Intellectually, everyone gets the value of performance appraisals. Â Yet every client Iâ€™ve ever encountered usually bemoans the process and most employees criticize the appraisals. Â Why is something that should have so much value end up being so belittled?
Organizations do lots of things wrong when it comes to reviews. Â There is a tendency to spring the final evals on employees as a surprise. Â I have lost count of the number of people who told me that they came out of their appraisal session in shockâ€”having heard things they didnâ€™t expect. Â One basic rule of the formal appraisal is that nothing in that session should come as a surprise to the employeeâ€”itâ€™s just a formal meeting to review and sign-off on informal coaching and counseling that went on earlier during the year. Â Another issue is the tendency for managers to put off appraisals until the last possible moment. Â There are lots of reasons this happens. Â In some cases, itâ€™s about avoiding unpleasantness or confrontation. Â In others, itâ€™s because itâ€™s a hassle to do the appraisal paperwork and prepare for itâ€”often because the criteria are so subjective.
Most appraisals tend to focus around either behavior or traits. Â Look at the last performance appraisal you went through. Â Were you evaluated on aspects likeâ€¦..teamworkâ€¦creativityâ€¦.leadershipâ€¦communication skillsâ€¦responsiveness? Â While all of those behaviors or traits are nice and probably important, evaluating someone on them is usually an exercise on futility. Â For one reason, what I consider to be creativity may not be what you consider to be creativity. Â So setting a standard (even if the firm uses BARs: Â Behaviorally Anchored Ratings Scales) is typically fuzzy. Â For another, I can exhibit that behavior and still be ineffective as a performer.
Finally, it becomes incredibly difficult to limit what behaviors and traits you donâ€™t want to evaluate. Â Seriously nowâ€”does anyone really want an employee that doesnâ€™t collaborate, communicate, write, speak, plan, and delegate well? Â Iâ€™ve seen firms shoe-horn in attributes (â€œwell, we said teamwork was important so we need to add it to the evaluationâ€”letâ€™s insert it in the space at the bottom of the form and give it 5 points!â€).
A far more effective evaluation is to focus on accomplishments and goals. Â At the beginning of the appraisal cycle, it makes sense for the employee and manager to sit down and discuss â€œwhat critical goals need to get done this year?â€ and how to measure those goals. Â Those people who insist â€œI donâ€™t have time to talk about appraisals during the yearâ€ donâ€™t have an answer for this approach. Â Because if a manager doesnâ€™t have time to talk about what the goals are for the employee and what the objectives are, then theyâ€™re no good as a manager or the work situation is doomed to failure.
Focusing on goals and accomplishments also provides us a more measurable and objective standard. Â How do you measure someoneâ€™s creativity? Â Itâ€™s not impossible but itâ€™s tough and itâ€™s even harder to be fair about it (if the others in the department are also being judged on how creative they are). Â But if we ask â€œwhy do we care if someone is creative?â€ itâ€™s not because we admire people who put together interesting clothing ensembles for work or develop unique playlists for the in-house music system. Â No, itâ€™s usually because we want people to develop shorter ways to do the job or identify solutions that no-one else saw to particular problems. Â I might be creative as a person (and generate great art in my spare time) but unless there is a payoff to the business, why give me higher points just for that capability? Â Instead, if we evaluate employees creativity not on how creative they are but on the impact Â of any solutions or quicker processes or new approaches that they developedâ€”thatâ€™s a far more objective approach and much easier to measure.
Which gets us to the last point: Â by focusing on accomplishments and goals, weâ€™re focusing on what matters to the business. Â Why reward an employee for a trait that has no payoff to the business? Â Â Maybe I write proposals that are flowing and fun to readâ€”they just never win any business from the client. Â In which case, why rate me highly on writing skills (when another consultant writes less flowing, not as fun to read proposals but wins 40% of her submissions)?
We make life difficult for ourselves by insisting on evaluating people on behaviors or traits or capability rather than on actual performance impacts and accomplishments. Â An appraisal that starts by establishing targets for the year (and of course those sometimes change during mid-year) and then assesses work on the basis of results and product is a far more objective, fairer and meaningful way of performance on the job.