Performance Appraisals – Are They Useful?

It’s that time of the year again when companies are going through their annual evaluation cycles.  Are performance appraisals valuable?  As much as I don’t like the term “performance appraisal”, I believe that the spirit of these things can provide some benefit.  I believe that most people want some sort of feedback on their work however my experience with this process has left me with these observations (not exhaustive):

  • These “appraisals” happen too infrequently (twice a year at best and most times just once a year)
  • Generic templates and scoring is used ignoring the fact that each individual is unique
  • Little focus on growth and development of the individual
  • Human beings are not real estate/property/equipment/inanimate object, why are we acting like we are

Do you really want to wait an entire calendar year to find out if you are doing a good (or bad) job? I didn’t think so.  There should be a continuous two-way conversation between manager and associate that happens all year long.  At the end of the day, what are we really trying to evaluate?  The individual or the work they produced? I believe that the work produced should be evaluated and because its being produced everyday, we should be able to provide feedback on the work quite frequently.

It looks like, the mass production of  appraisal programs, generic templates and their associated methods has created a deadly management malaise that discourages managers from getting to know their people and appreciate their differences.  For example, individuals demonstrate leadership in different ways and score everyone based on some set criteria seems to completely miss the point.

Some companies and managers have this notion of the “one-on-one”.  My personal experience with this is that it’s rarely about the individual and mostly about the work the individual is doing.  Discussions regarding the individual are always left to the last five minutes.  Yet, I’m convinced that if the individual becomes the focus, the work ultimately gets taken care of.

As a manager, how often do you check in with your associates to see how they are doing as human beings.  Are they still finding joy in their daily work?  Is the “system” set up in a way that will allow them to succeed?  Do they feel like they are being treated fairly and are part of something exciting?  What areas do they think they need grow and develop?  Do you need the best way to provide each individual with feedback?   If as a manager you want to provide effective feedback, then you have to  take the time to get to know your people individually.

I believe that most people inherently just want to do a good job.  If you don’t do anything else, at least use this “performance appraisal” season to find out how you (as a manager) can help them with that.

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Strengths or Weaknesses – What Do You Work On?

Focusing on strengths, radical improvement comes not from.  Weaknesses, it does.

I play the guitar and there are keys (chord progressions) that I feel very comfortable playing in.  Playing music in the keys I feel the most comfortable in does not really improve me as a guitar player (I’m stuck to those progressions or using a capo) in spite of the emotional satisfaction I get while playing.  I’ve always spent time working on progressions that I know need work but they are rarely the focus of my practice sessions.  Recently, I decided to switch things around and actually spend more time focusing on areas of weakness.  A couple of things have happened as a result of this:

  • I’m improving in the areas that have always been challenging to me
  • I’m extremely focused now while going through practice sessions – it’s almost like I’m getting more out of the same effort
  • I’ve significantly improved in the areas that I thought I was already good at

I think its quite natural for us as humans to focus on the things we do well and then give reasons (or is it excuses?) why we don’t focus on the areas where we need improvement.  I encounter this daily when I’m reminded by myself (and others) that I can’t do something because it is not my “strong suit”.  If you’re a sports junkie, its not uncommon to read about what star players focus on during their off-season – their weakness.  Whether its getting a mid-range shoot, improving their speed or working on their movement/finishing, the best athletes continually work on the areas of their game that need improvement and are essentially holding them back.  So do the best musicians, entertainers, speakers, business man, teachers etc etc.  They all explicitly work on the areas of their craft that need improvement.

Working on weaknesses does not start and stop with the individual rather it must extend to the organizational unit.  In the same way that individuals should focus on areas that need improvement, organizations should do the same.

As the adage goes “practice makes perfect”.  The question is, what are you practicing?

*For further reading see  deliberate practice.

**I hope to explore this concept further in subsequent posts.