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Performance Appraisal – Evaluation is essential

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Picture of a manager performing an appraisalPerformance Appraisal – One of, if not the most important functions of the middle manager is the Performance Appraisal. At this point you realize that an appraisal can be destructive and negative as well as constructive and positive. The following approach can be constructive and it’s flexible enough to meet individual needs. It can also be used in concert with any pre-existing appraisal programs you may be currently using.

Firstly, it is generally recognized that the work of employee’s must be systematically considered and reviewed by supervisors. It is also generally accepted that workers must be told how they are doing. They must be kept informed of their performance. Continuing evaluation is essential, but the old fashioned, one sided performance appraisals place in a modern workplace is questionable. The outdated performance appraisal may be better than no periodic review at all but the modern manager can do better. In some cases, due to existing policy, you may be required to use such a system. There are ways to make it less objectionable to you and your subordinates, and make it valuable. However this requires more than just going through the required motions. Even those most critical of this type of performance appraisal and review recognize that some form of evaluation keeps the employee informed and that’s essential to effective management. A manager that claims not to have time for a performance appraisal is really saying that they don’t have time to manage.

The following positive program for performance appraisal overcomes most if not all of the objections. This approach isn’t new or theoretical and has been used with considerable success.

  • The manager encourages employee to discuss the job being done in relation to the job description. They agree on the job content, priorities, responsibilities and authority.
  • The employee is encouraged to develop goals for a predetermined period for each responsibility.
  • The manager discusses the employee’s goals and establishes check points to measure progress.
  • The manager meets with the employee at each check point, as well as at the end of the appraisal period, to discuss results, problems targets, etc.

This should be based on the existence of clearly defined company or department goals that are communicated routinely prior to any meetings with staff. It also assumes up to date job descriptions to facilitate agreement with respect to job content. Always be open to updating a job description. This is often the result of the conversation that takes place in step one. How often should the discussions that take place in step one occur? This may vary according to circumstances, but it should be at least three times a year. After first setting objectives it’s desirable to iron out any problems, and then go to quarterly meetings. The predetermined period for individual goals in step 2 above, can be as long as a year, but 6 months is preferable. Targets should be realistic and possible to achieve, but challenging enough to cause the employee to develop. Most important, they must be specific and concrete. Generalizations can’t be measured and should be avoided. Job related goals are our priority, but goals related to employee personal development are welcome and encouraged. In the step 3 discussion, the employee is encouraged to do the majority of the talking and proposing.

The manager should avoid overruling the employee during the performance appraisal. The employee should have every opportunity to develop their own plan and to make it work. The manager must rely on a two way conversation, a discussion, not orders. However, in some cases where the goals don’t meet organizational needs or there not attainable the manager must chime in. In such cases, astute questioning can usually result in the necessary modification by the employee on a voluntary basis. The manager should be able to avoid vetoing employee propose goals or objectives, but must insure that the goals are in sync with those of the organization. Raising questions instead of objections is always the best method of redirection. The employee needs to feel that the goals are theirs alone to fully commit to accomplishing them. Such a feeling and commitment is vital to success. The manager should always remain in the role of coach and counselor during the Performance Appraisal. The selection of checkpoints in step 3, and the agreement on the means of measuring progress should be agreed upon, not forced on the employee. The conversation should encourage the employee to suggest measurement units. In some cases the means of measurement will dictate, or indicate, desirable check points. Check points aren’t necessarily the end of the Performance Appraisal or the target date for achieving goals. Once the employee and manager have agreed on the check points and means of measurement, its good practice to have the employee write them down, with a copy going to the manager. This insures mutual understanding on key points, and to prevent variation due to relying on memory alone. Step 4 involves getting together at check points and at the end of the performance appraisal period to review progress. In some cases the discussion leads to a modification of goals or to set entirely new ones. One shouldn’t expect all goals to be met. Some may be surpassed and others may not even be approached. Much depends on how high a goal has been set as well as circumstances which may have changed during the appraisal period.

The meeting of, or surpassing goals is not the total measure of the endeavors success. The actual developing and setting of targets, striving to hit them, and analyzing reasons they might not have been met leads to employee growth. The process also helps the employee avoid obstacles in the future by teaching them to set reasonable goals. This process also strengthens the employee – manager relationship which is vital to a good work environment. We’re seeking the application of an employee’s ability to recognize problems, devise methods of solving or coping with them and putting those solutions into action. All performance appraisal systems should be primarily intended to help the individual do a better job.

