Can you offer a real life example as to why depending on HR to "fix" an employee appraisal system fails?

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The following is from: Performance Management 2/E (Briefcase Books Series)appraisals due out in October, 2011.

When I was first engaged as a consultant to the CEO of a large company (about a thousand employees) to improve their performance management system, I was excited. It's rare to get such an opportunity. The CEO, Donald, had some clear ideas about how he wanted a new system of performance management that could be applied universally across all job categories, from directors right down to janitors. His stated goals was to leave his “imprint” on the organization that would last after he had gone.

He was also clear that he wanted the initiative to be “home grown” – lead by internal staff and not by an external consultant, generally a good strategy for organizational change. He suggested an internal working committee consisting of one or two employees, several departmental directors, myself, and a member from the policy analyst group, all to be lead by the HR department. So far so good.

We did a lot of things right. We met regularly to plan strategy and tactics. We created survey instruments to get input from both staff and managers, and created new documents and forms. We even created some positive hopes and expectations in the organization about the new system. The project went on for over a year – it's a big undertaking and we were intent on doing it right.

Once we were close enough to the finish line, we were asked to present our findings to the entire executive board, including Don, and his eight vice-presidents. Because Don wanted a system developed internally, the HR representative was chosen to present our recommendations, strategies and tactics to the board. It was THE critical step in the change process. No executive commitment, no change, a year of hard work down the drain.

The HR rep, Bob, stood up in front of these powerful people, and started rambling on about how good the forms were, and how our suggestions would both simplify the tasks of the HR department. Five minutes in, I knew we were in trouble. When you present to a group of powerful people, you can tell whether there is buy-in or not. Buy-in shows itself in the body language, facial expressions, and types of questions asked. In this case, no smiles. No body language that would suggest a connection with the recommendations. The questions asked were off-point, skeptical.

I sat there with a nasty feeling in my gut. While I tried to steer things in a more positive direction, I was handcuffed by the HR representative, who not only lacked decent presentation skills, but completely misread the members of the executive board. As we moved closer to the end of the meeting, Bob stopped, and asked for questions and comments. I knew the project was dead, when a senior VP said: “All this is well and good for employees, but I can't see myself or the directors who report to me wanting to do this and I won't use this system with my directors. You did a great job, but it just doesn't fit US.”

Game over.

The CEO ended the meeting by saying: “I'd like to thank all of you for your hard work”, you know you are in trouble when you are thanked for effort rather than results, “and you've certainly give us something to think about. I'd like to meet privately with the rest of the executive, and we'll discuss your ideas and get back to you on where we should go next.” He never did get back to us, except to say that other priorities had emerged, and since there were some reservations on the part of the executive board, the initiative would be put on hold, “for now”. For now ended up being a long time.

 


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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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