This article throws light upon the top five goals of performance appraisal.
The critical incident appraisal appears to be ideal for this purpose, if supervisors can be convinced they should take the time to look for, and record, significant events. Time delays, however, are a major drawback to this technique and should be kept as short as possible.
Still, over the longer term, a supervisor will gain a better knowledge of his own performance standards, including his possible biases, as he reviews the incidents he has recorded. He may even decide to change or re-weight his own criteria.
Another technique that is useful for coaching purposes is, of course, MBO. Like the critical incident method, it focuses on actual behavior and actual results, which can be discussed objectively and constructively, with little or no need for a supervisor to “play God.”
The MBO approach, if it involves real participation, appears to be most likely to lead to an inner commitment to improved performance. However, the work-standards approach can also motivate, although in a more coercive way.
If organizations want to meet their work standards, the work force is reduced and people are compelled to work harder. The former technique is more “democratic,” while the latter technique is more “autocratic.” Both can be effective; both make use of specific work goals or targets, and both provide for knowledge of results.
If performance appraisal information is to be communicated to subordinates, either in writing or in an interview, the two most effective techniques are the management-by-objectives approach and the critical incident method. The latter, by communicating not only factual data but also the flavor of a supervisor’s own values and biases can be effective in an area where objective work standards or quantitative goals are not available.
Most decisions involving employees require a comparison of people doing very different kinds of work. In this respect, the more specifically job-related techniques like management by objectives or work standards are not appropriate, or, if used, must be supplemented by less restricted methods.
For promotion to supervisory positions, the forced-choice rating form, if carefully developed and validated, could prove best. But the difficulty and cost of developing such a form and the resistance of raters to its use render it impractical except in large organizations.
Companies faced with the problem of selecting promotable men from a number of departments or divisions might consider using an assessment center. This minimizes the bias resulting from differences in departmental “visibility” and enlarges the pool of potential promotables.
The best appraisal method for most other management decisions will probably involve a very simple kind of graphic form or a combined graphic and essay form. If this is supplemented by the use of field reviews, it will be measurably strengthened.
Following the individual appraisals, groups of supervisors should then be asked to rank the people they have rated, using a technique like alternation ranking or paired comparison. Pooled or averaged rankings will then tend to cancel out the most extreme forms of bias and should yield fair and valid order-of-merit lists.
Comparison of people for promotion purposes has already been discussed. However, identification of training and development needs will probably best -and most simply- come from the essay part of the combined graphic/essay rating form recommended for the previous goal.
For this goal, the simplest form is the best form. A graphic/essay combination is adequate for most reference purposes. But order-of-merit salary rankings should be used to develop criterion groups of good and poor performers.
Formal systems for appraising performance are neither worthless nor evil, as some critics have implied: or are they panaceas, as many managers might wish. A formal appraisal system is, at the very least, a commendable attempt to make visible, and hence improvable, a set of essential organization activities.
Personal judgments about employee performance are inescapable, and subjective values and fallible human perception are always involved. Formal appraisal systems, to the degree that they bring these perceptions and values into the open, make it possible for at least some of the inherent bias and error to be recognized and remedied.
By improving the probability that good performance will be recognized and rewarded and poor performance corrected, a sound appraisal system can contribute both to organizational morale and organizational performance.
Moreover, the alternative to a bad appraisal program need not be no appraisal program at all, as some critics have suggested. It can and ought to be a better appraisal program. And the first step in that direction is a thoughtful matching of practice to purpose.
i. Uncouple Evaluation and Development:
Many appraisal systems inadvertently force the mixing of the roles of judge and helper. The open problem-solving dialogue required for building a relationship and developing subordinates should be scheduled at a different time than the meeting in which the supervisor informs the subordinate about his overall evaluation and its implications for important rewards.
ii. Choose Appropriate Performance Data:
The behavior rating scale, the critical-incident methods, and various MBO techniques usefully guide the appraisal discussion toward reviewing specific task behaviors or accomplishments feedback which is both less threatening and more helpful to the person who wants to improve performance. A comprehensive performance management system might include MBO and behavioral ratings which are, respectively, a means of managing what and how of employee task-related behaviors.
iii. Separate Evaluations of Performance and Potential:
Current performance, as measured by the attainment of results, is not necessarily correlated with potential for promotion. Separation of assessments of performance and potential militates against the superior’s averaging his unconscious assessment of these qualities and increases the likelihood of a constructive, non-defensive dialogue.
iv. Recognize Individual Differences in System Design:
Persons differ in their needs for performance evaluation and development, e.g., persons high in “nach” may require more frequent performance feedback. Within permissible bounds, appraisal policies should permit managers to use different methods depending on the particular employee being appraised.
v. Upward Appraisal:
One way to mitigate the inhibitions of the superior-subordinate power imbalance is to ask subordinates to appraise their supervisor; this allows influencing their environment, and may increase motivation to enter the appraisal process openly; provides the supervisor an opportunity to “model” the non-defensive behavior essential to a real dialogue.