Performance Appraisal: Maintaining System Effectiveness

By Martin, David C.; Bartol, Kathryn M. | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Performance Appraisal: Maintaining System Effectiveness


Martin, David C., Bartol, Kathryn M., Public Personnel Management


The introduction of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures and Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 ushered in an era of heightened concern regarding appraisal issues. Although a great deal has been written in such areas as appraisal techniques, rater cognitive processes and situational influences on appraisals, relatively little attention has focused on maintaining a performance appraisal system after it has been implemented.(1) Keeping a performance appraisal system responsive to the needs of an organization is particularly important as many significant personnel decisions are based on system output.

This article draws on relevant research and considers current major issues in framing suggestions for maintaining a performance appraisal system.(2) Collectively the major actions required to maintain a performance appraisal system can be divided into three major categories: controlling the system, monitoring the system and furnishing feedback to those who use the system.

Controlling the System

Controlling the performance appraisal system requires the coordination of all facets of the system. This function is normally assigned to the personnel staff. Among the many responsibilities are ensuring that rating periods are established, the proper rating techniques (such as management by objectives (MBO) and behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS)) are used for each employee's evaluation, performance appraisal training is conducted for raters and ratees, the performance appraisal system is operated in a legally defensible manner, performance appraisal reviews are conducted on time and the results of the performance appraisal process are properly linked to the programs dependent on them (merit pay, promotion, employee development and others).

Rating periods are usually annual. Some organizations use the employee's date of hire as the beginning/ending date for the annual rating period. Other organizations use specified beginning/ending dates to designate the rating period for all employees, or all employees at a particular pay grade or level. It is usually easier to collect the completed forms using the latter method because all members of the organization (or a subset thereof) are focused on completing performance appraisals at a particular time.(3)

The performance appraisal should be based on the specific tasks the employee accomplishes or fails to accomplish, and where appropriate, the behaviors identified as necessary to perform the job during the rating period. Thus the rating technique, or combination of techniques, used by the organization should provide a measurement of the employee's job performance that is as accurate as possible.(4)

Effective training in the performance appraisal system should include the role of the organization, rarer and ratee, as well as how the results are to be used.(5) The performance appraisal system should include provisions for written, individual standards of performance known to the employee. Where possible the individual should participate in establishing these standards prior to the beginning of the rating period.

Recent research in the area of procedural justice suggests that fairness should underlie all actions and decisions concerning employee performance, including the use of the performance appraisal ratings. Employees should participate in establishing individual goals. Where possible, a self rating mechanism can be helpful in enhancing mutual understanding of the employee's performance and in setting expectations for the next rating period.(6) An appeals procedure is important for giving employees an opportunity to express their opinions and concerns about how the performance appraisal system is operating.(7) Two problems have been identified with appeals procedures: workers fear reprisals from supervisors if they report them for unfair treatment and the organization is more likely to support the supervisor than the employee in making a final decision. …

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