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Performance Evaluation

There is, says Dulewicz (1989), “… a basic human tendency to make judgments about those one is working with, as well as about oneself.” Appraisal, it seems, is both inevitable and universal. In the absence of a carefully structured system of appraisal, people will tend to judge the work performance of others, including subordinates, naturally, informally and arbitrarily.

The human inclination to judge can create serious motivational, ethical and legal problems in the workplace. Without a structured appraisal system, there is little chance of ensuring that the judgments made will be lawful, fair, defensible and accurate.

Performance appraisal systems began as simple methods of income justification. That is, appraisal was used to decide whether or not the salary or wage of an individual employee was justified.

The process was firmly linked to material outcomes. If an employee’s performance was found to be less than ideal, a cut in pay would follow. On the other hand, if their performance was better than the supervisor expected, a pay rise was in order.

Little consideration, if any, was given to the developmental possibilities of appraisal. If was felt that a cut in pay, or a rise, should provide the only required impetus for an employee to either improve or continue to perform well.

Sometimes this basic system succeeded in getting the results that were intended; but more often than not, it failed.

For example, early motivational researchers were aware that different people with roughly equal work abilities could be paid the same amount of money and yet have quite different levels of motivation and performance.

These observations were confirmed in empirical studies. Pay rates were important, yes; but they were not the only element that had an impact on employee performance. It was found that other issues, such as morale and self-esteem, could also have a major influence.

As a result, the traditional emphasis on reward outcomes was progressively rejected. In the 1950s in the United States, the potential usefulness of appraisal as tool for motivation and development was gradually recognized. The general model of performance appraisal, as it is known today, began from that time.

Modern Appraisal

Performance appraisal may be defined as a structured formal interaction between a subordinate and supervisor, that usually takes the form of a periodic interview (annual or semi-annual), in which the work performance of the subordinate is examined and discussed, with a view to identifying weaknesses and strengths as well as opportunities for improvement and skills development.

In many organizations – but not all – appraisal results are used, either directly or indirectly, to help determine reward outcomes. That is, the appraisal results are used to identify the better performing employees who should get the majority of available merit pay increases, bonuses, and promotions.

By the same token, appraisal results are used to identify the poorer performers who may require some form of counseling, or in extreme cases, demotion, dismissal or decreases in pay. (Organizations need to be aware of laws in their country that might restrict their capacity to dismiss employees or decrease pay.)

Whether this is an appropriate use of performance appraisal – the assignment and justification of rewards and penalties – is a very uncertain and contentious matter.

Controversy, Controversy

Few issues in management stir up more controversy than performance appraisal.
There are many reputable sources – researchers, management commentators, psychometricians – who have expressed doubts about the validity and reliability of the performance appraisal process. Some have even suggested that the process is so inherently flawed that it may be impossible to perfect it (see Derven, 1990, for example).
At the other extreme, there are many strong advocates of performance appraisal. Some view it as potentially “… the most crucial aspect of organizational life” (Lawrie, 1990).

Between these two extremes lie various schools of belief. While all endorse the use of performance appraisal, there are many different opinions on how and when to apply it.

There are those, for instance, who believe that performance appraisal has many important employee development uses, but scorn any attempt to link the process to reward outcomes – such as pay rises and promotions.

This group believes that the linkage to reward outcomes reduces or eliminates the developmental value of appraisals. Rather than an opportunity for constructive review and encouragement, the reward-linked process is perceived as judgmental, punitive and harrowing.
For example, how many people would gladly admit their work problems if, at the same time, they knew that their next pay rise or a much-wanted promotion was riding on an appraisal result? Very likely, in that situation, many people would deny or downplay their weaknesses.
Nor is the desire to distort or deny the truth confined to the person being appraised. Many appraisers feel uncomfortable with the combined role of judge and executioner.

Such reluctance is not difficult to understand. Appraisers often know their appraisees well, and are typically in a direct subordinate-supervisor relationship. They work together on a daily basis and may, at times, mix socially. Suggesting that a subordinate needs to brush up on certain work skills is one thing; giving an appraisal result that has the direct effect of negating a promotion is another.

The result can be resentment and serious morale damage, leading to workplace disruption, soured relationships and productivity declines.

On the other hand, there is a strong rival argument which claims that performance appraisal must unequivocally be linked to reward outcomes.

The advocates of this approach say that organizations must have a process by which rewards – which are not an unlimited resource – may be openly and fairly distributed to those most deserving on the basis of merit, effort and results.

There is a critical need for remunerative justice in organizations. Performance appraisal – whatever its practical flaws – is the only process available to help achieve fair, decent and consistent reward outcomes.

It has also been claimed that appraisees themselves are inclined to believe that appraisal results should be linked directly to reward outcomes – and are suspicious and disappointed when told this is not the case. Rather than feeling relieved, appraisees may suspect that they are not being told the whole truth, or that the appraisal process is a sham and waste of time.
Knowledge Inc.

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