Volume 10, Number 7
Coens is an employment attorney and organizational trainer.
Ms. Jenkins is founder of Emergent Systems, helping develop
progressive human resources systems. www.abolishappraisals.com
. They are authors of
Appraisals (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2000).
performance appraisals? Certainly,
if they don’t work!
appraisals impede genuine feedback, and there’s no solid
evidence that it motivates people or lead to meaningful
improvement. In fact
it usually produces distorted and unreliable data about the
contribution of employees. Consequently,
the resulting documentation isn’t useful for staffing decisions
and often doesn’t hold up in court.
Too often, appraisal destroys human spirit and, in the span
of a 30-minute meeting, can transform a vibrant, highly committed
employee into a demoralized, indifferent wallflower who reads want
ads on the weekend.
This isn’t just
our opinion. A survey
by the Society for Human Resources Management found that more than
90% of appraisal systems are not successful.
Hundreds of other studies and surveys also support the
gross inadequacies of performance appraisals.
In large part,
appraisals fail because the very notion of rating people clashes
with human nature. The
overwhelming majority of people view themselves as excellent
performers. In fact,
80% see themselves in the top quarter of all performers.
Telling them otherwise is deflating, not motivating.
People see mediocre ratings as a lack of appreciation.
Supervisors realize this, and this is why most are so
reluctant to conduct appraisals.
greatest incentive for performance appraisals is their value in
determining raises, bonuses and promotions.
However, benefits to people who receive
greater-than-average-awards are usually short term and have little
impact on improving their value in the organization.
More important, these awards are de-motivators to the rest
of the organization.
organization has some form of merit pay, it’s absolutely
essential that you start with education. People have all sorts of illusions about their own
performance, the performance of others, and the employer’s
ability to measure performance.
We recommend initiating a work team to examine how the
current system drives performance.
Let them come to their own conclusions about appraisals,
about the role of financial awards, about motivation and
this team the time to investigate these matters.
Once the team has a firm grasp of pay and motivation
issues, they should develop a report to educate
upper management. All
key executives must be open to this information.
The team should be sufficiently well-prepared to argue
their points before the executives.
de-motivation and getting pay out of the way, a remaining function
of appraisal still needs to be addressed: without the appraisal,
how can we foster a highly motivated workforce?
Start by realizing that you
don’t motivate people. Motivation
is the desire someone has to do something.
However, organizations can do a great deal to foster
conditions that bring out the best opportunities for people to be
crucial that the organization helps enable employees to find meaning in their work. Meaning
is the only true intrinsic motivator.
Meaning leads to joy.
as a Motivator
We now present
three approaches to developing a highly motivated workforce:
create a compelling vision, promote and provide interesting
work, and create a climate of teamwork.
a compelling vision. To
find meaning, people need to connect to the service
or product of the
organization, not the financial statement, though certainly that
is important. People
need to understand how their work connects to the organization as
a whole. Any
employee, at any level, should be capable of taking someone on a
walking tour of the business and be able to generally tell how
each unit contributes to the ultimate product or service. This requires an investment in people.
and provide interesting work.
People will be energized and motivated if they are doing
work that feels worthwhile and is interesting to them.
Everyone’s interests are different, but here are two
strategies in helping people find interesting work.
• Give people freedom and choices in their work.
All managers need to understand the power of giving people trust
and freedom in doing
their work. This
means finding ways to be more fluid and less structured, allowing
people, as much as possible, to choose work that aligns with their
individual interests and strengths. Part of this shift is establishing practices and writing
policies that give the employee the right to independently
exercise discretion and judgment.
The trends towards flex-time and self-managed teams further
illustrate ways of giving people choices and space in their work.
• Offer people challenges.
Many people yearn for and thrive on having challenge in their work. This
can be provided by offering people more responsibility and the
opportunity to learn new skills and grow in other ways.
This does not necessarily come from career advancement
opportunities—the greatest opportunities are in the day-to-day
fluid approaches to jobs. Providing
new challenges is not a quick fix for everyone, however. Some people are content to do a good job without novel
challenges, just knowing they contribute to a worthwhile service
or product. Others
may be at a particular point in their career or personal life
where new challenges are not desired, even though they are happy
to give you a good performance every day.
These differences in individual outlook obviously point to
the need for employees to be self-reflective and choose what works
best for them. Involving
people more in decisions also provides interesting work and
the continued hype over the importance of money and recognition,
more people are motivated if
their ideas were heard and they have opportunities
to apply them.
• Create a climate of people working together.
In so many ways, conventional organizations emphasize the individual—individual
goals and appraisals are examples of this.
Instead, foster ways for people to work together, to share meaning,
and connect with one
another. There’s no better time to promote collaboration and
working in teams than when you are moving away from appraisals.
This “connected” environment is not achieved through
team-building alone, but requires a fundamental shift in
management. The focus must shift away from blaming individuals for
poor outcomes to seeking to understand the causes, systems, and
processes that drive performance.
This is best achieved when employees collaboratively work
together to solve performance issues
confronting their work unit and the organization.
To some, these
initiatives toward meaning, interesting work, and collaborative
teams may feel like lofty and unrealistic ideals.
But, at an increasing rate, these kinds of initiatives are
taking hold and radically transforming work, with great business
results to boot. As
this connection to meaning is strengthened, people are finding
greater joy in their
work. And motivation
Performance Appraisals (Reviews) Working for You?
statement below and give your organization points based on the
following scale: Doesn’t
apply = 0 points; Sometimes occurs = 1 point; Frequently occurs =
___ In the past five years you have changed,
reformatted, or completely revamped the appraisal process within
___ Once appraisals are filed away, people pay
little attention to the process.
___ You have to use tactics of force to get
appraisals completed (threatening directives, withholding
increases, posting the names of tardy supervisors, etc.).
___ Supervisors frequently complain about the
bureaucratic nature of the process and wasted time required for
___ Each year a substantial number of employees see
the process as unfair and are even demoralized.
___ Marginal performers have a track record of being
rated generously, having the effect of creating an impediment to
___ Because of inconsistencies in approach,
appraisals have little value as a screening tool for promotion
___ Appraisal ratings are inflated en masse, making
the linkage to a “pay for performance system” ineffective.
___ Supervisors’ and employees’ alike go through
the motions, putting little heart into the process.
___ Dissatisfied employees take up human resources staff
time with bias, complaints, and rating appeals.
Add up the number
of points you have from each question.
What is your score?
0-5 People seemingly are very
satisfied with your process.
You are a very rare company as only 5% of organizations
report such success.
There may be substantial problems in your present rating system.
Many in your company are unhappy and depressed about the
process. It’s time to investigate abolishing performance appraisals
11-20 Beware: It’s
definitely time to look at alternatives to the traditional
appraisal model your company is using.