<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Do We Improve Our Performance Evaluations
June 30, 2009
Dear Everybody Is the Same: What has been referred to as grade inflation or expansion can be attributed to five primary causes. One is that the organization has not clearly defined to managers and employees what “good” or “expected” behavior looks like. Another cause is that neither managers nor employees are properly trained how to measure and report performance results. A third reason is that it is not unusual for both managers and organizations to make the mistake of viewing and using a performance appraisal process as a means of rewarding employees and staying in their good graces. A fourth cause may be that managers have not experienced a model of a proper performance appraisal as a step in a comprehensive employee development system. The fifth and final possible cause of grade inflation is that the final result is not challenged. In some instances a manager is permitted to submit a performance appraisal with a high rating and it goes unchallenged by his or her manager and is not compared with other employees. Any of these reasons—or especially a combination of two or more—may indicate that your process is broken and in desperate need of repair and possibly replacement. This space does not permit the opportunity to fully outline a detailed process, but I can offer a few suggestions. First, audit your process. Take a close look at what you have and compare it with what you think you have and what you want. You may discover that what you have is exactly what you wanted when the process was implemented years ago. Try to see how your performance appraisal process fits in with the company's staff development goals. Then determine whether or not they are consistent with the company's mission to provide quality service, products, etc. Develop focus groups to determine the perception of the process to members of the management team and line employees. There should be at least two teams: one group of only supervisors or evaluators, and another group of employees who are evaluated. You may want to have a third group that consists of both managers and employees. Clearly define what the company wants from a performance appraisal process that supports staff development consistent with the company's mission. Design or commission a process to be designed that addresses the company's needs. This may require the development of multiple evaluation forms. You may discover that you need separate instruments to clearly define the performance of managers, non-managers, professionals, line employees and specific departments. Clearly define “good” or “expected” performance for each performance competency being evaluated. Introduce the process to the company one layer at a time. The senior management team should experience the process first. Middle- and/or first-line supervisors should be introduced to the process in the second phase, and finally other employees should be brought in. All company employees must be trained on how the new process works. It is important that managers fully understand the importance of how accurate assessments affect the organization. In the same respect, line employees must clearly understand how the process works and the definitions of “good” and “expected” performance. Without that knowledge they will not be able to properly assess their performance; if they cannot assess their performance they cannot fully participate. Most important, the performance appraisal should be a step in the employee development process. The form is merely a documented summary of employee outcomes supported by a series of interactions and communication meetings with the employee's supervisor or manager. The final performance rating must be challenged. The appraisal form should be reviewed by at least one level above the evaluator and human resources for consistency. Each performance rated either above expectations or below expectations should require documentation that justifies the rating. Any final performance rating above or below expectations should be pre-approved by the evaluator's manager prior to the evaluator reviewing it with the employee, so that the employee does not receive an evaluation that management does not fully support. SOURCE: Lonnie Harvey Jr., SPHR, president of the Jesclon Group, Rock Hill, South Carolina, December 18, 2007 LEARN MORE: In a related matter, please read about how to separate merit raises from performance scores. The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.