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Ten Stupid Things Managers Do To Screw Up Performance Appraisal By Robert Bacal

Summary: Many managers would rather crawl across broken glass than do performance appraisals. Unfortunately, the employee review process is often unpleasant (and avoided) because managers make some common errors in undertaking the process. Here's a list of the most common things managers do to make the process harder for themselves and their employees.

(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.)

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 (or should be).

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

P

erformance 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 judgements 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.

ots 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: Cancelling 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 'em 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?

It's dumb. One size does not fit all. Actually why do managers do this? Mostly because the personnel or human resource office leans on them to do so. It's almost understandable, but that doesn't make it any less dumb.