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Why Performance Appraisals Fail

SHAMEELA WINSTON
We have said a lot so far, no just in this column but on a global scale, about how useful performance management systems are in motivating employees, aligning behaviour, driving business performance, and supporting organisational change.

Unfortunately, the reality is that despite investing time and money into these systems, most organisations only see minimum returns and in many cases, no results at all. And so there is a growing call to stop appraisals. 

But why do we think appraisals, or reviews, are not working? Is it because there is no real commitment from the management, as shown in the way our CEO has never done a performance contract or a single review with any of the management team, communicating to the EXCO that they can also omit this step with their own reports?

Is it that our culture here is so informal, or so personality based, or whatever our political reality is, that we may do appraisals to satisfy the HRM when we know in fact that the outcomes were long decided based on personal relationships we have with influencers in the business?

Or do we fail to implement performance management and avoid doing appraisals because despite the enabling environment, the truth is we don’t know how to use the tools and we are afraid to confess this so late in the day after all the consultancies and workshops and templates?

Is it because as supervisors we know that we have done so much against the principles of performance management (no set goals, no coaching, no resources availed, no communication with our staff) that we are going to be exposed if we go through the appraisal process?

There are so many potential obstacles to successfully applying performance measurement tools in the environment, and not all of them are political. Have a look at the following and see if any resonates with you in your working context:

The design is wrong. It is possible the appraisal tool you are using does not fit. Maybe it doesn’t fit your organisational context. Or maybe it doesn’t fit the culture.

Maybe we work remotely from virtual workstations and much of our deliverables are intangible but the system we have to measure our performance depends on tangible measurable, so we are struggling to use it.

So the possible solution there is to review the tool with the involvement of the users, especially management, so that they can articulate the business needs and ensure they are satisfied by the design process.

We can’t support it. Maybe we don’t really have job descriptions and we have not done a strategy. We don’t have the systems and structures that performance evaluations assume we have. Maybe the system

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we have is just too complicated.

We don’t understand it. The terminology was impressive in the presentation but now that we are left alone with the animal, we can’t talk to it. I mean, what is the difference between goals, projects, KPIs?

What is a measure and what is a weight and how come the ratings given by different managers who supervise me directly or indirectly never tally?

It’s too impersonal.  Why does it seem like the commitment I show the employer, working overtime and willingly doing work outside my job description, outside my working hours, being nice and patient with difficult clients – why does it look like that kind of commitment is not recognised by the tool?

There is just so much focus on the how to complete the form and how to multiply the numbers that we lose the actual value of the work delivered.

We don’t see much about influencing future performance and behavioural change because we are just trying to log data into this online program before the system crashes.

Decisions are not related to appraisals. Please don’t tell us that we are doing appraisals so that bonus payments and career opportunities are awarded objectively when we all know the reality of things.

Who doesn’t know the word ‘discretionary’ and how it gets used when those that are liked have to be given salary increases and promotions, while those who perform but are not favoured are told about CPD?

Give us time to absorb and apply this. It is not realistic to expect that after one or 2 training sessions, we will understand the performance management tools and use them properly.

Also it will take time for us to get past the fears and suspicions and complaints and resistance of staff, and management, before we start to see the benefits.

We need to have managers who are fair and not afraid to discuss performance expectations, who can enforce policy, and we need colleagues who don’t need to be pampered but are mature enough to take feedback. This will take time and getting used to.

Think about it. If you say you want a performance culture, but you are not able to honour the structures that build and support such a culture, whether out of lack of understanding or lack of interest or lack of commitment, is it a question of how well the performance appraisal tool is working, or is the issue deeper than that? Next week…



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