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The Boomer Bulletin - 2010
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Why Your Firm Needs Effective Performance Appraisals

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Thursday, May 6, 2010
Sandra Wiley

If you are like most supervisors, you probably don't care much for performance appraisals. Few people do! But if implemented correctly, they provide significant value for managers and staff members. Let's examine some of the benefits a quality performance appraisal system will provide your firm.

Communicating Shortcomings

If an under-performing staff member is terminated without being offered an opportunity to improve, that person will likely perceive the discharge as unfair.

While not necessarily unlawful, this action might motivate an ex-employee to take legal action. Almost any lawyer can turn an unfair treatment claim into a viable discrimination or wrongful discharge claim by arguing that the employee was fired for belonging to a protected group (such as age) or for engaging in a protected activity (such as complaining about harassment).

Let's Play Fair

Given that most firms have various levels of staff that perform similar functions, similar treatment is critical to the firm. Discrimination complaints often allege that employees with similar performance levels were offered dissimilar rewards or discipline. A good performance appraisal instrument increases the potential for consistency by ensuring that all staff members at the same levels are evaluated upon the same criteria.

Who are My Top Performers?

Performance appraisal systems applied consistently throughout an organization can help pinpoint the strongest and weakest employees. They also can help justify in court, if necessary, any positive or negative personnel actions taken.

Recognition of Valued Staff

Recognition of staff members' accomplishments and achievements is a vital endeavor but is often ignored in many firms. A performance appraisal helps top performers understand their value to the organization and improves retention.

Communicating the Firm's Strategic Plan

Individual goals should link to the firm's broad, strategic objectives. A quality appraisal system will not only drive staff members to a higher level of commitment and achievement but will ultimately drive the firm to superior results.

Concerns about Performance Appraisals

Most concerns about performance appraisals arise from some widespread perceptions about them:

  • They discourage teamwork and collaboration.
  • They're inconsistent.
  • They don't address communication issues.
  • They are one-directional.
  • Feedback is too subjective.
  • They produce negative emotions.

These concerns can be valid, but they can also be remedied. For example, if collaboration is essential, make it a criterion upon which employees are evaluated. Appraisals that focus on and reward collaborative behavior will encourage teamwork. Conversely, appraisals that punish employees for working contrary to the team, such as withholding information, discourage anti-collaborative behaviors. What are some concerns and solutions common within our industry?

Treating Staff Unfairly

As a supervisor who is planning to offer a negative appraisal or comment, ask yourself if you are being equally as critical of all staff members at the same level. If so, the staff member in the current situation should receive the same or a similar ranking. It is helpful to evaluate all staff members at the same time of the year. This makes it more likely that you will apply the same criteria.

Communicating Shortcomings

Don't put off until tomorrow what you can deal with today! Communicate and document the issues affecting your firm and staff members immediately, then re-enforce them at appraisal time. A staff member should never be surprised at what he or she hears in an appraisal meeting.

One Directional System

Many firms utilize a one-dimensional appraisal system in which a supervisor informs a staff member of an issue but never listens in return. In order be effective, the supervisor must ask the staff member about his or her perceptions and request input into planning for the next year.

Feedback is too Subjective

Keep personality out of the performance evaluation and focus upon specific behaviors. Some common behavioral issues include being able to process and interpret vague information, begin new tasks while wrapping up others, seeing the big picture, making decisions without "perfect" information and valuing diverse ways of handling problems. All of these are examples of job-related behaviors that do not imply a weakness in an individual's personality.

Emotional Anguish

Negative emotions are occasionally present for the staff member and supervisor during performance appraisals. If these go unaddressed, it's highly likely they will get in the way of day-to-day performance. Be certain to address emotion when appropriate and encourage a healthy manner in which to disperse negative feelings and attitudes.

In sum, an effective performance appraisal system in your firm will ultimately result in better results for the bottom line. It's a powerful tool that will help keep the firm strong in the midst of uncertain economic times. If you don't have a system, use this article as a starting point and document a formal process. If your system is not offering the results you desire, appoint a task force and begin revising it today.

Tags:  Human Capital  personnel  Sandra Wiley 

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