The logic behind the progress interview. It’s likely that managers have been talking to employees about their work performance for thousands of years, nothing new there. The only thing new in conducting progress interviews is the systematic, people oriented thorough way they’re conducted. Some of the major purposes of progress interview are:
To let people know where they stand. People who don’t know where they stand are subject to needless fears or mistaken assurance. Both are the enemy of good work and morale. Studies on production and morale have shown that people crave information about how they are doing, and that they exhibit better work performance when they have such information. It’s almost impossible to approach a discussion on self-improvement without discussion on where the person stands today, and without discussing what is expected. “No news is bad news” to the insecure person. On both of these points people are doing a lot more guessing and worrying than most managers realize. The interviewed person enjoys a feeling of personal satisfaction in knowing that their strong points are recognized and appreciated. In areas needing improvement there’s goal setting and challenges.
Few, if any people stand still. They improve or get worse. Most people can do much better than they’re doing now, and some have potential far beyond what they’re demonstrating. One of the greatest challenges and opportunities for the manager is the development of staff’s collective potential. Steps to help a person improve usually involve participation from both sides. What can the employee do to help? What can the supervisor or manager do to encourage and assist? How can we get beyond talk and promote action? It requires mutually determined goals and the manager’s dedication to the employee’s success. Managers must learn to use the Performance Appraisal as a tool to benefit all involved.

Efforts to encourage and assist will prove ineffective if the employee is discouraged by unfavorable conditions the manager is unaware of. The manager or supervisor should use the performance appraisal as an opportunity to discover these feelings before they become problems. There’s always a temptation to avoid dealing with issues for fear the solution itself will be disruptive than the underlying problem. Not dealing with matters of concern to staff always creates resentment. In fact, it aggravates the entire situation and is likely to cause the employee to lose respect for the supervisor or manager. They’ll be right in believing that management’s inability to deal with problems proves their lack of respect for the employees. To avoid discussing employee’s feelings or problems is like burying your head in the sand. Actually, there is good evidence to show that feelings are likely to become less strong and destructive when they are brought out into the open. Even in the best environments people have gripes, misunderstandings and ambitions that don’t always come to the mangers attention unless they make a special effort to unearth them. Even then, the manager must be willing to listen carefully and give their concerns careful consideration. Good teamwork requires that tensions within the group be reduced to a minimum.

A good manager must constantly develop human understanding. The nature and pressures of work can be an obstacle to good human relationships. Many contacts on the job are impersonal. It is possible to supervise another person for many years and not really know or understand that person. This often works both ways as staff can find it hard to get to know some supervisors. It’s difficult to build smooth and efficient cooperation unless we know and understand our people, their fears, hopes, strengths and weaknesses. Not sufficiently knowing staff is one of the big, frequently unrecognized problems facing managers.

What are the employee’s suggestions for improvement? Managers miss out on an opportunity to do a more effective job by failing to obtain and seriously consider the suggestions of the people closest to the work. Regardless of the staff member’s ability, manager’s miss improvements that become obvious to the worker, but never reach them. Managers and supervisors must maintain an atmosphere of real interest in what employee’s think. In most cases it’s simply a matter of asking employee’s for their opinion. The performance appraisal encourages a positive approach to organizational improvement.

Why are managers reluctant to conduct a performance appraisal with their staff? Although most managers agree that it would be desirable to hold a performance appraisal with each staff member, most need some urging before they start the job. Here are some of the main reasons for the hesitance. Fear, this is probably the most common reason for not conducting the interview although it’s seldom admitted. The fact that something isn’t easy or pleasant isn’t a sufficient reason for avoiding it. There are many aspects of management that are difficult and unpleasant. After a little interviewing experience, almost every manager finds that the job isn’t nearly as difficult as they thought it would be, and it’s often much more rewarding than expected. Lack of time. This statement is likely to reflect on the manager’s attitude toward the job not the time constraints. We always seem to find the time to do those things we believe to be most important. If a manager believes that there isn’t enough time to work on the improvement of employees, we have to ask, “What does the manager have time for? Can one really be a manager and not have time for employee development?

A good manager carries out the performance appraisal while conscientiously building understanding and interest, also, while instilling a sense of employee value. The net result is the manager spends less time on the troublesome aspects of human relations. The manager frees up time to focus on fundamentals rather than superficial problems. Time spent on prevention rather than cure. Often when a manager claims to not have enough time, it’s an indication that they’re placing too much emphasis on machines or materials etc. and too little on the people that do the work. It’s not only that the evidence doesn’t support that belief, but claiming a lack of time may be an alibi to cover up another reason. As mentioned, the fear of the interview, or doing something the supervisor likes to do but should delegate etc.

