Performance appraisals, do we really care?

I often wonder why companies think the current way of doing Performance Appraisals are actually effective (you know, a few times a year, you sit with your manager and he tells you what a good/bad boy you were). For me they’re unnecessary and this is why: Firstly, “appraising” someones “performance” is something that should have the goal of INDIVIDUAL self improvement (for the appraised) in whatever areas he feels would improve his ability to deliver work, it shouldn’t be some blanket template applied to a group of employees (ok, you lot are “Developers” and you lot are “Senior Developers”) but rather a personal negotiated path to improvement. Secondly it should be something that occurs continuously, not a few times a year; self improvement doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds, it happens in tiny steps, learning from your mistakes and building on your successes.

I have a theory though as to why they still occur. Traditional “managers” exist to micromanage and ensure maximum productivity out of employees. Their focus is on creating the “perfect employee” that will obey orders and sacrifice all for “the company” without little or no concern for the employee as a person. What they’ve then done is pawned off the responsibilty of dealing with “human” issues (self improvement etc) to the dreaded Human Resources department, a set of people divorced from the actual work environment of the employee who apply templates to people in order to shape them into a perfect little workforce. What a crock of shit. How about managers step up to the plate and do what they should be doing: creating the environment for people to excel in, helping employees find paths to individual self improvement and backing off and letting people do what they were HIRED to do? Then we can finally get rid of the HR department and bring the responsibility back to where it should be, firmly in the hands of your leader.

2 thoughts on “Performance appraisals, do we really care?”

  1. sure, you’ve explained the ideal environment that managers should create, but for a couple of reasons I think periodic performance reviews are a necessary evil.

    Firstly, where remuneration is linked to performance, there needs to be some formal evaluation of perfomance. Awards of increases and bonus usually happen on a particular quarterly or annual schedule, so it follows that the evaluation also needs to be regular rather than ad-hoc.
    In some jobs/industries this evaluation is easy and might be based on sales, turnover or whatever.
    But for technical staff it’s more difficult. Desirable behaviours, attitudes, and outputs need to be discussed and agreed ahead of time, and then evaluated. The more frequently this happens the better, but in reality it usually only happens every 6 months or so.

    The second reason formal performance appraisals are necessary is that some people don’t perform well, and in fact may under-perform to the point where they should be dismissed.
    Without a paper-trail of performance discussion, coaching, development plans etc it’s difficult to manage this situation.
    This is not a problem in a high-performing team of professionals, but I challenge you to take an alternative, less formal approach in an environment like a call center where there are lots of young without formal qualifications and varying levels of motivation and ethical outlook.

    I work in an environment where we don’t try to micro-manage people and try to empower teams as much as possible, but we still follow a formal performance management process that is linked to remuneration.

  2. In part I agree with you, performance appraisals are necessary but I believe how they are used needs to be re-evaluated. In my opinion linking reward to performance doesn’t work for this simple fact: if you tell someone “You produce 5 widgets and I will give you X reward” what is the incentive to ever produce more than 5 widgets? Performance related rewards cap potential in staff.

    I believe reward and appraisal should be separated from each other. Rewards should be tied to something that has no cap (like company performance, share price or number of satisfied customers?) and people should be rewarded on the performance of the whole, not the individual. Rewarding individual performance discourages team work and emphasizes the individual over the team. Appraisal should be with the aim of self-improvement of the individual WITHIN the team; asking questions along the lines of: “in what way can we (employer) help you (employee) be better at what you do” (or something like that).

    Here are some interesting reads off the infoq site on the topic (both for and against):

    http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/03/bonus-for-agile-teams
    http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/10/performance_review
    http://www.infoq.com/news/2009/11/scrum-individual-reward

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