Topics in Appraisal


Performance Appraisal:

The Hammer of Psychology

As some wit once said, "... if performance reviews were a drug, the FDA would never approve them because they're ineffective and have too many side effects." And if performance appraisal was a tool, management would blame it for their failures. Wait, it is a tool, and they do profusely blame it. As the French say, the bungler blames his tools. Performance appraisal has become the bungler's tool du jour, deplorable in every way. Attacking it is the latest falsehood to weaken the West. But I do not despair. I should, but I do not. I take heart from Orwell: "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." Very well; let's restate the obvious, starting with the science. From psychology, we know that feedback is correlated with improvement, and biology tells us that improvement is correlated with survival. Therefore feedback is correlated with survival. When feedback occurs, the odds of survival improve. Feedback is useful, feedback is good. The nature of performance appraisal is feedback. Performance appraisal is bad in the same way a hammer is bad. Use it properly, and it works well. Use it poorly and you'll bend the nail and smash your thumb. Then the tool gets the blame rather than the tool user. The bastardization of performance appraisal is commonplace, but science says feedback can produce a standard deviation of improvement in performance, an order of magnitude. Archer North, January 6, 2017

Performance appraisal: ancient perspective
Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Aristotle

Archer North: "I will fix performance appraisal"
Feedback is the basis of improvement, and improvement is the basis of survival. Is this too hard to see? Survival depends on improvement, which depends on feedback. It's not rocket science, but it is science.  Archer North* vows to fix performance appraisal at

Why the Performance Appraisal Revolution Matters
"If you think about it, the performance appraisal is the heart of the interface between the organization and the employee, manifested through the relationship between the supervisor -- representing the employer -- and the individual. So the changes in performance appraisal reflect what it means to be an employee at different points in time." ~ Peter Capelli, Human Resource Executive Online

Does abolishing appraisal ratings help employee performance management?
The voice of sanity. More to come on this one.

Jerks at work
'If somebody is rude or an outlier occasionally because they are in a situation where they didn't get a good night's sleep or something drastic has happened in their personal lives, we wouldn't consider that person to be a jerk at work,' says Gretchen Spreitzer, co-author of Destructive De-energizing Relationships: How Thriving Buffers their Effect on Performance. She continues: 'It is when there is a pattern in the behaviour over time that a person can be considered a jerk.'

An alternative to the dreaded annual performance review
A new article in Fortune magazine points out that while some organizations are moving towards a less traditional approach in giving employees performance feedback, the need to record and document performance information is as pressing as ever. The traditional annual review, or performance summary, will still have a part to play as there is a baseline requirement for properly documented performance information. Roger Ferguson notes: HR departments need "documentation in the event of an EEOC or NLRB claim or charge... We are, after all, a very litigious society." That's not likely to change.

Rethinking employee engagement
Jayson Saba writing for believes that the phrase 'performance management' will be replaced by 'performance development' in much the same way that personnel management became known as human resources. The difference, he says, between performance development and performance appraisal is that development is more focused on the future than appraisal, which tends to look at the past.

Are performance reviews worth it?
"The performance review is getting mixed reviews" says new research from OfficeTeam. Although most (79 percent) human resources (HR) managers interviewed said they schedule these meetings at least annually, one in four (25 percent) employees feel the assessments do not help improve their performance." That sounds pretty bad, but wait ... it also means 75 percent of employees believe they get at least some gain from it. So yes, performance appraisal is worth it. A biased conclusion, naturally :-)

Sack off the appraisal?
"Once regarded as an opportunity to boost pay, openly express issues and perhaps help bosses understand just how exceptionally you've performed, many now regard these sporadic review meetings with trepidation, with some employers seizing this annual / bi annual meeting as a place to chastise or 'rate and rank' the already nervous employee. At best it's an opportunity to defend yourself, at worst it's an Apprentice style mugging based on interrogation and blame shaming..." Dear, dear. I wonder if Donald Trump ever had a performance appraisal?