Some managers feel that they are so close to their people and keep them so well informed that performance appraisal really isn’t necessary. They’re quick to claim that they’re talking to staff daily and commend them for work well done. But take them to task for bad jobs at the time they occur. They also claim to have an open door policy, staff are free to approach them at any time. When staff are asked at companies employing that strategy if they feel adequately informed the response if often that they aren’t. Yet the manager thinks they are. In the face of these facts it’s easy to conclude that managers are wrong to wholly reject the more formalized approach. Far too often, this attitude on the part of supervisors and managers is a rationalization for a failure to hold a performance appraisal interview. Just reacting to their job performance on a daily basis isn’t enough. It’s usually not possible to put things in their proper perspective at the time an event happens. This can only be done at a later date when emotions are at rest and the whole picture can be looked at thoughtfully. Remember, what the manager says is only half of the picture, the employee has a stake. More than an open door is necessary for staff to share their thoughts and feelings, they also need encouragement.

The following points help the manager prepare for the interview.

  • Read the employee’s file. Fix the facts of their work history in your memory.
  • Review the current evaluation. What changed since the last interview?
  • What do you expect from the employee, what are the important standards?
  • Every employee is unique but focus on procedures and standardization.
  • Always interview in private setting. No one within hearing distance.
  • Don’t start an interview unless you have enough time to finish it.
  • Avoid interviewing too soon after disciplinary action.
  • Don’t reduce the interview to a formula, use your judgement when necessary.
  • Be sensitive to the employee’s true feelings.
  • Remain friendly and helpful with a positive attitude.

Open the performance appraisal with an effort to reduce nervousness. This is particularly true for an employee’s first interview. Anything we do to relieve uneasiness is well worth it. It doesn’t help to tell the employee not to worry as it draws attention to their nervousness. You will help the most by presenting a reassuring manner. Be friendly, leisurely (not in a hurry), don’t apologize and remain centred on the employee. Explain the interviews purpose. You called the meeting with the employee, state why. Try to look at it from the employee’s standpoint. What are the benefits to the employee? Let them know that:

  • Everybody is being talked to
  • You value their views and opinions
  • You’re there to help them, first and foremost.

An example of an opening line or two as follows: We see each other every day but don’t have much of a chance to talk. So I’m planning to take time out every so often to sit down with you and each of the others for personal talk. I’d really appreciate your opinions about the job. I wanted you to have a chance to talk over any problems and ideas you might have in this private setting. I also wanted to talk to you about the work you’ve been doing. I’m sure we can help each other.

Begin on a pleasant subject, avoid an immediate discussion about the employee’s good points. In many cases its better to start the discussion by mentioning something related to the business. A recent assignment, problem or accomplishment. It should be a subject that doesn’t have alarming implications to the other person. The subject shouldn’t have alarming implications to the other person. The tone of the discussion around the subject should reflect personal interest and appreciation by the supervisor. It’s always desirable for the manager to take the initiative in favorable comments as most people are reluctant to self-praise. Favorable comments help to make clear that you highly value a job well done. Build on that be explaining what you consider to be most important in their job. Avoid an involved and formal explanation of the job standards at this point, keep it simple. Emphasize the important as distinct from the trivial, help the employee maintain perspective.

If the manager fears the performance appraisal there will be a tendency to focus to heavily on the strong points and too little on the points that need improvement. This can leave the interviewed employee feeling that their performance is better than it is. They may falsely believe that they’re in line for a promotion, raise or bonus etc. Their feelings aren’t justified by the facts. Misunderstandings of this kind can lead to poorer performance, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and reduced confidence in the supervisor.

Give the employee a chance to comment. Ask if they have any questions. Do they wish to add to anything? Encourage them to open up. Questions like this may be helpful:

“What do you find easiest to do on your job” and the later as discussed in the next section, ask, “What do you find most difficult on your job?”

When discussing points for employee improvement be considerate. Avoid critical words: “Faults”, “mistakes”, “shortcomings”, “weakness” etc. Be constructive. Talk about how improvement can be made, and not what’s been done wrong. Experience has shown that this subject is best handled by first asking for the employee’s views. Begin by asking about the areas the employee feels they need to improve in. In what respect do they think they can do a better job? Encourage the employee to suggest a plan for self-improvement. Most managers are pleasantly surprised at the ability for self-appraisal possessed by most people. In most cases, the employees are more critical of themselves than the supervisor is. Don’t be afraid of moments of silence, the employee will using them for constructive thought. It isn’t necessary to fill all pauses with words.

The topics brought up by the employee will present opportunities to the manager to add to their performance appraisal. The appraisal must remain constructive at all times. Instead of saying, “I have list of things you’re doing wrong: say “Here are some things I you can do better”. “What do you think? Be prepared with facts and examples to back up your suggestions, but try not to dwell on past failures. When referencing past mistakes, talk about the job of the project, not the employee. Always focus on the future while instilling your hope and faith in the employee. Avoid pushing too hard for agreement, but make note of disagreements for future talks. The positive effect of this talk is limited by the extent to which it is acceptable. Arguing is more likely to silence, admit that you may be wrong. Allow the employee to save face if necessary. Don’t hesitate to share or take the blame. Avoid comparison with other staff members. In some cases the employee will refuse to accept criticism. In such cases stand firm and point out:

  • That it is your, carefully considered judgement.
  • That this opinion, right or wrong is important to the employee.
  • That if they’ve been misjudged, they’ll have a chance to prove it.

