Tracking Performance

Performance appraisal: systematic method of assessing the performance of employees in their jobs with view to helping management decisions on promotion, transfers, training or changes in pay.

On the surface this seems to be valid reason for an organisation to conduct regular performance appraisals, but do the objectives need to be defined with more precision? For instance, is the purpose to:-
? Provide an inventory of people skills and potential?
? Appraise the performance of people or units matched with agreed objectives?
? Assess performance as the basis for salary determination?
? Develop people for future organisational needs?
? Assist personal development planning and respond to the questions ?how well am I performing’? ?where do I go from here?
? Or is it device to increase productivity?
One standard appraisal approach won’t meet all of these objectives. If your organisation has PA system, which objective did it achieve last year, and how do you know?
And dare one ask, how long did the exercise take, how much did it cost and what was the effect on morale?

Performance or personality?
Many appraisal schemes focus on personal qualities rather than performance achievement. Questions on factors such as ability to organise work, staff relations, versatility, judgement, initiative, dependability, say nothing about target attainment (which was the rationale for establishing the position). As we all know, making generalised judgements about people can be difficult and distasteful. This prompts further questions.
? Was the appraisal made at all levels in the organisation?
? What was being appraised? Individual or group performance? Or output? Was it compared with agreed targets, and what external factors influenced the outcome?
? Behavioural or personality factors? Based on direct observation or hearsay, fact or perception? What standard was it assessed on and over what period?
? The other factor is our persona, the mask we wear to meet the changing circumstances of our situations and the judgements people make on what they see at this time.
If these appraisals are made at long intervals, perhaps annually, how valid are they and would the rating stand up if they were independently challenged?

People understand performance
Judgement is ultimately passed on what was achieved. If performance appraisal is sought it should be concerned with questions such as what the task was, which parts were done well, the evidence, which parts could have been improved and the evidence.
In discussion with the individual and the direct manager you could ask how improvements could be made, along with what help or facilities are needed, how and by whom.
The aim is not fault-finding but encouragement and challenge to improve. Has accountability for follow up action been assigned? How are outcomes evaluated? Is appropriate coaching or counselling obligatory? By whom?

Today’s reality
If PA is still an annual or biannual event, some rethinking may be necessary. Life no longer moves in this dimension.
1. The pace of change is accelerating.
What was current six months ago is history today. The world of business has moved from 5 x 8 to 7 x 24 time span. Is the impact of technology and the global marketplace predictable in your business? Can year still be seen as s single entity? Do you still have the same employees doing what they did year ago under similar pressures?
2. Do you see appraisal occurring at particular time and as some form of overall stocktaking of human talent. Isn’t training, coaching and mentoring continual appraisal? Staff selection similarly? The maintenance of fitness for purpose requires continuous appraisal both of people and process; consider the coach of any sports team.
3. Performance based pay is becoming more common.
This means achievement beyond just meeting the job description. It will require some form of measurement. Is this different exercise?

Put performance first
Does the foregoing suggest the abandoning of formal performance appraisals? This will depend on the importance attached to the objectives. To date the logic has been that if you improve how employees act this will be reflected in better performance. But might not the converse also be true? If organisational effectiveness collapses so do jobs.
It is already recognised that performance is enhanced if people feel an ownership in what they do. They become experts in their own work stations or areas and show concern when the activities of other work stations impact on them.
Perceptive organisations will seek to build on that pride. The need for teamwork is being given high priority in today’s drive for increased organisational effectiveness. Most people work in groups and much effort is being put into team building and development. In this setting people can ask “how are we doing?” which suggests need for regular collective self appraisal.
The methodology would depend on the nature and size of the business but one approach is regular, perhaps quarterly, review by each team, moving from individual responses to key questions to bringing these together for team agreement for action and recommendations.
These would be combined with other teams or sections to produce an organisational overview and decision. Continuous two-way communication is vital, and direct managers must demonstrate leadership.
A typical agenda for these reviews might ask
Why was this team established and are we as efficient as we could be? How are we measuring success? What gets in the way of the outcome, and what would SWOT analysis tell us? How could we improve the workflow and workplace? How are our relationships within the team, with other teams or sections, and with our customers?
Finally, what are our recommendations? And of course any manager can do review like this at any time.

The outcomes
The outcomes of reviews such as these can lead to significant increases in productivity, higher achievements and lower costs. The results will come from employees challenged to think beyond the boundaries of their individual job descriptions and to work together to explore the limits of the possible.
To quote one example where the gain is substantial, some organisations make cash payments to those involved of 10 percent of net savings for the first year of implementation. There are many forms of recognition – the test is “is it felt to be fair?” – but the principle of positive acknowledgement is important if initiative is to be encouraged and maintained.
Surely this is far removed from the consideration of individual performance appraisal? But isn’t the bottom line however expressed, to achieve and maintain best value product on time from the efforts of all employees in an environment of high morale? Performance is inevitably the reflection of its performers – their motivation, their competence and the outcome of their efforts.
Appraisal should be seen as encouragement (60 percent of the word is “praise”) and as stimulus for higher achievement. Ongoing coaching must be the medium for its continuance. This should be component of the operational processes of all organisations and if this is not happening the processes of the present appraisals should be rigorously examined. How do you respond to the opening question?

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