Candid Camera and the danger of consensus thinking
Anyone see a consensus emerging? The herd-minded follow the herd-minded. All of this talk about dumping and ditching performance appraisal is an exercise in folly. Plants will not grow in the dark and neither will people.

In favor of ditching the performance review
Peter Cappelli at the Warton School writes that the current disillusionment with 'traditional' performance appraisal seen in a number of large companies is due to a concept of team dynamics known as the "A player, B player, C player" model, which gained a following in the 1990s. The model "... suggested that poor performers would always be bad, so we should just find them and get rid of them." This seems to be a variant on the discredited rank-and-yank thinking that contributed heavily to the demise of organizations such as Enron. The model, says Cappelli, was never true. He believes that it may have reflected the theory of Fundamental Attribution Error and crowded out the rightful attention due to other tasks that performance appraisal was supposed to perform, such as improving performance and developing skills.

How to establish a performance improvement plan
There are four critical steps, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. 1. Document the performance issue. 2. Develop an action plan. 3. Review the plan with another party such as an upline manager. The plan should be "specific, measurable, relevant and attainable" with 60 to 90 days. 4. Meet with the Employee to outline the plan. 5. Follow up to assess the success of the intervention and if unsuccessful, modify the plan or consider other actions such as job reassigment, etc.

Staff would rather call in sick than face an appraisal
Among the age group known as Millennials, or those born after 1980, a quarter would rather call in sick than face a performance appraisal, says a survey of 1,000 full-time employees reported by TriNet and Wakefield Research. Nearly 70% of Millennials believe the process of performance appraisal (at least the one they've experienced) to be flawed, yet 85% want to get more feedback, not less, from their boss.

More US companies moving away from traditional performance reviews
The Washington Post reports that big US companies are increasingly disillusioned with 'traditional' performance appraisal. Welcome to the news. We have been saying the same thing for years.

The dreaded performance review
BBC Capital reports on performance appraisal.

Infosys Scraps Bell Curve for Performance Evaluation
It is reassuring to see organizations moving away from the toxic practice of rank-and-yank. As Infosys and other companies have found, the collateral damage caused by rank-and-yank outweighs its dubious benefits. As the authors of an MIT white paper noted, forcing people into a rigid rank-order can cause a crippling "erosion of social capital" within the organization, precipitating an overall decline in collective performance. While I agree with that observation, I do not agree with "scrapping the bell curve". The bell curve is a useful tool and a beautiful piece of human science. What should be scrapped is its misuse in misguided schemes such as rank-and-yank.

Technology is making real-time performance monitoring too easy
"... big companies such as GE, Accenture and Deloitte are trumpeting their abandonment of the annual ritual of performance appraisal .... because it is much easier and less time-consuming to do them in real time via an app on a smartphone." Yes, but 'easier' and 'less time-consuming' does not automatically mean better, if the goal is to give considered, meaningful and useful feedback, of the type that actually leads to superior behavior.

HCL begins shift from bell curve appraisals towards feedback-based system 
Since when was the bell curve the enemy of humanity? The articles I am reading of late are incorrectly asserting that the bell curve is being abandoned. Shall we abandon the best-demonstrated piece of empirical psychology we know? Shall we abandon science? If you read the articles more closely, you will see that what is really being abandoned in most cases is the toxic practice of forced rankings. That is, rating people in such a way that the ratings distribution conforms to the bell curve shape. Forced rankings is a wrongheaded idea. But the bell curve itself is a fact, like gravity. Wrongheaded ideas come and go, but facts don't. The bell curve will continue to elegantly depict the truth of human nature.

