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Drop the Focus on Numerical Scores during Performance Appraisals

Submitted by  on July 14th, 2011

People with tick and crossesIn my last post on performance management, I talked about the tension between managers and supervisors on the one hand and human resources staffs on the other when it comes time for the traditional annual employee performance appraisal. One reason for the tension is that many managers hate the thought of arguing with their direct reports about the number given on their report card.

Giving each employee a score only presses red hot buttons when employees expect at least a “Meets Expectations” rating. Throw away the numbers for appraising employees. Numbers do have a place; when the manager sits down with their team to set company/department/team targets. Then they have a real purpose as everyone gets involved in measuring and reporting progress on the agreed goals.

That brings me back to W. Edwards Deming again and his emphasis on team behavior. Why give each individual a performance score when their performance is inextricably intertwined with the actions of peers within and without their department? Organizations are systems of people cooperating to achieve common results. Score people individually and you risk creating a bunch of mavericks, especially when resources are tight and bonuses are dependent on the score. Tie financial incentives to individual scores at your peril. Not only do many studies show that, above a certain minimum point, people do not work for money, but, in addition, tying money to a score brings out many counterproductive emotions at appraisal time.

Yes, I am all for having a performance management system. In fact, I think it’s imperative. We just need to bury the traditional annual appraisal cycle based on individual scores.

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Posted in Performance, Processes | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Drop the Focus on Numerical Scores during Performance Appraisals”

  1. Derek Irvine, Globoforce Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Les. It’s one of three “games” I highlighted that we play with employee appraisals. Tying such a ranking to pay takes the game a step further (or, rather, devolves it further).

    I wrote about those games in a contributed piece to Compensation Cafe:

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks Derek. That’s a great post on compensation cafe. I wish I could say that the incidence of putting a number on people is abating, but I don’t see much evidence of that. We need to hear more stories of organizations giving up their number games and how they moved to a more effective system.

  3. JoAnn Corley Says:

    Amen! – The number is subjective …as are most appraisals honestly. But at least a behavior can be changed more tangibly.

  4. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks JoAnn. Can you please give us an illustration from your experience of when behavior was changed tangibly? I think our readers will benefit from you experience.

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