Solving The Impossible Equation of Performance Appraisals

performance appraisals
George Garrett
George Garrett, SPHR. SHRM-SCP is a founding member of Future Focus Group, LLC, based in Houston, TX. George has spent his entire career in human resources leadership and consulting. He has contributed to and written extensively for several publications in both the US and Europe. He is certified by both the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) as a senior practitioner. George also holds a certification in Employee Relations Law from the Institute for Applied Management and Law. He is a Distinguished Toastmaster through Toastmasters International and delivers powerful, engaging talks regarding the changing field of human resources. George is a Texas native and co-author of “Evolved…Engaging People, Enhancing Success”, released in late 2014.
George Garrett
George Garrett
George Garrett

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Performance Appraisals, lead to judgment not development

Whenever I challenge the wisdom of using Performance Appraisals systems in any form, the usual pushback occurs. “How do we pay people?” Don’t we need a system for protection against employee lawsuits?” “It’s used for improvement”. “It’s our form of feedback to employees”.

I am not who sure who is stunned more; me as the purveyor of the challenge or members of the audience. What I do know is most of the time Performance Appraisal (PA) is judgmental.

One of the most widely accepted form used is the Graphic Rating Scale. Appraisers are provided with a list of dimensions, which are aspects of performance that determine an employee’s “effectiveness”. Common examples of performance dimensions, many times entail cooperation, adaptability, maturity, and motivation with each dimension accompanied by a multiple rating scales, be it numbers or descriptions. The center point of the scales is the middle number or some version of the word “average”.

Many organizations use Graphic Rating Scales because they are (a) simple to use and (b) cost very little to develop. HR professionals are able to create formats quickly, and because the dimensions and anchors are written in a general sense, a single form is useable on most jobs within an organization.

But Graphic Rating Scales present a number of problems.

Most notable is the fact scale does not clearly indicate what a person must do to achieve a given rating, thus employees are left usually in the dark as to what is expected of them. For instance, an employee given a rating of 2 on “attitude” may have a difficult time figuring out how to improve. Graphic rating scales also fail to provide a good mechanism for providing specific, non-threatening feedback. In addition, they also are not very accurate.

Try this little test: Have two raters define “average”. The point is simple. Why are we doing this to people?

I believe there are too many variables associated with human beings for this sort of system to be deployed. However, if one is able to solve the simple equation of a + b = c, then it is really OK to use various forms of Performance Appraisal including the Graphic Rating Scales.

However, pleased be warned! This equation is impossible to solve. So why go through an exercise in futility? We should focus our efforts on the development and not judgment of people.

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