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Performance Appraisal Rears Its Ugly Head

For most of us, the oft dreaded annual performance appraisal rears its ugly head at least once a year. Loathed by the majority of managers & employees alike, one’s approach to performance appraisals is a sure-fire way to experience a positive or negative outcome. Perhaps it’s time to take a fresh look at what’s really going on here.

Compare the similarities between effective managers and effective parents. Good ones take an active interest in their charges and don’t leave them to fend for themselves. Don’t you think workplace protégés want to know there’s someone truly interested in their growth and development, someone who is readily available to help, willing and able to nourish them, and sincerely caring that they have a good day?

Effective, managers (like parents) keep abreast of what’s going on with their employees. They keep in touch with their successes and challenges; they take an interest in helping develop their people’s careers and they talk frequently with their employees about what they need or want!

HR blogger, Richard A. Albright Jr. says performance apraisals “are the most misused and abused management tool in history.” Boy, does that hit the nail on the head! Most people lose sight of the fact that performance appraisals are so much more than productivity evaluations. In its highest and best form, true Zen and The Art of Performance Appraisals is practiced when managers and employees take the opportunity to adjust their courses and grow.

Good appraisals not only highlight an employee’s recent successes and their potential for promotion (I know we all love to hear that we’ve been noticed in a good way), but they also tell employees they’ve been noticed … in a productive way. They remind us about the times we’ve strayed and help us diagnose where we went wrong so we can avoid those pitfalls in the future. They tell us if someone thinks we can benefit from additional training so, in essence, the appraisal period is a time to give and receive honest and productive feedback and get better at our jobs. Why doesn’t it happen? FEAR perhaps? ([email protected]#$%)

Surprise! You shouldn’t surprise employees in their performance appraisals! Nor should either of you dread the process. Let me ask you … how often do you talk “performance” with your employees or hear from your boss? Wouldn’t it be nice to get a read on how you’re doing more often than once a year? That’s what sets apart great managers! They sneak in the occasional but frank conversations about how their employees’ assignments are coming along, what they’d like to see changed in their work and what they’d like their people to do to improve in certain areas of concern. It’s a non-combative, constructive, and well-intended conversation without all the drama. Great workplace relationships begin over this well-placed candor!

Now, for those of you who just barked, “Hey, I don’t have the kind of time you’re talking about to sit down with every one of my employees on a recurring basis.” I say, “I hear you but …
… let me ask, “If you don’t have time for casual, performance-based conversations with your employees, do you ever have casual conversations with them?” (and if you don’t, shame on you!) If you do, isn’t it also possible to inject some productive conversation into those talks? For those of you who are willing to try, I can almost guarantee that in a very short time you will see workplace improvements and you will also get back some of that precious time we all want (or need) to accomplish our own work assignments. You also won’t find your time unexpectedly devoured by litigious or other equally avoidable consequences! Think about it … when great performers leave you, how much time do you spend finding equally great replacements and how much time to you spend training them to level up to expected performance? That learning curve has great costs! Conversely, when you are party to the demotion (or worse) of a substandard performer, it’s near certainty that you’ll be drawn into unanticipated (and time-consuming) litigious activities once that complaint is filed.

The performance appraisal is an end-of-process activity tied to everything else that happens the rest of the year. It’s a process that requires managers and employees to converse regularly & productively if it’s going to be worthwhile.

(more on this topic in next week’s Blog with the HR GovGal.)

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“Surprise! You shouldn’t surprise employees in their performance appraisals! ”

This is the secret to successful performance evaluations for both employee and manager.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Down with the ANNUAL performance appraisal! Performance appraisals should be:

Weekly – “Hey, you crushed it this week when you did _______” or “That was 60% great, and here’s the other 40% that would make you excellent.”

Monthly – “Based on the team and individual goals we set this year, it looks like we’re (a) on target (!) and/or (b) needing to do more in [insert activity here] next month.”

Annual – “Looking back at the year, you know you’ve been doing awesome / needing improvement in _____________. Let’s take stock and set some new goals….”

Peter Sperry

Am I the only one who actually likes and looks forward to performance appraisals? It is the one time a year I have a guaranteed opportunity to sit down with my supervisor with nothing else on the table and address some important questions like:

As a 11-10 with an 11-12-13 career ladder, what exactly do I need to do to earn a promotion to 13? Can you put the requirements in my performance plan and reassure me that if I meet those goals, I’ll get the promotion?

Here is how I am trying to fit my training requests to both the needs of the agency and my own career development. Does that work for you and will you send me to the training?

I would like more opportunities for growth by learning new tasks. Can I assist some of the more senior analysts in order to gain their skills?

I’ve brought up each of those questions in my last performance appraisal and was promoted, had training approved and gained some new assignments. I know that in a perfect world all of this would happen on a more regular basis and much of it does. But the advantage of the performance appraisal is that that it excludes other topics. It is more than a passing conversation in the hallway and YOU, not 20 other topics, are (or should be) the sole focus of the meeting. This is one area where I have aggressively “managed up” and had very good results.

Doris Tirone

Good points, Peter! The annual review period is the one (almost ) guaranteed time an employee has to raise issues of their own concern. Sadly, most employees view the process as a waste of time, mostly because it hasn’t been given its “props” from their managers. People learn by what they see; employees have learned well from ineffective supervisors.

Jenyfer Johnson

You stated above, “Surprise! You shouldn’t surprise employees in their performance appraisals!” and “That’s what sets apart great managers! They sneak in the occasional but frank conversations about how their employees’ assignments are coming along, what they’d like to see changed in their work and what they’d like their people to do to improve in certain areas of concern.”

While that is good advice it is NOT great advice. Employees should be getting a documented 6-month feedback, especially if they are having performance issues on the job or the supervisor’s expectation’s are not being met. In this way the supervisor has let the employee know what’s going well, where there are issues. It also gives the employee 6 months until the Performance Appraisal to work on improving areas that may be of concern.

If a Supervisor does not give an employee a documented 6-month feedback and then gives them a Performance Appraisal that marks them down considerably from their last Appraisal, an employee may be able to file a grievance, due to the fact they were never given a chance to improve. The 6-month feedback is a great tool to use to praise, correct, steer an employee prior to the Performance Appraisal and should NOT be overlooked.

I know this because I was a Union Steward for my Local Union and I had this happen to me and won my grievance,.

Doris Tirone

Thanks for your comment, Jenyfer, and you’re absolutely correct from a technical standpoint! The “technical standpoint”, however, isn’t going to encourage quality performance feedback conversations between managers and their charges. In fact, the technical rules you spoke about are partly responsible for the mediocrity and ineffectiveness that’s crept into the performance appraisal process (i.e., managers and employees drudge through the steps only because doing so is another one of those administrative activities that has to be marked off their checklists). Formalizing performance feedback is important and can’t be ignored but in order to inject substance and purpose, the process has to be approached with “new eyes”.