In Praise of Performance Appraisals
H. James Harrington
Executives and business gurus
continue to debate the merits of performance appraisals
within organizations. Point 12 of W. Edwards Deming's 14
points even suggests they're harmful: "Remove barriers
that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the
annual rating or merit system."
I don't believe Deming really meant that providing feedback
to employees was wrong; rather, he simply hadn't observed
a well-running process.
Certainly, providing feedback to employees is one of the
mentoring responsibilities of every manager.
I've also heard Deming state that poor performance isn't
the employee's fault but the system's. Again, this statement
could be considered both true and false. The processes of
which an employee is part have a major impact upon the individual's
performance. On the other hand, when two people work within
the same process and one accomplishes a great deal more
than the other, something other than the process is likely
the root cause of the discrepancy. The difference in their
performance could be because of their motivation, education,
concentration or way they organize their work.
Given Deming's views, I wonder if his students were simply
given "pass" or "fail" grades. I know
I'd be reluctant to hire a person if all I could find out
about him or her was that he or she graduated from George
Washington University with a degree in economics. I look
for the valedictorians, not the ones who just squeezed by.
After 40 years as a manager, I've found that people who
don't like to be measured are poor performers. The good
ones want to be measured, and if their manager doesn't do
it, they'll develop a way to measure themselves--which might
not be in line with the organization's goals. We've all
heard the saying, "What gets measured, gets done."
I was once told by an assembly worker, "If it isn't
measured, management doesn't care about it."
Performance appraisals aren't merely a good concept; they're
a critical element of a manager's mentoring responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the manner in which appraisals are conducted
often negates any good that's in them. Too often, the yearly
performance appraisal is a summary of all the negative things
a manager has accumulated in his or her little black book.
It's seen as an opportunity to confront an employee with
all the bad things he or she did, and which the manager
didn't have time to talk about when they occurred. "In
this letter you misspelled Mr. Van de Burg's last name."
"At the product control meeting on Aug. 5, you presented
inaccurate data." "On Jan. 16, you were out all
day and didn't call in."
Performance appraisals are supposed to spur improved performance,
not humiliate the employee. They're not a total performance
appraisal system; they're just the last step in a cycle.
The cycle typically begins 12 months before the formal performance
appraisal when the employee and manager sit down to prepare
a performance plan for the coming year. The employee should
always contribute to setting the requirements for his or
her job and defining the company's idea of successfully
completing it. This is a very important step in the process
because it ensures that the employee understands his or
her responsibilities. Each task should be defined in terms
that are measurable in one or more of the following categories:
Quality of the end result
Cost vs. value of the end result
Adherence to committed schedules
Ask yourself and the employee, "How will we know
that this particular objective has been accomplished and
how well it was accomplished?" This questioning forces
both you and the employee to think in terms of results.
Then establish with the employee an understanding of what
meets the requirements for the task and what would be needed
to exceed requirements.
The performance plan should be customized to the individual
and the job. It might simply consist of three columns with
the following headings at the top and the rest of the form
left blank to be filled in by the employee's manager:
Typically, the plan's definition of what meets performance
requirements focuses on the specific job description as
it applies to the specific task the individual is assigned
to accomplish. Performance plans should always be written
to reflect "meets performance requirements" because
that's all the organization can require from an individual.
This approach allows the individual and management the opportunity
to document tasks that exceed the "meets performance
requirements" standard. Once the employee and manager
mutually agree upon the performance standard, the mentoring
process can begin.
An effective performance evaluation contributes to higher
morale, increased profitability and increased job satisfaction.
As William J. Weisz, COO of Motorola Inc., has said, "Our
experience to date underscores the perception that if we
set high expectations and give people the support and opportunity
they need, they can achieve."
H. James Harrington has more than 45 years of experience
as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books.
Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com.
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