Performance Appraisals

Seven stupid things employees do

Generally, when performance appraisal goes awry, the primary cause has little to do with employees. For the most part, employees take their cues from management and human resources. However, when individual employees perceive the process in negative ways, they can create or damage even the best of appraisal processes. Pay is important, but it is not the only issue related to the appraisal focus. If employees enter into the process willing to defend their own positions in factual and fair ways, and to work with managers, the process can become much more pleasant. If not, it can become a war.

Stupid Thing #1: Focusing On The Appraisal Forms

Performance appraisal isn't about the forms (although, often managers and HR treat it as such). The ultimate purpose of performance appraisal is to allow employees and managers to improve continuously and to remove barriers to job success. In other words, to make everyone better. Forms don't make people better, and are simply a way or recording basic information for later reference. If the focus is getting the forms "done", without thought and effort, the whole process becomes at best a waste of time, and at worst, insulting.

Stupid Thing #2: Not Preparing Beforehand

Preparing for performance appraisal helps the employee focus on the key issue - performance improvement, and to examine his or her performance in a more objective way (see defensiveness below). Unfortunately, many employees walk into the appraisal meeting not having thought about the review period, and so are unprepared to present their points of view. Being unprepared means being a reactive participant, or being a passive participant. Neither are going to help manager or employee. Employees can prepare by reviewing their work beforehand, identifying any barriers they faced in doing their jobs, and refamiliarizing themselves with their job descriptions, job responsibilities, and any job performance expectations set with the manager.

Stupid Thing #3: Defensiveness

We tend to take our jobs seriously and personally, making it more difficult to hear others' comments about our work, particularly when they are critical. Even constructive criticism is often hard to hear. If employees enter into the discussion with an attitude of "defending", then it's almost impossible to create the dialogue necessary for performance improvement. That doesn't mean employees can't present their own opinions and perceptions, but it does mean that they should be presented in a calm, factual manner, rather than a defensive, emotional way. Of course, if managers are inept in the appraisal process, it makes it very difficult to avoid this defensiveness.

Stupid Thing #4: Not Communicating During The Year

Employees need to know how they are doing all year round, not just at appraisal time. Generally it is primarily management's responsibility to ensure that there are no surprises at appraisal time. Often managers discuss both positives and negatives of employee performance throughout the year, but this is unfortunately, not a universal practice. It's in the employees interests to open up discussion about performance during the year, even if the manager does not initiate it. The sooner employees know where they are at, and what they need to change (or keep doing), the sooner problems can be fixed. In fact many problems can be prevented if they are caught early enough. Even if managers aren't creating that communication, employees can and should. It's a shared responsibility.

Stupid Thing #5: Not Clarifying Enough

Life would be much easier if managers were perfect, but they aren't. Some communicate and explain well. Some don't. Some are aggravating and some not. At times employees won't be clear about their managers' reasoning or comments, or what a manager is suggesting. That could be because the manager isn't clear him/herself, or simply isn't good at explaining. However, unless employees clarify when they aren't sure about the reasoning or explanations, they won't know what they need to do to improve their future job performance. It's important to leave the appraisal meeting having a good understanding of what's been said. If that's not possible clarification can occur after the meeting, or down the road, if that's more appropriate.

Stupid Thing #6: Allowing One-Sidedness

Performance appraisals work best when both participants are active, and expressing their positions and ideas. Some employees are uncomfortable doing that, and while managers should be creating a climate where employees are comfortable, some managers aren't good at it. Performance appraisal time is an excellent time for employees to make suggestions about things that could be changed to improve performance, about how to remove barriers to job success, and ways to increase productivity. Remember also that managers can't read minds. The better managers will work with employees to help them do their jobs more effectively, but they can't know how they can help unless employees provide them with good, factual information, or, even better, concrete ideas.

Stupid Thing #7: Focusing On Appraisal As A Way Of Getting More Money

Unfortunately, many organizations tie employee pay to appraisal results, which puts employee and manager on opposite sides. Employees in such systems tend to focus too much on the money component, although that focus is certainly understandable. It's also understandable when employees in such systems become hesitant to reveal shortcomings or mistakes. But it's still dumb. If employees main purpose is to squeeze as much of an increase out of the company, and the managers try to keep increases as small as possible, it becomes totally impossible to focus on what ultimately matters over the long term, which is continuous performance improvement and success for everyone.


