Why Are We Ignoring Performance Appraisal Research?

By Glover, Regina B. | Parks & Recreation, November 1996 | Go to article overview

Why Are We Ignoring Performance Appraisal Research?


Glover, Regina B., Parks & Recreation


To establish the employee's voice in performance appraisal, managers need to include three factors: participation, behavioral-based criteria, and employee feedback.

Performance evaluation is one of the most widely researched management practices, and yet, it continues to be a major source of frustration for managers. Performance appraisal is not a new phenomenon. The graphic rating scale was introduced in 1922 to industry in the United States and performance appraisal research began in the early 1940s. Early work focused on the accuracy of the instrument and rating techniques. This research produced behaviorally anchored scales (BARS), behavioral expectancy scales (BES) and behavioral observation scales (BOS) (Murphy and Cleveland, 1995).

Probably the greatest influence on performance appraisal was the decision by the courts in the 1970s that performance appraisals are indeed tests and thus subject to the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As the courts dictated closer attention to performance appraisal, so, too, did those involved in performance appraisal research. In 1980, a landmark review and evaluation of performance appraisal literature was published which changed the direction of performance appraisal research (Landy and Farr, 1980). Since then, greater attention has been given to the role of the rater and to the organizational "context" of performance appraisal. However, even with the volume of research available, it appears little of the research is actually being put into practice by managers.

Status of Performance Appraisal

Today, over 15 million individuals work in the public sector (one in six jobs) and another five-10 million work in the non-profit sector (Daley, 1995). If we look at municipalities nationwide, we see that one in four do not have a formal performance appraisal system (Roberts, 1994a). Those with city manager forms of government are more likely (86%) than others (64.9%) to have performance appraisal systems. There are also geographic differences for municipalities, as 80% of the Pacific, Western and, Southern states have a performance appraisal system in contrast to 34.7% of Eastern states. Municipalities use their performance appraisal systems to provide feedback for the employee (94%), to support information for discharge or demotion of an employee (93%), to determine merit pay (87%), and to make training decisions (85%). The most often cited reasons for not having performance appraisal systems are lack of expertise and lack of technical resources (Roberts, 1994b).

Research in the private sector provides an even stronger picture of performance appraisal practices today. By far, the most common method of appraisal is the graphic rating scale. The ever popular "Management By Objectives" (MBO) is still most often used to evaluate managers (Bretz, Milkovich and Read, 1992).

The vast majority of appraisal ratings come from the immediate supervisor despite research support for using self, peer and subordinate ratings (Daley, 1995). Not surprisingly, a 1986 study concluded that as the number of sources used increases, so, too, does the accuracy of the performance information (Stone and Stone, 1986). It is important to remember that the employee can be a key source of information. Employees prefer ratings by supervisors, peers and self over those by subordinates (Jordan and Nasis, 1992).

Appraisal Process

To establish the employee's voice in performance appraisal, managers need to include three factors: participation, behavioral-based criteria, and employee feedback. Participation is important because it gives the employee some control over their work and it also carries symbolic importance as it connotates fairness. Behavioral criteria more easily allow both the supervisor and the employee to identify specific results. In the appraisal interview itself, it is important to not only allow employees to have the chance to offer comments on their evaluation, but also to go a step beyond and to have a discussion about career issues for the employee (Nathan, Mohrman and Milliman, 1991). …

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