Public Sector Performance Appraisal Effectiveness: A Case Study

By Longenecker, Clinton O.; Nykodym, Nick | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Public Sector Performance Appraisal Effectiveness: A Case Study


Longenecker, Clinton O., Nykodym, Nick, Public Personnel Management


Performance appraisal is perceived to be a critical human resource management function in most organizations in the U.S. Research estimates that over 90% of all large private sector organizations in this country employ some form of systematic employee appraisal and review.(1) At the same time, the number of public sector organizations employing the formal appraisal process continues to steadily increase.(2) This article will explore the potential benefits and problems associated with performance appraisal in the public sector and discuss ways to improve this pervasive practice.

In recent years, widespread attention has been paid to the role of the formal appraisal process because of the belief that an effectively designed and implemented appraisal system can provide the employee, the manager, and the organization with a host of positive benefits. The literature on performance appraisal generally concludes that the appraisal process can: 1) provide managers with a useful communication tool for employee goal setting and performance planning; 2) increase employee motivation and productivity; 3) facilitate discussions concerning employee growth and development; 4) provide a solid basis for wage and salary administration; and 5) provide data for a host of human resource decisions.(3)

The problems associated with the design, implementation, and operation of formal performance appraisal systems are well documented, and they continue to frustrate both academics and practitioners alike. Researchers have concluded that there is no such thing as an "ideal" appraisal format and system. Every organization must design an appraisal instrument and process that supports the organizational goals that it wishes to accomplish.(4) In addition, participant acceptance of an organization's performance appraisal system is perceived to be a critical factor in appraisal effectiveness.(5)

Further research suggests that having a technically sound appraisal system and procedure is no guarantee that an organization's appraisal process will be effective.(6) Managers and subordinates must have a shared perception of the purposes and functions of the process and the belief that the appraisal process is useful to them on an individual basis.(7) To this end, an effective appraisal system is one that satisfies the needs of the parties involved in the process.(8) In addition, an effective appraisal system requires that managers not only have the skills necessary to conduct the appraisals, but also the willingness to do so.(9)

Serious questions have been raised concerning the functions actually served by the appraisal process.(10) Are formal appraisals worth all the time and effort devoted to them? What do public sector organizations actually accomplish in conducting formal appraisals? The functions effectively served by the appraisal process are a source of continuing debate as academics seek to better understand the appraisal process while practitioners seek ways to increase appraisal effectiveness.

Research has found that employees react more favorably to the appraisal process when it satisfied their needs and included an opportunity to state their position; when factors on which they were being evaluated were job-related; and when objectives and plans were discussed openly.(11) Managers and subordinates do not always agree on what constitutes an effective appraisal. When managers and subordinates have a shared understanding of the purpose of the appraisal as well as each party's role in the appraisal, the subordinate's acceptance of the appraisal is increased.(12)

Both research and organizational practice suggest, however, that managers and subordinates have different needs and expectations regarding the appraisal event. Research strongly indicates that the manager's (rater) purpose, intentions, and perceptions of the rating process may differ significantly from those of the subordinate (ratee).(13) In a recent study conducted in a medium-sized organization, researchers found that managers and subordinates differed significantly in their perceptions of both the role and effectiveness of the appraisal process on such key issues as: the purpose of the appraisal process; the level of fairness; the link between pay and performance; honesty of communication; completeness of feedback; means to improve the manager-subordinate relationship; and the extent to which an appraisal lets subordinates know where they stand. …

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