Is the appraisal an HR tool of the past?
Vicky Roberts of UK training firm Vista asks if the recent trend towards ditching the traditional annual performance appraisal (for example, see the articles above) will become widespread. Will we all bend with the trend? No doubt, sole reliance on the once-a-year review process will be change as new technology makes new methods of feedback more timely and convenient. But it will not be the end of performance appraisal, as such. Improvement is surpassingly difficult if not impossible in the absence of appropriate feedback. As Roberts rightly writes: "Certainly the concept of an annual review of performance has its flaws, and the oft-cited reason is that nobody likes surprises. This is true, issues should of course be dealt with as they arise, not saved as a bombshell for the annual appraisal. To borrow terminology from the world of educational assessment, performance management should be formative rather than summative."

Racial discrimination or poor performance: Court decides
Here's a scenario to keep HR managers awake at night. An African American employee with allegedly poor performance, documented through a performance appraisal, was terminated after a series of warnings and probation periods. The employee goes to court and claims racial bias. The court cannot find any evidence that the people who terminated the worker were motivated by racism. But on appeal, the employee invokes a legal argument known as the cat's paw theory of liability - "under which an employer may be found liable when a non-decision-making employee with discriminatory animus provided factual information or input that may have affected the adverse employment action." In other words, the evidence relied upon by the decision-makers may have been tainted by racial animus. Hence the decision to dismiss was similarly tainted.

On the need for team lubricant
"... we learned long ago that, particularly in technology, work-progress and achieved objectives depend upon a well-lubricated team-spirit. We cannot all be experts all the time in all venues. We depend, to meet an overall task or objective, on very diverse competencies. Thus, our ability to interact with people becomes a paramount attribute..." Layfayette@Techcrunch

Appraisal: Improving Performance and Developing the Individual
Not an article, but a good read by Richard Williams (Author) and Clive Fletcher (Author)

How Human Resources Models Define The Future Organisation

Modi message to Ministers: Perform or Perish

GPMS a big leap for efficiency: PM

Current series:

The Brutal Truth About Performance Appraisal

Maslow's Peak: why performance appraisal still matters part 1

Previous series:

Introduction to Performance Appraisal

The Purpose of Performance Appraisal

Methods of Performance Appraisal

Performance Rating Scales

Essay Method

Objectives Method

Benefits of Performance Appraisal

Should Appraisal be Linked to Pay and Other Reward Outcomes?

Performance Appraisal and Employee Conflict

Performance-related Bonus Schemes

Common Mistakes in Performance Appraisal

The Effect of Bias in Performance Appraisal

Legal and Ethical Issues in Performance Appraisal


Additional resources:

The End of Annual Performance Reviews: Are the Alternatives Any Better?
Where performance reviews have been eliminated, employee engagement and performance has fallen by 10%, according to a survey of ten thousand employees across 18 countries. Managers spent less time on performance conversations, and the quality of conversations declined ... One manager said: "When I gave someone a low score in the past, I felt responsible for helping them out, now I just don't feel that I have to spend time doing that anymore." Not only does removing the appraisal process reduce employee engagement, it also reduces supervisory engagement, a disastrous double whammy for productivity.  A.N./Knowledge@Wharton  September 19, 2016

Drop Employee Ratings? Consultants Weigh In
"... annual reviews were never designed to make managers coach subordinates only once a year, but were a pencil-and-paper-based system that made ratings possible when computers weren’t yet available. Cloud-based systems have led to an explosion of creativity in this area, he said, adding that “what works at one company can fail miserably for another.”   Bloomberg BNA/Martin Berman-Gorvine  October 3, 2016

Why managers wont give staff feedback: they may have an emotional breakdown
According to a 2016 US study, Women in the Workplace, data from more 130 companies and some 34,000 men and women shows that women ask for feedback as often as men, but are less likely to get it. When asked why managers didnt want to give employees feedback, 43 per cent of female managers and 35 per cent of male managers said that they were "concerned about seeming mean or hurtful".  A.N./Nassim Kadem/Sydney Morning Herald  October 6, 2016

