What is it about Performance Appraisal?

Such a good idea, and we run it off the rails.


What comes to mind when you think about “performance evaluations?” Or “performance measurement”?

If you’re like most people, what you are thinking of right now is not very pleasant. Performance evaluation ishard to do. Even though it is a fundamental part of a manager’s job, it will never be comfortable or routine. The process is all about judging people, and no amount of streamlining or design is going to change that.

At its core, a performance appraisal is intended to evaluate how a person is doing in her job with a view to helping her improve. This seems like such a beneficial and reasonable idea, especially when creating the conditions for individual improvement lines up with the broader strategic objectives of the organization. Then everybody wins, at least in theory.

Most performance measurement systems try to accomplish multiple tasks, which can lead to confusion if not well understood and skillfully executed. This list often includes:

  • Performance feedback
  • Inputs to the reward systems (compensation and promotion)
  • Review of the appraisee’s potential for professional development
  • Documentation for any centralized reporting that HR may do
  • Raw material for any coaching the manager may do with the team member

This is a lot to accomplish in a single, yearly interaction, even though there is considerable connectedness among many of these tasks. And then there are things like motivation, counseling, retention, discipline, and firing, all of which can also be loaded into the mix from time to time.

Much has been written about the difficulties with performance appraisal in our organizations, so I am not going to pile on. There are, however, three interrelated obstacles that I see as at the top of the heap: burdensome administrative systems, rater capability, and participant resistance or apathy.

There is a way out of this, and it won’t be easy. So many managers and supervisors, particularly at large institutions, have embedded systems and processes that can’t be shifted. So, starting small is one way to get things going.

What I have in mind is a focus on the conversation. This is the one component that the manager and appraisee can influence to meet their needs.

My posts next week will look at ways to shape the way to talk about performance.