Employee Appraisals, the Electronic Way

By McCune, Jenny | Management Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Employee Appraisals, the Electronic Way


McCune, Jenny, Management Review


Software programs can improve the pace and quality of your employee-performance reviews.

October used to be better-known for tricks rather than treats at Adaptec. The company, located in Milpitas, Calif., is a maker of hardware and software specifically designed to expedite the flow of information from computers to peripherals. In addition to celebrating Halloween,

October was the month when appraisals for the company's 2,000 employees were due.

Working for a high-flying, fast-growth technology company, Adaptec managers didn't have time to do a good job with the evaluations. "They would check off the appropriate boxes, but they would never put in any comments or descriptions," explains Rick Olivieri, Adaptec's director of compensation benefits and HR information systems.

Olivieri reasoned that technology could help the process, so he started searching for what he calls the Holy Grail of HR software, a program that would help the average manager put together a more comprehensive performance review in less time. Olivieri believes he found it in the guise of Austin-Hayne's employee Appraiser. Despite Adaptec's growth--its head count increases by 35 percent annually--Olivieri's wish has come true. "Managers are turning in better reviews, and it's taking them less time--one hour instead of four or five" the manager says.

More than 28 million U.S. managers grapple with employee performance reviews, says KnowledgePoint, another California software player in the market. The Petaluma-based company estimates that by 2001, between 4 million and 6 million managers will be using people-management software to assist them with routine HR tasks, including employee evaluations.

Currently, the three market leaders in the field are Austin-Hayne's Employee Appraiser, Avantos ReviewWriter and KnowledgePoint's Performance Now! Their stand-alone versions run between $80 and $119 and network versions are available at a higher cost. Some of the leading HR software companies bundle performance evaluation models in with their larger-scale programs.

All three work in a similar manner, but one of the best is Employee Appraiser. Each program walks a supervisor through the evaluation process. Navigating them is no more difficult than using a word processor since all three borrow from conventions associated with Windows-based word processors. Getting up to speed is easier if you are used to working in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect or AmiPro.

These programs then help you set up a form with details including the employee's name, position and date of last evaluation. Following this, you scroll through the setup to find the appropriate type of appraisal--specific to a sales representative, clerical assistant or customer service manager. For each appraisal, the three programs offer a suggested write-up for each performance criterion. A personnel evaluator can pick and choose what boilerplate to use.

Along the way, the programs also advise on the program's operation and on HR issues. All three programs offer to check for problematic language. If you use old in a sentence, for example, the program will ask you to review the material to make sure that you are not discriminating against someone because of age. In addition, they all include tools that enable you to make their generic form look like, or contain the same performance criteria as, the company's homegrown form. Finally, they include a section where you can jot down comments about individuals throughout the year so you won't come up blank when it's time to evaluate the employee's performance.

These programs won't replace a manager's sharp eye in appraising subordinates, but they do help in the writing process. "The software gives you something instead of a blank sheet of paper. It helps you to organize your thoughts and prepare yourself to review someone's performance," Olivieri says.

Following are individual writeups for each of the programs:

Avantos ReviewWriter

This program offered the most in professional advice but was the most difficult to navigate, in part because it was hard to find the program's tutorial (if it had one). …

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