The majority of organizations today claim they have a performance appraisal system in place.  The procedures and documentation are carefully designed and circulated every quarter or half year. Managers line up interviews with their staff. Sometimes people are asked to complete self assessments before their appraisal interviews.

Afterwards, the data is collected and analysed to identify training needs, and to provide a basis for planning how to deal with people who have talent; and with those who have not.

On the surface everything seems fine. But when you dig a little deeper, you find that managers, employees and the human resources people have little good to say about performance appraisal.

Employees, for whose benefit it is ostensibly designed, say it’s unfair.  They feel managers make up their minds about the outcome of appraisals before the interviews even take place, and give employees little opportunity to raise problems or  discuss issues. They notice that managers focus more on recent events and what has gone wrong, than they do on positive feedback for what has gone well.

Employees also find it unfair that they can be given positive performance appraisal feedback but poor rewards in the form of salary increments and bonuses. They also notice when people who have performed badly are rewarded more or less the same as those who have been told they have done well.

Managers complain that the documentation is too complex and the whole process too time consuming.  In order to balance their ongoing workload with tight deadlines for completion of appraisals, they line up interviews back to back with the aim of completing the whole business as painlessly as possible.  They avoid discussion of difficult topics, such as poor performance or bad attitudes: and they skirt around critical feedback when they face employees who are argumentative or defensive.

Managers generally say that they dread performance appraisal time. Their employees usually agree with them.

Human resource people aren’t happy with the process either.  They find themselves held to account for the quality of the data it produces, but have little control over the quality of the inputs provided by managers and employees. As a result, they are left with poor quality data on which to base personnel decisions such as promotions and transfers.

None of these problems is insurmountable and most can be resolved by careful design of a performance appraisal process and then by training managers in how to apply it.  Used effectively it can transform the level at which people perform as well as their future development. Giving up on it is not an option.

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