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« Why won't you come to the leadership table? | Main | Scrap Performance Appraisals - Part 2 »

July 25, 2005


Mmmmm....good stuff, Lisa! Can't wait to read more (and read the comments/trackbacks).

You've got me thinking, too. I've never been a big fan either, but how do you circumvent the larger corporate policy which is unlikely to change? I can feel a post bubbling up... :-)

Bren - you raise an interesting question, but I have an observation. While it may ultimately be true that the larger organization won't change and that circumvention is necessary, you might also want to challenge your assumptions and determine whether these beliefs are serving you well. I understand that you work in one of the most change averse places on the face of the earth - higher education (ironic, isn't it?).

Either way, it's a good question, so let's get into it!

I love Alfie Kohn's work, and Tom Coens and I once shared presentation time at a Deming Institute annual conference. I nodded my head a lot when Tom spoke.

I do have an answer for "what to do instead" -- insure that all people in the organization are engaged in work which allows them to bring their genius to a purpose that has meaning to them.

Sounds simple and obvious but, compared to performance appraisal, it requires a very different mind-set, very different skills, and a high level of trust in the human spirit.

My company is doing a "Performance Appraisal Calibration Process". It is very depressing for everyone and seems to have little value as far as improving performance. In fact it will probably have the opposite effect for some time. Can you comment on this?


After years of pondering and research, I have come up with an innovative method of performance management; a better method of working with people. My new book, Performance Conversations: An alternative to appraisals is a 21st century approach to management. Let's change how organizations work with people. Performance appraisals are 20th century technology that never worked in the first place. I would love to hear what you think of my new book which is available at my website or at


Here's a strong vote in favor of performance appraisal.

I’ll fess up to an obvious fact: Most managers do hate conducting performance reviews. If they thought they could get away with it, they’d probably skip the whole annoyance completely. And lots of employees loathe them. So what?

In too many places, performance evaluations are sloppily done and not taken very seriously. A lot of supervisors would rather endure a root canal than write and deliver a performance review, particularly if there are some hard, cold truths that they can’t avoid discussing.

But in spite of all the problems and resistance, I‘m a solid believer in performance appraisal. I think performance appraisal is critically important for any organization that’s more sophisticated than a mom-and-pop store—or that wants to be.

As hard as performance appraisal may be—and done right, it is hard—I’m convinced that we do it because it’s an ethical obligation of leadership. Every person on the team wants the answers to two questions. First: What do you expect of me? Second: How am I doing at meeting your expectations? The performance-evaluation process answers those two questions. So why do we do performance appraisal? Because as leaders we have a moral obligation to do so.

And we also have an obligation to put the time into performance appraisal that it deserves. Goodness gracious! Managers don’t spend a tenth as many hours assessing and developing and appraising people as they spend in the restroom. But they’ve got the gall to whine about appraisal taking too much time. That’s nonsense.

So managers hate performance appraisal. Big deal. They also hate budgeting. Grow up, get over it, and start doing it right. You’re getting paid to be a leader — start earning your pay.

Dick Grote

Perhaps these research-based observations about performance appraisals will be of interest:

GIVE CREDIT FOR GOOD FORM. If the only dimension of performance we needed to be concerned with were the number of widgets produced each hour - without reference to how this was achieved (regarding waste of material impact upon fellow workers, being on time, etc.) - then no formal, performance-appraisal system would be needed.

However, rarely is this the case. Usually, physical conditions, external events, and the behavior of others (e.g. time required for the best team-building efforts to have effect) interact to determine outcomes. Therefore, adequate attention should be given to productive, work-relevant behaviors - not just immediate, physical output - on the part of each individual.

IDENTIFY WORK-RELEVANT BEHAVIORS VIA THE CRITICAL INCIDENT TECHNIQUE. Court decisions stress the need for appraisal criteria that are based upon explicit, job-analysis data, rather than general characteristics; such as, attitude toward people, resourcefulness, leadership, capacity for growth, and loyalty to the organization.

The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) produces quite explicit data. Those who are most knowledgeable about a job (supervisors, incumbents, peers, subordinates, clients, etc.) are asked to describe, independently, specific incidents of efffective and ineffective job behavior they have observed over the past 6-12 months. Next, they meet to classify those incidents that they agree are positively or negatively critical into different perforrmance dimensions and assign relative weights to these. These incident data can then be used to inform new job inductees, guide remedial action, and indicate the the types of behavioral documentation that will be required for supporting "star" and "inadequate performer"

EXCLUDE THE MIDDLE - SOLICIT RATINGS FOR ONLY EXTREME PERFORMERS. In virtually any organization, you will obtain much better agreement as to who are the "stars," and who are the "inadequate performers," than you will as to who is "above average," "average," and "below average." Yet, in most organizations, assignment of these middle-three ratings consumes a disproportionate amount of supervisory time and causes the most dissension and resentment among the troops.

The label "average" has a negative conotation to good employees, for we know that average performance in a superior organization is not the same thing as average performance in a mediocre one. Why not simply tell these middle people that they are valued menbers of the team and give them CIT data on how to be "stars" and avoid being "inadequate performers."

USE MULTIPLE SOURCES AND, WHERE FEASIBLE, MULTIPLE RATERS FOR A SOURCE. Studies show that ratings from those closest to the performance dimension being rated - in terms of knowledge about the dimension and opportunity to observe behavior relative to it - are more valid than ratings from other sources. In addition, the pooling of ratings from several knowledgeable raters for the same source, when available, are preferable to one rater for that source, in terms of measurement reliability and inclusiveness. Of course, all "star" and "inadequate performer" ratings should be documented with CIT determined behaviors.

USE A COORDINATION PANEL TO PROCESS EVALUATIONS WHEN THERE IS MORE THAN ONE ORGANIZATIONAL UNIT. A Coordination Panel (comprising a representative from each organizational unit and chaired by a top-level officer) should be established to check on the adequacy of each unit's CIT preparation, review inputs from the various units to assure interunit fairness, handle appeals from aggrieved personnel, and otherwise monitor the operation of the system. The panel also determines how to make trade-offs between goal achievement and goal difficulty.

SOLICIT FEEDBACK FROM RATEES. No supervisor or other rater is all-seeing and all-knowing. In a rating-review session, the supervisor should regard the overall rating of a ratee to be tentative until the ratee (previously given all CIT data about his or her job) has had the opportunity to input any additional critical-incident data not communicated by the supervisor or challenge any communicated data. Then, if necessary, the supervisor may need to confirm the validity of such data before continuing the performance review.

A more complete presentation will be found in my article: "Improving Performance Appraisal Systems," NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY REVIEW. Winter 1987-1988, Vol. 7, No. 1, pages 20-27.

William M. Fox
Professor Emeritus, Management and Organizational Behavior
University of Florida
6605 SW 37th Way
Gainesville, FL 32608
(352) 376-9786

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