Zombie Performance Appraisal

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2017

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Caption: Performance Review, KGB Style

No fan of performance appraisal, I am very much aware that the annual ritual still lurches large in most organizations.
This is so even while there’s no evidence to support the notion it is somehow essential to doing business.
I can even offer personal testimony that productivity in one organization improved after we got rid of Performance Appraisal (PA).
Yet, PA continues.
HR, with a few exceptions, clings to the failed idea and hopes not to eliminate it but to improve it. After all, it is their bread and butter so to speak. It makes for a yearly multi-page document to stick into each employee’s personnel folder. And, that might be considered a sign of HR productivity.
A year ago, NPR reported on the state of PA “Yay, It's Time For My Performance Review! (Said No One Ever)”
and suggested that an increasing number of organizations are questioning the value of PA, at least in its current form.
“What's taking the old system's place? A hodgepodge of experiments, essentially. According to CEB, a corporate research and advisory firm, only 4 percent of HR managers think their system of assessing employees is effective at measuring performance — and 83 percent say their systems need an overhaul.”
Maybe, at long last, questions are being asked:
Is PA really worth the hours involved? Is PA fair? Does fear – "Am I in trouble? Why don't they like me?" – actually inspire the rank and file to higher levels of performance?
Many would respond in the negative to each of these questions.
More to the point, does PA provide a platform for an honest exchange between supervisor and supervisee? Does it allow for an honest and safe discussion of goals, aspirations, and one’s future?
Or, is it more about justifying the PA “system” as applied to the employee. Answering questions like, Why did I get a 7.8 instead of an 8 ranking? Or, What do I need to do to get a 10? What do you mean by “exceeds expectations” vs. “regularly exceeds expectations”? Etc.
Unfortunately, PA lite or improved is sometimes worse than the original classic. Instead of an annual episode, PA now becomes a monthly sit down with reviews of progress toward meeting goals. Essentially in all these discussions, annual or monthly, the individual worker is not trusted to achieve what he or she has said they will do.
Somehow, the perception is that the worker is in need of guidance by a superior. Galling, even for the low performer.
How’s this for a modest proposal? Forget PA, hire managers and leaders who commit to talking with employees and listening to employees, who serve as coaches and advisors (and disciplinarians in those rare cases where the worker has gone astray).
Of course, use factual data in talking about issues, but don’t make it all about metrics. Look at attitude and how the employee is feeling about the job. What is in the way? What could be better?
What risks are you taking? What failures have occurred and what have your learned from them? How would you do something differently?
Of course, if there’s an environment of distrust – as one would expect with decades of rigid PA – it will take some doing to get both parties past defensive behavior, beyond teacher and student roles.
Challenges exist for both sides: “(regular work conversation) demands more time of managers. It can also go too far, making workers feel that everything they say and do is being closely monitored and creating a feeling of being hemmed in.
Ideally, workers should not be too focused on getting high marks on evaluations; they should feel free to experiment and try new things.”

Obviously, the extent of tinkering with PA or preferably, getting rid of it, will depend on the organization’s culture; its tolerance for risk, its encouragement of worker initiative, its allegiance to the way it has always been done, whether it is autocratic or democratic.

b>N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Salem, OR: Ezis Press, comes out end of September 2017, ($26.99) with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
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A Coron Illustration for my "The Proud Blackberry" fable in "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

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