If you often read books about performance appraisals, management, and soft skill development, maybe you will not find a lot of new things here. My intention is to write down all that I have experienced about performance appraisals in my role as a developer, analyst, team leader, manager, scrum master, and coach.
I also intend to share with you my work in the last 5 or 6 years related to how to finish with traditional performance appraisals as you know them today. I will not be able to write a novel or a best seller, but I will write a few helpful blog posts. Let’s start with this first post about the subject, and a little bit of context. I will try to avoid a BIG post.
In this process, I really need your feedback to know if you are interested in this. Like many bloggers, I am doing this in my free time, and with the support of my family. I am only asking you to give your feedback. If the feedback is negative, fine, it is still good feedback. It will allow me to improve or find another subject where I can add value to your organization/life. If the feedback is positive, it will be a boost of motivation for me. Don’t be shy, share your thoughts and feedback.
A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge. – Peter Drucker
Let’s start with a Wikipedia definition of “performance appraisal”:
A performance appraisal (PA), also referred to as a performance review, performance evaluation, (career) development discussion, or employee appraisal is a method by which the job performance of an employee is documented and evaluated. Performance appraisals are a part of career development and consist of regular reviews of employee performance within organizations.
You can find a few more definitions in books or through an internet search engine, but with the same spirit.
Some time ago, after years of doing traditional evaluations, performance reports, and acting as a performance judge, I decided to do something different. I started questioning “why” I was playing the role of judge. I hate it.
My first answer to the question was: “Human resources asked me for that.” It was easy, but I was not happy with this answer. So, I started to question some practices in the HR department, but I was not very successful. I tried to understand why HR needed this process. This is when I started to hear what everyone can read in any book or survey about traditional performance appraisals. I will not name them all, or explain them in depth, because all are very well documented and I don’t like to be repetitive.
Here are few of the things I heard during my discussion with the organization about using individual performance appraisals:
- Giving feedback to employees. Appraisals are said to provide continuing feedback to employees about their performance. Providing feedback is great, but I asked, “What do you mean by continue?” Is it giving feedback every 12 or 6 months? Those are the most common timelines I know. More importantly, if somebody does something wrong or very good, should I wait to apply correction or to reinforce the behavior?
- Evaluating employees. Here, I have grouped these:
- Establishes measurable performance standards
- Accurately measures performance
- Compares performance with performance standards
- Promoting people. Yeah! People take the last 2 or 3 performance appraisals, and they decide the best candidate for the empty (or new) position. There’s nothing wrong with that, until we discover that often those performance appraisals were done by only one person, who must evaluate 12 employees or more in a short period of time, and only because he or she was obliged to do it.
- Legal purposes. The organization wants to cover their back when they decide to fire somebody. I am not a lawyer, and in my personal experience I have never understood this one. There is no law asking for this. I checked with a few lawyers. They said that when employers reach the point of wanting to use the performance appraisal as a “tool” against the employees, they realize that they are not able to do it because it was done in the wrong way, or because they cannot get any extra value from it. In conclusion, my dear HR people, you need to stop thinking about your back and start thinking about your employees.
- Reduction of personnel. Yes, when a reduction of personnel is planned, those with poor evaluations are out. Upper management needs tools to make this decision, so an easy choice is to use performance appraisals from the last year, or perhaps the last 2 years if they’re lucky. And yes, I can confirm that it is not accurate at all. Organizations have lost very good employees this way while keeping lesser employees. It’s funny, but it’s true. It happens very often.
- Encouraging Performance Improvement.
- Motivating Superior Performance.
- Encouraging Coaching and Mentoring.
- Setting and Measuring Goals.
- Pay-for-Performance Structure support.
- And a few more depending the book or article you read.
So far, all are good intentions, but that is not enough. In my opinion, in the last 100 years or more, performance appraisals have been transformed from a simple evaluation tool to help employees to improve to “the” tool to make a bunch of decisions. HR departments believe that they have the silver bullet for a few things that previously required thought, so now we ask:
- We need to reduce the number of employees. What should we do to reduce 20 people this unit? –> Here are all the performance appraisals. Check the worst 20 and that is all. In the worst case, you have a very well-funded process.
- Somebody asks to be promoted, but we are not sure if it is the right fit. What we should do? –> Check the last 1 or 2 performance appraisals, and if something is wrong, open the position to external people. In any case, you have a very well-funded process.
- We need to distribute bonuses. How can we do it? –> Check the performance appraisal… bla… bla…
- And more… And more…
At the end, the performance appraisal seems to be the silver bullet for any kind of decision we need to take involving employees.
Is it the fault of the HR department?
NO. The answer is NO, and it will always be NO. In my opinion the culture, the management style of the organization, and the focus on the symptoms of the problem are a bad combination. They encourage this reliance on using the wrong tool to address the real issue.
I am not able to point fingers, but I can still help. Those who want to innovate will appreciate this series of posts. Those who don’t want to innovate will add my name to their enemies list. I can assume that risk. Today there are many studies, articles, and books about this.
To close this post, I want to share this:
I love the top 2 and I like the # 3, but I don’t believe that you always have to use “smart” goals. More effective ways to define goals are available today. We will talk about them later.
What are your reflections about this? Does what I have just written makes sense for you? Feel free to share your thoughts here.
In my next post I will explain why performance appraisals aren’t working any more. It will be the last post about context. After that, I will jump on what I tried and the result. Stay tuned!