Managers and staff alike generally dread the annual appraisal round. In my 30 years in HR the most commonly cited reason is the score, or grade, managers are obliged to bestow on the employee. The dreaded ‘overall score’ that marks you out as a winner or a loser, the score representing a whole year of your working life.
Someone, somewhere must be getting a degree of comfort and reassurance in the fact that they have forced their employees into a small number of fairly arbitrary categories. I’d like to upset their applecart by callously, and with malice aforethought, suggesting that the process does more harm than good. My starter for 10!
1. Giving anyone’s performance an overall score means that is all they will focus on. Forget imparting any other information, it won't be heard. People want the score – we’ve made the score the most important outcome of this process.
2. If people are managed effectively they are clear about what they are doing well and what they need to improve. Good managers know everyone does some things well and some things less well; they don’t reduce people to a number (or a letter, or a definition – let’s not kid ourselves the categories all boil down to the same thing).
3. A small, but significant, percentage of managers (who would have no idea what good performance looks like if it jumped up and bit them) are scoring other staff…. and leaving a trail of misery and confusion in their wake.
4. We are all too prone to bias, conscious and unconscious, to start scoring other people's annual performance. The score given will be influenced by recency effects, halo effects, unconscious bias etc. We don’t need any more of an excuse to lump people into general categories – we do it automatically. A deficit of cognitive and emotional complexity leads to a more simplistic organising schema. Remember, it’s the score that people will take away from the process.
5. Despite appearances managers are generally scoring one thing. 'To what extent did this person make my life easier?' That may or may not be related to how you want them to rate their folk.
6. Savvy managers don't use the performance management scoring process to manage staff out if there is any way they can avoid it. You must have noticed this. They don't create enemies, and they definitely don’t create more work for themselves, by following the standard process. They have their ways....and this isn't one of them.
7. I can guarantee that you have no idea whether the behaviours or outcomes you are scoring are related to organisational performance. Don't feel too bad about this; no-one knows.
8. Sitting someone down once or twice a year to fill in forms which, (despite the best of intentions) are largely about scoring that person, really, really annoys a large percentage of your workforce. If your appraisals are linked to rewards then there are far cheaper ways of demoralizing your workforce.
9. It's not poor interpersonal skills of your managers that prevents them from building commitment and motivation with their staff, whilst at the same time rating them against their colleagues. It’s not a realistic expectation, and it’s not fair to expect managers to deliver these competing objectives.
10. Putting a rating on someone’s behaviour (generally against some set of generic, ‘motherhood and apple pie’ value set) is only possible in extreme cases, and you already know who those people are! Rating performance against objectives is also flawed. Objectives can change rapidly and many factors are outside of the individual's control. Are we scoring people on how well they can hit a moving target? No. We are scoring them on how well they made it look they hit the target.
Remember, there are always fewer people developing the measures than there are people coming up with creative ways to get around them.
11. Yes, I’m fired up and going for an 11th! Scores do not help you show cause in any subsequent dispute. In fact, in my experience, appraisals are generally handled so badly that a majority would damage the employer’s case.
Are there any defenders of the rating process?