A Review, an Integration, and a Critique of Cross-Disciplinary Research on Performance Appraisals, Evaluations, and Feedback: 1980-1990

By Wanguri, Deloris McGee | The Journal of Business Communication, July 1995 | Go to article overview

A Review, an Integration, and a Critique of Cross-Disciplinary Research on Performance Appraisals, Evaluations, and Feedback: 1980-1990


Wanguri, Deloris McGee, The Journal of Business Communication


Communication within the typical organization takes many forms, and its dimensions include communication climate, supervisor communication, media quality, horizontal communication, organizational integration, personal feedback, organizational perspective, top management communication, and subordinate communication. These nine dimensions are also related to communication satisfaction within the workplace and ultimately to job satisfaction and job performance. Moreover, research has reflected that three of these aspects - supervisor communication (refers to one's immediate supervisor and includes areas such as openness to ideas and listening), communication climate (refers to the communication environment on organizational and personal levels), and personal feedback (refers to what an individual knows about how his or her performance is being judged) - are most strongly related to both job satisfaction and performance (Pincus, 1986).

In acknowledging these relationships, one begins to recognize that performance appraisals and the media through which they are transmitted are inherently communicative in nature and that they are essential elements in creating a positive work environment. Organizational communication scholars view this process as a microlevel information flow that occurs within the boundaries of most formal organizations in the United States; many practitioners, on the other hand, view it as a necessary evil in institutional and corporate life. Regardless of one's perspective, however, it is a fixture that shows no signs of disappearing from formal organizations. Because it is one of the most pervasive and necessary phenomena in the workplace, it continues to demand the attention of researchers and practitioners alike. Given the importance and prominence of the performance appraisal process within the workplace, this essay seeks (1) to review and integrate cross-disciplinary empirical research published between 1980 and 1990 on the topic of performance appraisals, evaluations, and feedback in general; (2) to cull from this research those studies that focus specifically on communication phenomena within this process; and (3) to critique this literature and offer suggestions for future research.

A Historical Perspective

In 1984, Edward E. Lawler III, Allan M. Mohrman Jr., and Susan M. Resnick wrote:

At least two perspectives must be accounted for in assessing any performance appraisal system. There is (1) the effectiveness of the system as judged by the management or the appraisers and there is (2) the effectiveness of the system as judged by the subordinate employees or the appraisees. Ideally, performance appraisals should meet the needs of both. . . . Although increased interest in performance appraisals has led to a great deal of research, much of it has focused only on the mechanics of measurement and the appraisal forms. Research, for example, has compared the advantages of five-point versus seven-point scales and of behaviorally anchored rating scales versus management by objectives system, and so on. For years we have suspected that research focusing on the form itself and on the mechanics of appraisal is missing many important issues involved in designing and managing performance appraisal systems (pp. 21-22).

However, attention to the three principal components of the performance review process - the rating instrument, the rater, and the ratee - appears to have struck more of a balance by the end of the 1980's. A survey of current literature reveals an abundance of empirical investigations of all three dimensions of this organizational communication phenomenon.

Review of Literature

A review of the literature was conducted using the following sources: (1) Personnel Management Abstracts (1980-1990), (2) Index to Journals in Communication Studies through 1990/Volume II, and (3) Communication Abstracts (1980-1990). Articles included in this review of literature met the following criteria: (1) They were referenced in one of the preceding indices under the heading of performance appraisal, performance evaluation, or performance feedback; (2) they were empirical in nature, designating a specific sample and data analysis (no theoretical articles or commentaries were included); and (3) they were accessible (some of the journals, such as the Asia Pacific HRM, Pakistan Management Review, and Human Resources Management Australia, were inaccessible). …

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