Should you talk about short comings you believe are beyond the employee’s control? Ask yourself the following. “Will a discussion of it have a positive effect?” In general, we want to use great caution and tact in pointing out short comings the employee is incapable of correcting. For example, people can be assisted to realize they only accomplish in proportion to what they attempt. In some cases, an employee’s IQ may limit access to advanced, formal education. Education required to advance within the company. On the other hand, there are people who would simply be discouraged and frustrated if they were faced with unpleasant, unchangeable facts. It’s always best to avoid such discussion as any upside is limited.

Not everyone seeks promotion. Yet almost everyone looks into the future hopefully. To truly understand the employee, the manager should try and get them to talk about their hopes and expectations. Is the employee seeking a promotion? Are they ready for a promotion? Does the employee want to remain on the job and increase their skill and seniority, or is the job temporary until a better opportunity presents? Are they planning for an early retirement? Due to the manager’s wealth of experience and knowledge of the company, they’re usually in the best position to counsel employees. They can guide the employee and assist in achieving their aspirations. Make suggestions regarding changes they could make, increasing their chance of promotion should it be desired. Another area of great importance is directing them to part time studies outside of work hours. Explain that you are more likely to invest in staff that willing to invest in themselves.

Managers must avoid making promises and discouragement. No one can read the future and you’re taking a risk if you try. You can’t promise a job. Circumstances can change limiting if not curtailing your ability to follow through. If this happens, the effect on the person may be disastrous and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be able to explain it satisfactorily. Take care that you don’t imply more than you state. Keep your statements simple and to the point. Be on guard for signs that the employee is reading more into your words than is intended. Be cautious about telling a person that their goals would be too difficult if not impossible to achieve. If an employee’s goals seem unrealistic, point out the difficulties tactfully but allow the employee to draw their own conclusions.

How does the employee feel about the job and employer? You can’t anticipate people’s thoughts completely. Be careful not to fall into a routine pattern during interviews. Don’t crowd out the employees ideas. Make sure the employee has an opportunity to comment on anything on their mind. Ask if they have any other problems or questions. Can you as their manager or supervisor be more helpful in any way? Ask if they have anything else to offer and get their opinion on the interview itself. Wind up the interview with encouragement, it’s all about motivating the employee. Assure the employee of your willingness to talk further if there are any questions or suggestions at a later date. Find a friendly note to close on. Don’t judge performance appraisal success by what was said, but by the attitude the employee displays. Make an effort to capitalize on the performance appraisal’s positive effect during your contact with the individual during the following few days. Expect the employee to contact you with greater ease than before. Look for changes in behavior that you can complement the employee on.

Older employees require especially considerate handling. It’s tempting to assume that there’s nothing to talk about just because they’ve been around for some many years. While they may not be overly concerned with advancement, they’re still concerned about their ability to keep the job. Their ambitions may be modest when compared to younger staff members, but their worries are likely to be greater. Older employee’s need re-assurance. More often than people realize, pride has been touched as younger staff move up with them or even surpass them. A managers re-assurance will be highly appreciate, yet they may have difficulty expressing this. Their reluctance to opening up, especially to a younger person is understandable. The big problem with the older person is getting at true feelings and putting unjustified feelings to rest. If you can do so honestly, go out of your way to encourage. If the employee is older than 65, you may want to discuss their feelings on retirement. This may be a very delicate subject, but it must be faced some time in advance.

The following tips will help in dealing with the both the above and below average employee.

The outstanding person. Most managers find talking the outstanding employee the easiest. But here manager needs self-examination. Selfishly, they wish to hold on to the employee. They sell the advantages of staying put, like emphasizing the opportunities for advancement etc. Is that being honest? Is that motivated by a sincere desire to help the employee? No. The greater the persons abilities the greater the obligation to that person and to the company to see that these abilities are used to the greatest advantage. Frequently that points to a different and better job. Your obligation to the employee lies in the future. Encourage them to climb the corporate ladder if such an opportunity exists. Encourage them to surpass you. Be honest with yourself regarding their potential.

The unsatisfactory performer. Most of us rear facing another person with an unpleasant truth. Many managers struggle to tell an employee that they’re not doing well, but its part of the job. For a manager to be effective, they must face the problem as soon as possible. Delaying challenging conversations when required isn’t fair to either party. The sooner the better, while there is still some hope of helping the employee improve.

Brad Porcellato