Ten stupid things Managers do

Performance appraisals aren't fun. But a lot of the time they are agonizing because managers do really dumb things, ending up destroying a process that is important to everyone and decides career factors. The major responsibilities for setting performance appraisal tone and climate rest with managers and the human resources department. However, even when managers and human resources do their jobs well, employees who come at the process with a negative or defensive approach are not likely to gain from the process or to prosper over the long term. The constant key is for employees to participate actively and assertively, but to keep a problem-solving mindset, and keep focused on how things can be improved in the future. No matter who initiates it, performance appraisal is about positive open communication between employee and manager.

Stupid Thing #1: Spending more time on performance appraisal than performance PLANNING, or ongoing performance communication.

Performance appraisal is the end of a process that goes on all the time - a process that is based on good communication between manager and employee. So, more time should be spent preventing performance problems than evaluating at the end of the year. When managers do good things during the year, the appraisal is easy to do and comfortable, because there won't be any surprises.

Stupid Thing #2: Comparing employees with each other.

Want to create bad feelings, damage morale, get staff to compete so badly they will not work as a team? Then rank staff or compare staff. A guaranteed technique. And heck, not only can a manager create friction among staff, but the manager can become a great target for that hostility too. A bonus!

Stupid Thing #3: Forgetting appraisal is about improvement, not blame.

We do appraisal to improve performance, not find a donkey to pin a tail on or blame. Managers who forget this end up developing staff who don't trust them, or even can't stand them. That's because the blaming process if pointless, and doesn't help anyone. If there is to be a point to performance appraisal it should be getting manager and employee working together to have everyone get better.

Stupid Thing #4: Thinking a rating form is an objective, impartial tool.

Many companies use rating forms to evaluate employees (you know, the 1-5 ratings?). They do that because it's faster than doing it right. The problem comes when managers believe that those ratings are in some way "real", or anything but subjective, often vague judgments that are bound to be subjective and inaccurate. By the way, if you have two people rate the same employee, the chances of them agreeing are very small. THAT'S subjective. Say it to yourself over and over. Ratings are subjective. Rating forms are subjective. Rating forms are not behavioral. 

Stupid Thing #5: Stopping performance appraisal when a person's salary is no longer tied to the appraisals.

Lots of managers do this. They conduct appraisals so long as they have to do so to justify or withhold a pay increase. When staff hit their salary ceiling, or pay is not connected to appraisal and performance, managers don't bother. Dumb. Performance appraisal is FOR improving performance. It isn't just about pay (although some think it is ONLY about pay). If nothing else, everyone needs feedback on their jobs, whether there is money involved or not.

Stupid Thing #6: Believing they are in position to accurately assess staff.

Managers delude themselves into believing they can assess staff performance, even if they hardly ever see their staff actually doing their jobs, or the results of their jobs). Not possible. Most managers aren't in a position to monitor staff consistently enough to be able to assess well. And, besides what manager wants to do that or has the time. And, what employee wants their manager perched, watching their every mood. That's why appraisal is a partnership between employee and manager.

Stupid Thing #7: Canceling or postponing appraisal meetings.

Happens a whole lot. I guess because nobody likes to do them, so managers will postpone them at the drop of a hat. Why is this bad? It says to employees that the process is unimportant or phony. If managers aren't willing to commit to the process, then they shouldn't do it at all. Employees are too smart not to notice the low priority placed on appraisals.

Stupid Thing #8: Measuring or appraising the trivial.

Fact of life: The easiest things to measure or evaluate are the least important things with respect to doing a job. Managers are quick to define customer service as "answering the phone within three rings", or some such thing. That's easy to measure if you want to. What's NOT easy to measure is the overall quality of service that will get and keep customers. Measuring overall customer service is hard, so many managers don't do it. But they will measure the trivial.

Stupid Thing #9: Surprising employees during appraisal.

Want to really waste your time and create bad performance? This is a guaranteed technique. Don't talk to staff during the year. When they mess up, don't deal with it at the time but SAVE it up. Then, at the appraisal meeting, truck out everything saved up in the bank and dump it in the employee's lap. That'll show them who is boss! 

Stupid Thing #10: Thinking all employees and all jobs should be assessed in exactly the same way using the same procedures.

Do all employees need the same things to improve their performance? Of course not. Some need specific feedback. Some don't. Some need more communication than others. And of course jobs are all different Do you think we can evaluate the CEO of Ford using the same approach as we use for the person who cleans the factory floor? Of course not. So, why do managers insist on evaluating the receptionist using the same tools and criteria as the civil engineers in the office?

 

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