Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Job performance appraisal system needs overhaul

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Oh those dreaded annual performance appraisals! Where do they come from? Why do we conduct a performance appraisal? What can you do if you are not happy with your appraisal?

The concept of performance appraisals and performance management began in the early 1800s during the industrial revolution. Business leaders and academics alike were busy attempting to develop new ways and means of improving productivity. However, Frederick Taylor, a lathe operator in a steel plant, identified that worker productivity appeared to be related to differences in talent, intelligence and personal motivation. His writings on the subject became famous and he soon was known as the father of scientific management. While much of this approach related to improving processes, worker performance appraisal was also identified as a key element to improving productivity.

The performance appraisal approach at that time was strongly focused on stopping bad performance and "fixing" an employee rather than developing people. In today's world, these performance management philosophies no longer work; however, it is well known that many organizations have not made changes to their approach.

The result is that in many cases executives do not support performance appraisals and so the practice falls by the wayside. Human resource managers are dissatisfied because the performance systems are typically time consuming, bureaucratic, paper driven, top down and often have little reference to organizational goals. Not only that, operational managers are often chronically late in completing their appraisals. All in all, the performance management system is frequently the most poorly implemented of all human resource management systems.

What, then, should an effective performance management system look like? First of all, no matter the technical details of your performance system, the organizational philosophy must recognize that "on task behaviour" is not the only thing that should be counted. Organizations need to recognize that work has changed. It is more flexible, more dynamic, interchangeable, less precise, team oriented, more ambiguous, more complex and more stressful. These elements have been found to be just as important and need to be given consideration in a performance evaluation.

The process of undertaking the performance appraisal must also be updated. In earlier times, the process was very top down; where the manager provided all of the input while the employee was not allowed to contribute. Today, employees expect and should be invited to participate in setting work goals, have a clear understanding of what is considered good performance and have an opportunity to speak freely and discuss their performance. It is also important that the employer appraiser's intentions are helpful and constructive.

Whereas the concept of performance appraisal has been slow to change, it is understandable that managers and supervisors still engage in old style behaviour and do not carry out the process effectively. Training in how to provide feedback, coach and mentor employees is often lacking. The result is that employees go away dissatisfied and if not given an opportunity to discuss their concerns, they may become disgruntled and leave your organization. Such a loss for all concerned.

At the same time, employees are often not familiar with the steps to take should they not be happy with their performance appraisal. The following are some tips for employees who are dissatisfied with their review. This will help make the journey to collaboration in performance management more successful.

Hold your composure -- Hearing any negative message is hard to bear, but you must not let negative emotions overtake you. The best strategy is to stay composed, digest what information you can and thank the manager for their perspective. Indicate that you would like to take some time to think about the comments and return at a later time with any questions and comments that arise.

Review and analyze -- Appraisals measure work elements such as timeliness, follow-through, followup, content, accuracy, customer service, teamwork, and alignment with the mission and vision. Review your performance review document and identify all of the appraisal comments you believe unjust, unfair and/or are incorrect. Identify the basis upon which these comments may have been made. Determine if there was sufficient evidence or examples of your work to make the comments. If not, then gather your additional information.

Double check your job description -- And double check the goals and objectives set for you. Have you been working on the right tasks at the right time? Often, when employees receive a bad appraisal, they will find they've engaged in "job creep" -- undertaking work that they like to do but which is not in their job description. Also, check to see if priorities have changed and/or if the work environment has prevented you from working on priorities.

Check for evaluation errors-- There are several errors that occur in performance management. For instance, a manager may focus too much on recent events, may confuse their own personal standards, make inappropriate comparisons, and may let personal opinion overrule objectivity. These errors need to be addressed.

Double check the process -- Review your policies and identify the steps you need to take to refute your evaluation. Start with your immediate supervisor, next discuss your concerns with their manager and/or the human resource manager where appropriate.

Prepare for a meeting -- This type of meeting can be quite disconcerting for an employee, so write down the key areas you wish to discuss. Three key points per issue is effective. Provide examples. Bring along an advocate if this makes you more comfortable.

Be respectful -- Suggest that you value the manager's opinion, but confirm there are several issues to address. Make your points in a respectful manner, provide your evidence and inquire if they can see your point of view. As soon as possible, move the conversation along to a mutually agreeable conclusion.

Take the next formal step -- If agreement with your direct manager is not possible, take your issues to the next level. Seek the assistance of a union representative, if available. Otherwise, write a formal letter to the senior manager outlining the facts involved, the steps taken and evidence for your perspective. Forward a copy of your letter to the human resource professional if appropriate. Keep a copy for yourself.

Move on -- Let's face it, sometimes you will not find agreement. In this case, maintain your composure, continue working to the best of your ability and assess your interest in staying with the current work environment. Since you can't fix personality conflicts and/or other emotional and psychological issues being experienced by your boss, leaving for other opportunities might be the best career option. If you do so, keep your head held high and your reputation intact.

Today's work environment requires a more collaborative approach to performance management and consideration for all of the complex elements that affect productivity, including inviting employee input and feedback.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group and vice-president of Waterhouse Executive Search Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2011 H1

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