Appraisal pitfalls

Even when appraisals are aligned to organisational goals, appraisers have been trained and processes have been simplified to make them easy for everyone, there are some pitfalls you need to avoid:

• performance reviews can easily recognise the extremes of good and poor performance, but have difficulty distinguishing performance differences within the large group ‘in the middle’

• concentrating efforts on an annual appraisal process can mean managers neglect day-to-day performance management, thus storing up issues and negating what should be a positive process

• the appraisal process has a tendency to concentrate on the past with not enough time devoted to planning future development

• the fast pace of organisational change means that by the time that team and individual goals have filtered down through the performance management process they can be out of date

• research has indicated that people tend to develop their strengths rather than their weaknesses, emphasising the importance of focusing on the positives, and on the future rather than dwelling in the past

• individual appraisal can be detrimental to team effort as people compete with each other – to counteract this an increasing number of organisations are now using team appraisals.

The problem with ‘bell curves’

The use of a ‘stacking’ or ‘bell curve’ system of ranking performance can also be problematic. This automatically assumes that in every team a set percentage of people are underperforming and that these people are spread evenly over every team in an organisation.

Under this system a team of 11 could see one person ranked as outstanding; one as seriously underperforming; two as performing better than average; two as performing worse than average, and the remaining five as average performers. However, someone considered the weakest member of a high-performing team may still be working better than the outstanding member of a weaker team. It also fails to answer the question: what happens if the number of poor performers is higher (or lower) than the set percentage?

Fear of appraisal

Performance management and appraisal greatly increases the power of managers to control the workplace and co-ordinate the work that is performed. This can create fear among employees who face appraisal.

The appraiser faces pitfalls as well. During the interview appraisers must take care to avoid:

• the ‘halo’ effect: does one characteristic of the employee colour the appraiser’s judgement and make it inevitably favourable?

• the ‘horns’ effect: does one characteristic of the appraisee make it inevitable that the appraiser will condemn them?

• the ‘crony’ effect: are the appraiser and the appraisee such good friends that the appraisal is not going to be fair?

• the ‘Veblen’ effect: the tendency to mark all appraisees in the mid range to avoid difficult decisions

• the ‘impression’ effect: does the appraisee manage to obscure measures of performance with charm and by manipulating the appraiser?