paper is to succinctly summarize the key elements that make employee performance appraisal participation an essential component of an effective system. Genuine performance appraisal participation is a process that can mitigate many of the dysfunctions of traditional performance appraisal systems as well as engender a more "humane" and ethical human resource management decision-making process. (2)

Critics of performance appraisal present a number of compelling arguments against its use. Anecdotal, empirical and personal experience demonstrates a multitude of problems with appraisal system practices. The main critiques are that individual performance appraisal assumes a false degree of measurement accuracy, engenders dysfunctional employee conflict and competition, assigns an inordinate amount of responsibility for poor performance to individual employees while undervaluing the importance of the overall work process, underemphasizes the importance of the work group, and is often used as a managerial "Theory X" control device. (3) Critics of performance appraisal argue that there is a dearth of valid research to substantiate the claims of supporters. Proponents of performance appraisal argue that many of these negative effects of appraisal are remediable through the application of genuine employee participation. (4)

The overall utility of performance appraisal participation was clearly demonstrated in a recent meta-analysis of 27 studies. (5) Performance appraisal participation was strongly associated with desirable appraisal-related outcomes such as higher levels of appraisal satisfaction and acceptance. (6) Given its demonstrated efficacy, what are the conceptual underpinnings of participation's effectiveness?

Conceptual Foundation

The conceptual base supporting the efficacy of the participatory performance appraisal framework centers upon its cognitive and affective benefits. (7) From a motivational standpoint, employee participation is a key element of intrinsic motivational strategies that facilitate worker growth and development. Intrinsically motivating employment entails jobs that possess task significance, skill variety, task identity (a clear work product), performance feedback and worker autonomy. (8) Employee participation is an effective tool for enhancing job-related autonomy, a necessary precondition for employee growth. Intrinsic motivational approaches clearly communicate trust and confidence in employee abilities. A major moderating factor in the success of participation is the employee's need for growth. Employees who are comfortable with traditional authoritarian management approaches are not directly motivated by increased input, but may value another important attribute of participatory appraisal, employee voice.

Appraisal participation provides employees with voice into the appraisal process. With the presence of employee participation, employees are empowered to rebut ratings, documentation or verbal feedback that they disagree with. (9) If employees are confident in the fairness of the appraisal process, they are more likely to accept performance ratings, even adverse ones, if they perceive a fair decision making process. (10)

The third conceptual foundation derives from the assumption that employees possess valid, unique and relevant performance information and insight that is unavailable or unobservable by the rater. Thus, when employees participate in the appraisal process, the quality and quantity of performance appraisal information increases leading to a more accurate and valid rating. (11)

The fourth factor is that in a participatory appraisal system, the employee attains "ownership" over the process and manifests ego involvement as the ratee manifests a stake in the success of the system, enhancing employee acceptance. …

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