Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Performance Appraisals - The Missed Opportunity

Creating a Cultural Shift Away from the 

“Catch 22” of Performance Reviews

“To earn more in less time and keep the people you really want to Keep”
By Chris Dennis

Performance reviews or appraisals have been on the scene a long time but they lack real payoff. I’ve heard them described as “OK, -­   “the only thing I recall is I didn’t get a raise a nonevent, or “we officially have a program but we hardly ever have reviews. Rarely do I hear positive reporting. Unfortunately performance reviews often result in manager and employee frustration, sometimes a lack of trust and usually missed opportunities. 

Managers often feel ill at ease when conducting review:
  • How do we both evaluate and motivate?
  • If too positive will we contribute to unrealistic compensation or promotional expectations?
  • If too negative will we lower morale and productivity?
  • How can we keep high potential employees when organizational resources and opportunities are limited?
  • The manager may want to coach their employees but also must play the role of judge as it relates to promotions, transfers, layoffs, raises or bonuses.
  • They lack a process to communicate, in a timely manner, actions needed to adjust to unforeseen obstacles that interfere with achieving performance expectations within targeted time frames.
  • How can performance feedback be effective when it is separated by months from actual event?

Employees are conflicted as well
  • Do they show up only in the most positive light or talk openly and honestly about the
  • help they need to achieve their goals?
  • What is the best method to communicate with the manager to ensure clarity anfairness while addressing the right organizational goals?
  • Will the employees input to goal setting be minimized by the Manager?
  • How can the employee be open and trust the manager and the organization whejudgment and evaluation seem to be the primary focus? 
As described in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22 we have a no win situation. This is bad news as performance appraisals impact individuals, teams, functions and overall organizational effectiveness. There are answers to the Catch 22 dilemma. Managers can use the Performance Appraisal process effectively while contributing to the growth, continuity and resilience of the organization and its people.

The concept of the whole being greater or different than the sum of its parts can be traced back to Aristotle, discussed by economists David Hume and Adam Smith and found in Emergence theory. Today it is more commonly referred to as synergy. The idea is “there is a cooperation of unlike kinds.” When the manager and the employee collaborate to determine goals for the upcoming review period the employee will respond with higher levels of performance. The knowledge to solve most problems is most always already within the organization.

Holding regular meetings with employees during the review period vs. just the annual review, adds flexibility to take course corrections needed to ensure objectives are met. These meetings help build relationships with employees while providing feedback opportunities to address issues as they occur. The manager as a coach must be committed to helping the employee achieve success. Meeting time required will vary based on the employee’s ability and willingness to perform.  Without effective follow-up, objectives are unlikely to be realized. A communication system to facilitate follow-up reviews is essential.

Managers must learn effective listening techniques to enhance their role as boss, coach and mentor. An unusual example that I fondly remember involves Bob Long one of my fraternity brothers drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1964.During rookie camp Bob grew to both respect and fear Coach Vince Lombardi but trusted him for his dedication to the game and the players. Mid-way through camp Coach was really screaming at Bob to do better. Finally Bob had enough and said “coach, you don’t have to yell at me, my father was a coal miner from PA and he was much tougher than you are, I’m self-motivated.” Coach Lombardi laughed and walked away, he never screamed at Bob again. Coach Lombardi knew the value of empathic listening techniques. They became very close. Bob played for Coach during the Packers Super Bowl Years. Following his recovery from a fractured vertebra suffered during the off season when he was with the Atlanta Falcons years later, Bob, at Coach Lombardi’s request joined the Washington Red Skins as their Wide Receiver when Lombardi became their head coach.

Managers must learn to register concerns and speak directly to areas needing improvement with their employees. Candid conversations to review deficiencies and what can realistically be done to address them will be appreciated when the best’s interests of the employee and the organization are jointly and honestly considered. Research has confirmed that starting with the negative and ending with the positive is the most effective way to handle constructive feedback instead of the reverse which sets up the condition of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Most of us can remember when a teacher, coach, member of the clergy, parent or supervisor cared enough to register a concern and honestly explain where improvements in our performance, attitude or approach were needed. Employees sense and appreciate the managers’ honest intent to help them succeed and will be more open and contributing to the give and take process to reach desired goals. When such discussions are held they can result in increased performance and greater employee satisfaction.

Employees need to understand their role in the review process to ensure their clear and active participation. They must learn how to effectively communicate with their manager given that we all have different styles. Employees should appreciate that it is much more risky in today’s world to hold back their potential versus getting involved and making honest and open attempts to be creative and contribute their best for the overall success of whatever organization they belong to. Effective training processes are available to accomplish this.

Managers must learn to separate the Formal Review, Follow-­‐up coaching and counseling, and Salary Administration. While performance reviews do provide the bases for salary considerations, the formal review and the follow-up sessions should not be confused. Salary increases can be administered separately and discussed in terms of qualitative performance feedback at the time of the increase and in alignment with whatever system the organization uses to administer salaries. The mechanics of salary administration are not an effective way of providing feedback for performance improvement or signaling a person’s future as it is a onetime event and most often based on a variety of variables in addition to one’s performance.
Establish a separate and distinct Employee Development Program to address managerial and employee roles, resources and opportunities to assist employees in their further development; such as: job rotations, cross functional assignments, sabbaticals and other learning opportunities at every level.

Develop a Performance Appraisal or Review Program that documents the complete process. When Senior Management presents such a program in seminar form to direct reports there is no question of leadership support.

The overall intent is to create an environment where more is achieved in less time, while honesty, openness and trust are organizationally valued and where people really want to be. This represents a cultural shift where the emphasis is more on finding what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong with them.

I believe trust is the highest form of motivation. We evaluate organizations and relationships all the time as to their desirability, for example:
  • Do I want to belong?
  • Do they want me?
  • What will I gain by joining?
  • What will I have to give up?
  • Can I trust them?
  • Am I willing to commit?

The answers to these questions will determine the degree of one’s openness and commitment. People need to feel self-assured and a degree of safety to offer up creative ideas that enhance productivity. The confidence to ask that one question that may very well turn the organization in a new and more productive direction far exceeding everyone’s initial expectations.


Christopher Dennis Masters in Organiztional Development from American University, Bachelors of Psychology from Wichita State University is a collaborator of DeDominic & Associates and a global consultant on Organizational Development.  He was Senior Vice President of W.R. Grace & Company for over 20 years.   If you would like to set up a complimentary consultation, please call our office to schedule a skype or personal meeting.

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