Last Gasp*: How Annual Performance Appraisal Keeps on, Keepin’ on.

Posted by jlubans on May 13, 2019


The BBC offers us the latest on performance appraisal (PA): it is “…extremely costly and ha(s) no impact on productivity”.
Overall, “A soul-crushing enterprise.”
Echoes of W. E. Deming! You may recall his frank assessment:
“(PA) builds fear, demolishes teamwork… leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, and dejected.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the second decade of the second millennium, and some 80% of companies still use formal performance appraisal.
In justification, they trot out the usual HR excuses: appraisals “aren’t all bad.”
And, PA provides “a macro-view of performance and engagement levels across the company”. To whom? I have to ask. What exactly is a “macro-view”? And, can you get it only by filling out a form with a required six signatures?
My experience with PA is hardly unique. In keeping with the pervasive negative workplace view, my organization’s efforts at PA were self-serving, skewed, politicized and so dreadedly ritualistic they had nothing to do with organizational effectiveness.
All too often, bean counter-type managers like pointing to someone’s numerical ranking as a way to justify how the bean counter treats that worker or the BCs myopic view of worker motivation; always external.
If PA is shown to have no impact on productivity, the pro-PA manager always wants more.
If a 20-point scale produces mediocre results, hell, a 40 pointer will do much better! Dream on.
In my halcyon days I eliminated PA entirely for five years. In my direct-report departments (some 100 staff), productivity skyrocketed.
I, of course, was out on the floor, talking to people daily, bouncing around ideas, fielding questions as to how things were going and what needed changing.
One of the most belabored excuses for PA is that it makes compulsory a manager’s having an annual “conversation” with his or her reports.
IOW, normally, they would not talk with their staff! You’ve heard it: “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing OK.”
Maybe the folks in the corner office need to find out why any manager has to be forced to have those conversations.
In HR eyes, this mandatory conversation is essential so that companies are not “vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t have a (documented) way to justify decisions.”
Eliminating formal performance appraisal allows more time for employee advising, coaching and disciplining. "No PA" gives a supervisor and an employee more time to talk about what really matters.
In my case, if guidance was needed, they got it. I could have done better on the discipline end but still most people – the “mighty middle” - continued to do a good to very good job and some were liberated.
Our “No PA” approach let the liberated do bigger and better things. And a few did, becoming star performers.
Alas, my halcyon days came to an end and PA came back with boots on. It still is goin’ on, long after I’d “left the building”.
Innovation was replaced by “tradition” (the hierarchy). Tradition requires PA along with other top-down, tidy organizational controls.
If you are thinking of dropping PA, what will you do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of gained prime time hours?
Want a boost in productivity and job satisfaction? Dump PA.

*See my:
The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Zombie Performance Appraisal
And for a bit of humor on an un-fun topic:
Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:

Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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