How human resource departments contribute to the failure of performance appraisals

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Seven Stupid Things Human Resource Departments Do To Screw Up Performance Appraisals


(This article is based on the book: Performance Management - Why Doesn't It Work, and the McGraw-Hill book entitled Performance Management released in October, 1998. Copyright 1998 Robert Bacal. This article may not be reproduced without permission.)

We've written an article entitled "The Ten Stupid Things Managers Do To Screw Up Performance Appraisals", but the truth is that managers don't do dumb things just to fill up their time. A lotof the time we find that when managers are doing performance appraisals badly, they are getting a lot of "help"from their human resource (HR) or personnel department. Central HR departments can create a situation that virtually destroys any value from the performance appraisal process. Here's the list of dumb things HR folks do.

Stupid Thing #1: Focusing on and stressing the paperwork and forms.

We can understand why human resource people want some sort of paper trail related to performance appraisal. But when the emphasis on the forms and paperwork overshadows the real purpose of doing appraisals, then huge amounts of resources are wasted. When HR departments focus on getting the forms done, that's exactly what they get. Forms done. If that's all this is about, hire a monkey to do it. Any fool (no insult to the monkey) can tick off boxes on a form and send it on.

Stupid Thing #2: Believing that a ratings based form of appraisal will serve as protection against lawsuits by employees.

Big mistake. If you are caught speeding, do you think the court is going to accept as evidence a policeman's statement that "On a scale of 1-5 the driver was a 4?" I don't think so. But HR departments believe that THEIR form is going to withstand legal scrutiny. It's not. It's too subjective and too vague. This desire for false security is one reason HR folks feel they need to pressure managers to get the forms done. At least until their first lawsuit.

Stupid Thing #3: Using an automated system

This is a new development. You can purchase software that automates the performance appraisal process. What it does is it takes a lousy paper process, then makes it a lousy computerized process, so now we go much faster pretending we are doing something useful.

Performance appraisal is an interpersonal communication process. Even between two people, it's often not done well. Automating the process is a waste of money and time, and HR departments that go that route are doing charitable work for the vendors of the software.

It's bad enough we mechanize a human process using paper forms. Now we can take it one step further. Heck, now managers never have to speak to staff. This is progress?

Stupid Thing #4: Undertraining or mis-training managers in the process

Take some HR folks. They design some new forms, and a new way of doing performance appraisals. They print out some basic instructions, print out some forms, and distribute them to managers. The assumption is managers will know the purpose goes much further than "getting the forms done".

That's not going to happen. If the HR folks yell and scream, they probably WILL get the forms back, but not much more. Managers need extensive training, not only regarding the nuts and bolts of the appraisal process, but about the why's and interpersonal parts of it. Without that, one gets an empty paper chase (while people pretend it is a useful way to expend energy).

Stupid Thing #4: Not training employees

Why would you train employees in their role in the appraisal process. First, because the only way it works is when employee and manager work together, in partnership. Both manager and employee need to hold the same understanding about why they are doing appraisal, how it will be done, and what is expected.

Very few organizations offer anything but a superficial orientation to the appraisal process. That's because they see it as something done TO employees. It isn't, except of course when the HR department treats it as something done to employees. Then managers will probably do it that way.

Stupid Thing #5: Thinking pressuring managers to get the forms in is productive.

One reason managers procrastinate with respect to doing appraisals is that they don't see the point, or see it as a waste of time. There are other reasons, too. Most can be dealt with by using flexible approaches that take into account the needs of managers. Unfortunately, a good many HR departments believe it's just a question of ordering, yelling, coercing or begging managers to get them done.

That doesn't address the reasons why managers aren't doing them. If they felt they were useful, they would do them. The key to getting them done is to make them useful. Unless of course the HR folks want to spend their days ordering, yelling coercing and begging.

Stupid Thing #6: One size fits all fantasy

Imagine the difficulty for HR staff if every manager used a different form, or different method. How would you keep track? How would you file them? We can understand the desire to standardize the forms across a company.

But if you think about it, does it make sense? Can we evaluate a teacher in the same way as we evaluate the school custodian? Do we evaluate a baseball umpire the same way we evaluate a baseball player? Of course not. But still, HR departments expect managers to use a single tool for everyone, often a rating form. This kind of inflexibility addresses a filing problem. Is that why we do appraisals? To make it easier for the HR department? No, we do it to improve performance.

Stupid Thing #7: Playing the appraisal cop.

Unfortunately, HR and personnel departments get stuck with the responsibility of getting appraisals done by managers. Perhaps it isn't their fault, but it is a strong indicator that the system being used is or has failed. How come?

In a properly functioning system, each manager is assessed on a number of things, one of which will be their fulfillment of the performance management and appraisal function. The responsibility lies with management. If a manager is not carrying out the responsibility, it is his or her boss that should be evaluating the manager. It's a cascading process. No appraisal system is going to work until each manager's boss makes it clear that getting it done is going to be a factor in the manager's own appraisal.

HR departments shouldn't be appraisal cops If anyone is to do that, it should be the manager's boss. Anything less is going to be a waste of time and effort.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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