Performance appraisal and coaching is key to success at elite colleges
A prestigious private college in Melbourne, Australia, seems to have struck the right performance formula for teachers. Says the Principal of Haileybury Private School, Derek Scott, "We have five staff across three campuses involved in coaching other teachers. If a teacher has any areas they wish to improve, they can ask to be coached. Equally, if as part of the formal performance appraisal process, we identify an area we would like a teacher to improve, we can instruct them to be coached. This has been very popular with staff, and has been one of our most successful programs.” Good one, Derek. Sound thinking, and good management science.  The Educator  October 7, 2016

Attribution Theory: what employees see as the motivations of HR management
A study of Heiders attribution theory in the workplace has found that employees (and other people) act like "novice scientists who are constantly trying to understand others’ behavior by piecing together information about the person and the environment until they arrive at a reasonable cause for the behavior." Hence they strive to figure out the motives that lie behind management actions and systems such as performance appraisal. "... we found that employees who believed that their organisation’s HRM practices were designed to increase their performance were more likely to be involved in their job, leading to higher levels of wellbeing."   LSE Business Review/Amanda Shantz  October 13, 2016

How appraisal systems influence company culture
According to Michael Gourley of Human Synergistics International, "... it should be kept in mind that appraisals and rewards have a significant impact on the expectations of people in an organisation. They go far beyond the specific behaviours these systems are designed to reinforce to influence the culture of an organisation." Performance appraisal should be, he said, an exercise in Joint problem-solving.  HRD Singapore  25 October 2016

Amazon promises to change its Hunger Games employee review process
No more rank-and-yank for internet retailer Amazon. Good! I call it rank-and-tank and it is the worst possible approach to performance appraisal. Said one no doubt relieved employee: Amazon is built, quite deliberately, to be Darwinian. The strong survive and the weak perish (metaphorically speaking) and the bar is constantly increasing. The level of performance that would have been acceptable five [years] ago will get you canned today. Its a kind of crucible that will help you develop a harder edge, if you can survive, that can serve you well in your career and in life, but its often not a pleasant experience.  SMH/AN  November 15 2016

Why the word satisfactory isn`t satisfactory: it demotivates workers
Is the word "satisfactory" demotivating? At least one local authority thinks so. According to the East Cambridgeshire District Council (UK) "The word [satisfactory] suggests that you are adequate and reasonable which are not pleasing words for people to hear about their own performance." Nicole Pema, head of human resources, said colleagues had strongly suggested that in assessing performance the word satisfactory was not useful. The word suggests that people were "good but not good enough", which they could find to be demotivating, and "good" should be used instead.   Daily Mail  December 3, 2016

The role of happiness in high performance
Happiness is progress. Literally. It is about where you feel you are headed, and whether or not the road ahead looks promising, according to happiness researcher Shawn Achor. "Happiness is the joy you feel moving toward your potential." Next to income, employees place importance on being in a workplace where they feel they can improve. They want to work for "... a good mentor, have a clear career acceleration path and be in an environment that promoted advancement." Does your career make you feel like you are getting smarter, faster and better? Or have you been in a rut for years? If it is the latter, you may feel feel stifled, stuck or bored, and that means we are not making use of our potential. Similar observations were made by the behavorial psychologist B.F. Skinner. He noted that when the stimulating environment became ambiguous and unreliable, we become bored, discouraged and depressed.   SMH/AN  March 17, 2017

The secret to fair and meaningful appraisals
"Everyone needs feedback. The world progresses on the basis of feedback!", writes Asif Upadhye in Forbes. He continues, "Popular perception might view appraisals as undesired confrontations, but I believe there is no better opportunity for a working professional to learn strengths, find weaknesses and align what they seek (their potential) with what they have (their current performance). This, of course, is a mature and correct perspective on performance appraisal. Upadhye also notes that subjectivity is the bane of performance reviews. An appraisal should not depend on the personal opinions of the reviewer. "Employees deserve an appraisal system that assesses their performance on the basis of a well-defined structure of factors that they not only understand but firmly believe in." As Upadhye points out, part of the utility of performance appraisal is to communicate core values to employees, to help them understand corporate expectations.  Forbes  April 24, 2017

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