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An Enlightended Approach to Performance Appraisal

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A culture that is conducive to change depends on a workplace that encourages, enables and rewards performance. In the environment typified by Positive Employee Relations, an enlightened perspective on the part of the senior leadership team counts for more than any book of rules. 
 
No Performance Appraisal system can be effective unless there is an affirmative culture based on employee engagement, trust, transparency and where all Front Line leader-employee relationships are adult-to-adult. 

This perspective should be grounded in the following four conditions: 

1. Employee appraisal and development involves the senior leadership team

This does not mean that the President administers the program. All members of the senior leadership team must wholeheartedly endorse the effort, not only through words but through actions. The most powerful stimulus to appraisal and development comes from the President who talks supportively about Performance Appraisal with all leaders. The President demonstrates his/her commitment by appraising the performance of direct reports and they, in turn, their direct reports. This cascades throughout the organization as a natural consequence of employee feedback and development. 

2. Front Line leaders Must Understand Human Behaviour 

Any Performance Appraisal program fights an uphill battle when Front Line leaders fail to understand that employee growth and development and organizational growth and development mutually influence each other. They are synergistic! 

To change or modify employee behaviour requires a clearly defined goal along with the guidance of the Front Line leader and the commitment of the employee. Such employee commitment must be earned by the Front Line leader; it does not appear magically when the newly-hired employee signs a letter of employment. This commitment is a result of a Values-match at the time a job offer is concluded and the subsequent way the Front Line leader’s and employee’s relationship reflects the Values and Guiding Behaviours. 

In developing more effective performance, the objective is a change in behaviour, not personality. The Front Line leader works with the employee in such areas as understanding one’s behaviour, interpersonal relationship skills, styles of communication, quality of judgment and use of authority. There should be no attempt to change underlying personality traits. 

3. The Front Line leader-employee Relationship is Recognized as Critical 

There can be no substitute for an employee’s own Front Line leader when making assessments about performance. This is where the wheels of honesty, integrity, trust and transparency meet the road. Real development takes place on-the-job (this is the best learning tool available) and the Front Line leader plays a vital role as a trainer, mentor and confident. 

The critical piece is the degree to which the employee has been trained in problem identification and resolution, and then given the opportunity to use these skills in creative ways to add value to the organization’s products and services. And, in doing so, the employee gains confidence in their competencies and maturity. 

4. Motive and attitude are recognized as more important than technique and skill in the appraisal process 

On-line learning, training films, books and discussion groups frequently stress the form and technique of Performance Appraisals. However, mastery of skill does not guarantee effective appraisal. Knowing how to begin the discussion, how to ask open-ended questions, how to use probes, how to actively listen and how to write-up Action Plans are all important techniques. These are the skill of Performance Appraisal – not its art. 

The most important factor is the Front Line leader’s genuine desire to understand, assess and help the employee to develop. With this desire and a sincere application of the Values and Guiding Behaviours, Front Line leaders will evolve their own way of getting the job done. The importance of the role model effect played by the next-level manager in conducting the Front Line leader’s Performance Appraisal, should never be underestimated. It would be the exception for the Front Line leader to know both the skill and art of conducting a Performance Appraisal without further training and development. 

The way people feel about their jobs is the sum of many things: a management philosophy that makes the company’s existence meaningful, an attitude of joie-de-vivre and an inherent enjoyment derived from the substance of their job. 

ADULT - TO - ADULT FEEDBACK 

Traditional Performance Appraisals tend to focus on an after-the-fact subjective evaluation made unilaterally by the Front Line leader. The focus of these appraisals is best seen in their documents, which take the form of pre-printed or generic checklists and call for the Front Line leader’s judgment about an employee’s performance regarding factors such as dependability, flexibility, adaptability, etc. A predetermined rating scale is included so that each factor is measured on a scale of five or ten. 

But what does an employee really learn or know, at the end of a year’s work, when his/her Front Line leader indicates 6 out of 10 on ‘flexibility?’ What is the context of this evaluation? What development plans can be established from this information? How can this lead to an atmosphere of mutual respect? We believe such an approach to employee feedback adds little, if anything, to the development of the employee. 

Given the involvement of Millenial employees in many organizations, such a checklist approach will do more to ensure the employee leaves than commits to the organization. 

A number of progressive organizations, however, have developed appraisal systems that emphasize adult-to-adult feedback through problem identification and resolution. This is not only consistent with Positive Employee Relations; it reflects its core philosophy. 

Employees and Front Line leaders at the beginning of a review cycle first seek a clear and mutual understanding of the specific results to be accomplished at the end of the review cycle. This means the employee knows in quantitative and qualitative terms (Performance Standards) what results are to be achieved and what the next Performance Appraisal discussion will focus on. 

As soon as possible after the completion of any given set of tasks or responsibilities, the employee and Front Line leader can discuss the results in factual and measureable terms. Included would be the reasons for ‘meets standard’ and ‘exceeds standards’ results (measured against the appropriate Performance Standard) as well as any problems encountered. They agree on what needs to be done to overcome difficulties, who will do it and by when it must be done. The Front Line leader is there to remove structural or bureaucratic roadblocks; the employee is to learn new or refined behaviours that move performance towards the Performance Standards. 

Three basic assumptions underlie this process: 

1. Employees need to know what is expected of them: 

Performance improves when employees know in advance the results expected, how results will be measured, what resources are available and which tasks take precedence. Performance also improves when employees, through rational discussion, can influence any of these factors. A reasonable argument can be made that most employees know how well they are performing, long before a qualitative and/or quantitative performance report arrives on the Front Line leader’s desk. 

2. Employees need to know how they are progressing: 

People learn more effectively when accurate, specific and immediate feedback of interim and then a final result is provided regularly. Work planning develops specific, measurable objectives for this purpose. Progress reviews then allow employees and Front Line leaders to measure results against these objectives. The final result is generally not a surprise to anyone. 

3. Employees need to be able to obtain resources and assistance: 

Employees must be encouraged to ask questions and request help when necessary. If they feel their requests are likely to be ignored or that they might be ridiculed or criticized for asking, they won’t ask. Performance levels will likely suffer. Where does the responsibility for such an outcome lie? 

Rather than building on mistakes to justify salary decisions or storing up a paper trail of employee errors and omissions, Front Line leaders and employees search together for ways to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. Subjective opinions and constructive criticism give way to work-oriented analysis of hard facts about what really has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. 

Right from the beginning of the review cycle, the employee knows what is to be accomplished and measured at the end of the cycle. The measurement is always on performance and never on personality.

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