Opposition may be based on political motives, or more simply, on ignorance or disbelief in the effectiveness of the appraisal process.
It is crucial that top management believe in the value of appraisal and express their visible commitment to it. Top managers are powerful role models for other managers and employees.
Those attempting to introduce performance
appraisal, or even to reform an existing system, must be acutely aware of the
importance of political issues and symbolism in the success of such projects.
When this problem exists (and it can be found in many organizations), it may point to a problem in the organization culture. The cause may be a culture that is intolerant of failure. In other words, appraisers may fear the possibility of repercussions - both for themselves and the appraisee.
Longenecker (1989) argues that accuracy in performance appraisal is impossible to achieve, since people play social and political games, and they protect their own interests. "No savvy manager...", says Longenecker, "... is going to use the appraisal process to shoot himself or herself in the foot."
No matter what safeguards are in place, "... when you turn managers loose in the real world, they consciously fudge the numbers." What Longenecker is saying is that appraisers will, for all sorts of reasons, deliberately distort the evaluations that they give to employees.
Indeed, surveys have shown that not only do many managers admit to a little fudging, they actually defend it as a tactic necessary for effective management.
The fudging motives of appraisers have, at times, a certain plausibility. For instance, a supervisor who has given an overly generous appraisal to a marginal performer might claim that their 'legitimate' motive was the hope of encouraging a better performance.
On the other hand, fudging motives can be
lot less admirable and sometimes devious: the appraiser who fudges to avoid the
possibility of an unpleasant confrontation, the appraiser who fudges to hide
employee difficulties from senior managers, the appraiser who fudges in order to
punish or reward employees.
Training in the techniques of
constructive evaluation (such as self-auditing) may help. Appraisers need to
recognize that problems left unchecked could ultimately cause more harm to an
employee's career than early detection and correction.
The game is called feedback-seeking. It occurs where a poor performing employee regularly seeks informal praise from his or her supervisor at inappropriate moments.
Often the feedback-seeker will get the praise they want, since they choose the time and place to ask for it. In effect, they "ambush" the supervisor by seeking feedback at moments when the supervisor is unable or unprepared to give them a full and proper answer, or in settings that are inappropriate for a frank assessment.
The supervisor may feel "put on the spot", but will often provide a few encouraging words of support. The game seems innocent enough until appraisal time comes around. Then the supervisor will find that the employee recalls, with perfect clarity, every casual word of praise ever spoken!
This places the supervisor in a difficult bind. Either the supervisor lied when giving the praise, or least, misled the employee into thinking that their performance was acceptable (in fact, this is the argument that feedback-seekers will often make).
The aim of the game is that the feedback- seeker wants to deflect responsibility for their own poor performance. They also seek to bolster their appraisal rating by bringing in all the "evidence" of casual praise. Very often the feedback seeker will succeed in making the supervisor feel at least partly responsible. As a result, their appraisal result may be upgraded.
Was the supervisor partly responsible? Not really. The truth of the matter is that they have been "blackmailed" by a subtle social game. But like most social games, the play depends on the unconscious participation of both sides. Making supervisors aware of the game is usually sufficient to stop it. They must learn to say, when asked for casual praise, "I can't talk about it now... but see me in my office later."
This puts the supervisor back in control
of the appraisal process.
Employees generally require more feedback, and more frequently, than can be provided in an annual appraisal. While it may not be necessary to conduct full appraisal sessions more than once or twice a year, performance management should be viewed as an ongoing process.
Frequent mini-appraisals and feedback sessions will help ensure that employees receive the ongoing guidance, support and encouragement they need.
Of course many supervisors complain they don't have the time to provide this sort of ongoing feedback. This is hardly likely. What supervisors really mean when they say this is that the supervision and development of subordinates is not as high a priority as certain other tasks.
In this case, the organization may need to review the priorities and values that it has instilled in its supervisory ranks. After all, supervisors who haven't got time to monitor and facilitate the performance of their subordinates are like chefs who haven't got time to cook, or dentists who are too busy to look at teeth. It just doesn't make sense.
If appraisal is viewed as an isolated event, it is only natural that supervisors will come to view their responsibilities in the same way. Just as worrying, employees may come to see their own effort and commitment levels as something that needs a bit of a polish up in the month or two preceding appraisals.