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Performance Appraisals

Why do we use performance appraisals? It seems when we use these appraisals we are knocking “hard workers” down to nothing, kind of like a form of bullying to power play. If you don’t like that employee or if the employee had to testify against upper management, they can use your appraisals against you – proving it is another thing. To me, there has to be a better way to have appraisals and for management to be held accountable. If you giving an employee a “fully successful” who once was holding a superior for many years and then dropped, shouldn’t that say to upper management (if they care) that this supervisor is not doing his/her job as a manager, by encouraging team building and/or by showing that she/he can run a successful unit? I’ve seen so much abuse with these appraisals that I don’t get it, why hasn’t someone step in? The other thing too, is if you have a Union, you can challenge your appraisal but it depends on what the contract states. Plus, not to mention the fact that some government offices don’t have good union presidents to no union officials in their office because they’re in another state. I don’t know, something needs to happen in order for things to change – good hard workers being torn down by a piece of paper is pretty sad!

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

I think we can all agree that the current performance appraisal process is broken. The following problems have a clue to the solutions:

  • Why: Appraisals are not being used to set pay, only set limited awards. Goals are not shared. Each employee sets goals in a vacuum. We should explore ROWE.
  • Who: Employees should be rating supervisors, not the other way around. Co-workers and customers should have a say.
  • When: Should not be an annual exercise, but an on-going process based on continuous feedback.
  • Where: Believe it or not, some organizations still use paper. This is not flexible enough and technology can help to share goals, collect feedback, and make the process more collaborative.

I feel that we have been talking about this issue for years. It is perpetually panned in the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey as being counter-productive. What we need to do is set up models of excellence using modern technology and innovative alternatives to the traditional, annual ritual of favoritism.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

By the way, if you are interested in making the system better, I highly recommend checking out http://getworksimple.com/ and http://work.com/. There is a better way, and these systems are nice navigational tools for getting there. However, no system will work without effective leadership and engaged employees. Those are much harder to come by. The only thing we really have going for us is our important mission to serve our constituents.

Mark Sullivan

Do the Feds have both a documented performance plan (key results expected and demonstrated competencies) and written performance evaluation? I’ve long believed that a performance plan is more valuable to both the employee and the organization than an evaluation.

Anita Arile

I agree with Terrence Hill’s comments below.. and btw, thank you for the links too Terrence!

Like the SAT, GRE and GMAT tests, and some “online” employment application “quizzes”, the evaluation should be developed to be a hybrid of those common evaluation programs… it should rate the “taker”, not only by field, grade and step/rank, but by the number of points garnered in the “evaluation quiz”.

For example: grades A to E, steps/rank 1 to 20 will be required to take “Test A” (developed for their field), Level 1 (for steps/rank 1-10) or Level 2 (for steps/rank 11-20); while Level 3 will be for promotional (higher difficulty). The number of questions should be no less than 30 and no more than 50. But the test should be taken online; automatically graded when “submit” is selected and questions should be randomly chosen from a database of 100 or more questions. Very similar to taking the CFE, CGFM or other certification tests.

One last aspect should be a no less than 200 word “Why and What have you done to deserve the rating” essay.

That way, the scoring is much more realistic of the employee’s capabilities and know how.

Just me “wishing out loud”

Peter Sperry

If supervisors and employees would follow the performance plan, review and appraisal process as designed; they would find it is not all that onerous and actually quite fair. You sit down and discuss expectations for the upcoming year and jointly fill out the form listing individual and team objectives along with performance measures and determine reasonable, measurable standards for each performance level. Next you set aside time each quarter to discuss progress toward those goals. Identify where you are on track, where you need to catch up and where you need assistance. If necessary, you can revise or modify the performance goals and/or standards as long as there is mutual agreement and you update the record. Document your work or at least have some way to demonstrate what you have done during the year. At the end of the year, pull out a copy of the performance plan and describe how you have met each objective and how your results measure up against the agreed standards for each performance level. I’ve done this with my supervisor and consistently earned outstanding ratings.

Too many supervisors and employees view the performance plan and evaluation process as an unnecessary burden. They pencil whip the the plan with little thought about how objectives relate to the real job, use vague subjective performance standards and then put it on the shelf for a year. When evaluation time comes around, their performance plan is next to useless because it never provided a good framework in the first place and they never used it to keep on track or update objectives as needed. So evaluations are given out primarily on the supervisor’s undocumented memory of what went right or wrong during the year and their subjective feelings about each employee. They repeat this non-process year after year as an unwelcome chore for the supervisor and an unfair judgement for the employee.

Performance plans and evaluations require employee signatures as well as supervisors. Manage up from the very beginning by pushing for meaningful performance objectives with reasonable, MEASURABLE standards for each performance level. Keep the document handy throughout the year, make sure you are on track to meet objectives and you will be in a position at the end of the year to lay your documented results next to the agreed upon standards and say “hey boss, I met every measurement at the outstanding level.”

Or you could just complain about how unfair the system is.

Jeffrey Levy

Jane: I agree with Peter Sperry’s comments.

I find the time I invest in talking with my team about my expectations and what they’ve accomplished is well worth it. It’s not adversarial, but rather a formal way to ensure at least some discussion occurs.

Note that I always, always also ask “what can I do better to support you?” My job isn’t just to dole out work, it’s to remove obstacles and help my team shine.

I also agree with others that I give feedback all through the year, and I send quarterly reminders to folks to review their performance agreement and make sure they’re on track. I also look them over a few times during the year *in addition to* formal midyear reviews.

If used properly, it can be a really useful tool.

If ignored, or not invested in, it’s useless and can be harmful depending on the circumstances.

Jeffrey Levy

Oh, also, it’s critically important that employees invest in the process, too. If you think your critical elements are off base, speak up. And keep a list of your accomplishments throughout the year. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful that is to me at midyears and annual reviews. No one can remember everything that happens for a full year.

Dennis Snyder

5 CFR § 430.208 b, 2, c (Rating performance) states “The method for deriving and assigning a summary level may not limit or require the use of particular summary levels ( i.e., establish a forced distribution of summary levels).”

In addition to 5CFR issues, forced distribution of ratings holds employees to an unachievable and vaporous standard where they are measured against their peers. This presents two problems. The first is that there is little teamwork when employees are in competition with each other. This competition results in backstabbing those who are supposed to be in a harmonious environment working toward common goals. The other issue is that the standard of using another employee as a performance benchmark rests on information about another employee which is held confidentially between that employee and their supervisor. Such employee-sensitive information cannot be shared across the team to inform others what the level of performance expectations might be. Since the standard of performance cannot be disclosed, the standard itself is unachievable and the process is patently unfair. This process of peer-standards is directly counter to the performance appraisal system, and places the supervisor in direct opposition to OPM guidance on employee performance measurement standards.

I believe the goal is to limit the eligibility of Quality Step Increases (QSI) awards for meritorious service due to budgetary considerations for payroll rather than consideration of the employees actual performance according to the performance rating standards in 5 CFR § 430.208.

The end result is that the performance appraisal system is not used for its intended purpose of positive interaction with an employee to improve performance. Rather, it appears to be used as a tool to limit exposure to payroll expenditures. This greatly exacerbates the pay freezes that are increasingly out of sync with the rising cost of living and makes the federal workplace most undesireable.

What could change? We tried pass-fail, and all it did was reward mediocrity by equating star performers and minimal performers equally. We tried pay-banding which ties performance to raises by comparing employees against each other. We probably tried nothing at all and is likely to be the source of the current system. What we haven’t tried is forthrightness. How refreshing would that be?