Appraising the Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal is a valued instrument that helps many organizations in helping their employees excel in whatever they do by providing feedback on their performance.  However, according to Patrick Lencioni, author of several best-selling books that include “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” this tool could be more useful and effective if it is detached from compensation and formality.  “Rather, it should be used as a development tool, one that allows employees to identify strengths and weaknesses without any repercussions.”[1]  Many organizations have used performance appraisals and many of them have failed to gain its original intention due to several factors.

Aubrey Daniels, founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates, suggests that the best performance appraisal is the one that is done every day.  “Measurement allows you to see small changes in performance so that you can do things in a timely way to either correct performance or to provide positive reinforcement for improvement or for a job well-done.”[2]  By encouraging employees to do their best every day, a manager or supervisor is banking on the success of the employees that will clearly result in the success of the company.

In spite of many successes performance appraisal has contributed to many organizations, it is still not accepted positively by many other employees.  Peter Kennedy, and Sandy Dresser, in their article “Appraising and Paying for Performance: Another Look at an Age-Old Problem,” wrote the following:

“Why is the basic notion of improving performance through management and appraisal so difficult to successfully implement in practice? The reasons are numerous enough to consume entire text– books on the subject. For the most part, however, they relate to simple human weaknesses: fear, pride, impatience, lack of candor or discipline, procrastination and poor communication skills. But most of all, even reasonable people don’t necessarily agree. We don’t come to the appraisal process with the same expectations. Each of us brings with us our own set of values and beliefs, with resulting differences in what we deem acceptable, outstanding, marginal or, dare we say it, just plain old good.”[3]

Among the many complaints against performance appraisal, Kennedy and Dresser point that appraisals take too much time, are too subjective, are all the same, make distinctions without a real difference, are not timely enough, belittle people, ignore the system and are used for too many purposes that often conflict.[4]

On the other hand, Daniels even states that some large companies battle class action lawsuits that claim performance appraisals as discriminatory.  This is so because most of these large corporations fire the lowest scoring employees based on performance appraisals.  Some of these companies offer nice severance pays to those employees to avoid lawsuits.  However, Daniels adds that in an unprecedented irony, “A large bank was sued by an employee who claimed that he was a poorer performer than someone who had been terminated. His suit claimed that he deserved the ‘firing bonus.’”[5]  This clearly means that one defining word in utilizing the performance appraisal will determine whether it will become beneficial or not, i.e. objective.  If performance appraisals are utilized to give feedback to employees with an objective of suggesting rooms of improvement for personal development, and organizational productivity, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be accepted by employees.

Several authors have suggested ways to improve the utilization of performance appraisals.  John M. Barry, Director of Mecklenburg Department of Environmental Protection in Charlotte, North Carolina, explains about performance management:

“Good performance management begins and continues with the employee’s clear understanding of what is expected. Not only is this critical to relieving anxiety and apprehension, but it can begin to build self-confidence and high expectations. Employees must have confidence in their work and know that management supports them. Managers must be willing to listen to employees and provide support without removing responsibility.”[6]

This means that if there is a mutual agreement and confidence between the manager and the employee, performance management can be useful and beneficial to an organization.  Its success relies more than the employees’ understanding; their expectation that the management is behind them is also crucial.

Carter McNamara in his article “Basics of Conducting Performance Appraisals,” reinforces what Daniels has suggested.  “Note that if the supervisor has been doing a good job supervising, then nothing should be surprising to the employee during the appraisal. Any performance issues should have been conveyed when they occurred, so nothing should be a surprise in the review meeting.”[7]

Another tool that provides performance feedback in which upon careful utilization could yield successful results is the 360-degree feedback.  It is a set of questionnaire that is to be filled out by the employee appraised, the supervisor, and several peers, and subordinates.  According to a 1997 study of the American Society for Training and Development, evidence shows that the multi-rater 360-degree feedback tool can be quite successful is coupled with one-on-one coaching.[8]

New Jersey-based Tool Pack Consulting suggests that in utilizing 360-degree feedbacks, training for the managers and the ratees is necessary.  It also indicates that if the employees are involved in the designing of whatever performance appraisal system, they may be dedicated to it.  Tool Pack Consulting also agrees with Lencioni that the appraisals should not be done for “raises, promotions, or bonuses, but for growth, development, and communication.”  It further adds, “The most important aspect in every case is communication between the employee and other people, instead of one-way communication, for higher performance.”[9]

Following the many suggestions listed here, managers can perform effective appraisals by detaching reward/penalty from it; establishing clear expectations; establishing mutual respect, and understanding with the employee; listening; and by “giving the meeting the preparation, and priority it deserves – the same as you would expect for your own personal appraisal with your manager.”[10]

Lastly, clearly define “paths to success, and improvement” prior to start of the appraisal so when there is a need to improve less than satisfactory performance, the employee, through the manager’s coaching, already has different options on how to do it.  Performance appraisal is only a tool in helping employees succeed.  It doesn’t end there.  It even never stops.  Once the employee has improved on areas that were subject to the result of the performance appraisal, the manager’s coaching continues on.  Giving positive feedback and enforcement, when done regularly in a constructive manner, is like water and sunshine that nourish the motivation of a deserving employee.

On my next article or blog, I will share with you a few practical tips as you prepare to write a performance appraisal report. I will also share with you a system I have created that allowed me to transform a performance appraisal session into an annual celebration of each employee’s accomplishments. The title is “How to Write a Winning Performance Appraisal Report: Helping Your Star Performers Build Up a Successful Year.

“A happy employee is a productive employee.  How true, how true!  Morale may not be everything, but it is an important factor in high productivity.”[11]


[1] Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Jossey-Bass Publishing, San Francisco, CA, 2002, p.200.

[2] Aubrey C. Daniels, “Appraising the Performance Appraisal,” Entrepreneur.com.

[3] Peter Kennedy, Sandy Grogan Dresser, “Appraising and paying for Performance: Another Look at an Age-Old Problem,” Employee Benefits Journal, Dec2001, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p8, 7p

[4] Ibid.

[5] Daniels, op. cit.

[6] John M. Barry, “Performance Management:  A Case Study,” Journal of Environmental Health, Nov. 1997, Vo. 60 Issue 4, p.35 5p

[7] Carter McNamara, “Basics of Conducting Performance Appraisals,” Managementhelp.org

[8] Robert Bookman, “Tools for Cultivating Constructive Feedback,” Association Management, February 1999, Vol. 51 Issue 2, p73, 5p

[9] Tool Pack Consulting, “Alternative Performance Reviews,” Toolpack.com/performance.html

[10] “How To Do an Employee Appraisal,” Visitorinfo.com/gallery/howapp.htm

[11] J. M. Barry, ibid.

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One thought on “Appraising the Performance Appraisal

  1. Pingback: How to Write a Winning Performance Appraisal Report: A Strategy in Transforming a Subordinate Into a Co-Author | Just James

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