Performance Appraisal – A Time Expired Process

Why Do You Appraise Staff? 

Do you experience tangible benefits for the time invested?  Appraisal is one of the practices that we seem afraid to terminate in case we are branded as backward managers.   We could rename our process as performance management which may sound more effective but that will not solve the underlying tiredness of the whole process.

Before reading further, consider your responses to these questions:

1    Why do you carry out appraisals?

  • Because it is a mandatory requirement in my organisation?
  • Because it is a voluntary process in my organisation but I believe it produces tangible benefits?
  • Because I have done it for years and never stopped to question the value?

2    What is the primary purpose of appraisal in your organisation?  Let us make it easier, you can choose two primary purposes.

  • Differentiate individual performance for pay awards?
  • Make explicit what individuals need to focus on in the period ahead?
  • Agree training/learning needs of the individual to meet the organisation’s needs?
  • Provide an opportunity to explore individual performance issues in detail?
  • Begin the steps to move the individual on or out of the organisation?
  • Identify those with the capabilities to be promoted to key roles inside or outside your organisation?
  • Re-excite an individual about the mission of the organisation and how they can further that purpose?
  • Other key purpose?

Pitfalls of the Appraisal Process

Senior and operational managers wonder whether the effort is worthwhile and find that desirable benefits are lost because of the pitfalls of appraisal processes:

  • The timescale for completing appraisals clashes with the busiest operational time for managers – so the process is seen as an unnecessary burden and devalued due to the time pressures.
  • Introducing performance related pay will ‘drive out the dead wood’.  In practice that happens rarely, managers still have to take direct action to manage ineffective performers.
  • SMART(ER) objectives have to be used to balance the pay budget in performance related pay linked processes.
  • Schemes have become more complex via rating scales, competency modelling etc.   Managers find such schemes lead to an attitude of, “lets get the annual MOT out of the way and get on with the real job”.
  • The process is confused because of multiple aims; the key purposes become diluted.

I can recall vividly the pressure that a small team of managers was under to complete the annual appraisal process, for several hundred staff, in time for the pay review.  That period was also the busiest time of the year for their unit. The manager tried to relieve the pressure by simply listing her view of the performance rankings of staff and would aim to complete the appraisal paperwork at a later date.  What she did not realise was that the list of appraisal rankings was, in practice, a good indicator of the performance of the unit’s team.  The views of the managers and supervisors had been sought and the high and low performance ratings had been questioned to ensure that views were based on objective grounds.   A crude process we may say but it mirrored the result of a much more time consuming appraisal process.   What about the loss of the other benefits of appraisal?  Such outcomes can be captured in other ways and become more valued as a result.

The emphasis on objective setting and the methodologies leads to over prescription and acts as a barrier to a more open discussion of the organisational challenges and the role an employee can play in those.  This issue attracted an interesting comment recently from Duncan Brown (1) who suggests that engaging staff with the organisation’s mission and how they can further that which will then lead to more benefit especially if you engage with what interests staff in playing a part in making the organisation successful.

Is It Time to Retire Your Appraisal Scheme?

Even if your appraisal process is mandatory, take time out before you have to engage in your next round of objective setting to consider:

  • What should be the primary purpose of appraisal in my organisation?
  • How will I keep the process relatively simple so that it does not dilute the key purpose?
  • In what other ways can I derive other benefits such as identifying training and learning needs apart from the appraisal process?

You may not have much scope to change the process if it is mandatory but at least you will be clearer as to what outcomes will help you improve the direction in which everyone in your unit is heading.  If you do have the freedom to change the process then take time to consider whether you would be better off abandoning the tired process and introducing different ways of discussing with staff the organisational needs, capabilities and creativity required to get there.


(1)  Duncan Brown’s blog article can be viewed at

Learn more about commercially focused solutions to the people and organisational issues which hinder services and businesses from achieving their goals by:

a)  Visit our website:  HR Management Dimensions

b)  Contact Jim Harrington if you wish to discuss a review/change of your performance appraisal methods

© 2013 HR Management Dimensions Ltd.

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