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2016 Resolution #7 – Link Performance Management Directly to the Job


Resolution #7 – Link performance management programs directly to the expectations of the job as outlined in effective job descriptions.

We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating —  most people don’t like performance appraisals.  You can take your pick of these or many other reasons:

  • It takes too long
  • Parts of the forms aren’t relevant to the job
  • We have to make up things just to get through parts of the form
  • It doesn’t mean anything in the end

It’s so bad that most of us don’t even want to use the term “performance appraisal” anymore 1) because it has become forever linked to misery, and 2) because it is seen as “something to do once a year” rather than a continuous process.  So we’ve relabeled it “performance management.”  But we still have the same forms, long time-consuming process and minimal value when all is said and done.

This year, change it all around.  Create a performance appraisal form for each job.  Use the job description, and “rate” each employee on every aspect of the job description.  Don’t just leave it at a rating.  Whenever an employee is not performing some aspect of a job the way it is supposed to be performed, create an improvement plan – whether it is more training, more practice, more attention to detail – make it specific what needs to be done, and what performance will look like when it is corrected.  If there is a way that an employee has done something very special on an aspect of a job, document why this is so – so that someone else can see exactly what the evaluator means when something has “exceeded expectations.”

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • Measurement is focused on exactly what the employee is supposed to do. You don’t have to fumble for what we mean by “displays leadership” for an accounting clerk, or leaving lots of “N/A”s in the ratings.
  • Objectives are being developed automatically, directly related to the job, and focusing on the areas that need improvement (or where exemplary performance is possible). No more fishing around for some “goals” for next year so that you can fill in that section of the performance plan (while wondering exactly what goals our file clerk is supposed to have).
  • The movement is away from “whole person” evaluation (“but I’m a 4!”) – where you sort of average out all of a person’s traits, and draw a conclusion about the person – and instead evaluate specific things about the way the job is performed. If a person does 9 of 10 things well, you don’t have to gloss over the one thing for fear of offending the person when you call them “does not meet expectations.”  In fact, in this process, you need not draw an overall conclusion at all.
  • All of the focus is on the job – not “traits” (which may or may not actually mean anything) or “competencies” (because if you have the competency, but don’t use it, why are we paying for it) or “expectations” (because the expectation is laid out in the job description – no worries about supervisor “x” expects as compared to supervisor “y”).
  • It gets very difficult to “over-rate” an employee. Whether the over-rating is in an effort to get a higher raise, or so that the performance appraisal conversation is more positive, there is a general expectation that supervisors make average performance something special; and after all, how do we really know the difference between a “3” and “4” on our 5 point scale?  With this method, you need to identify specific examples of things that are “above and beyond” job expectations, and those comments can be easily seen and challenged if not relevant or appropriate.  The number of “over-rated” employees should drop drastically using this approach.
  • Negative bias becomes nearly impossible. By forcing supervisors to rate on specific items, it makes it difficult for them to say “you aren’t doing this correctly” rather the ease of saying “you have a poor attitude.”  On top of that, a challenge is easy.  If an employee questions their evaluation score, they can easily prove whether they can perform the duty (or justify the supervisor’s contention that they cannot).

Of course all of this depends on job descriptions that are accurate and fairly reflective of what the organization expects from a job.  However, that’s what a job description should be anyway, so spend more time on developing good descriptions, having constructive performance conversations with built in job-specific feedback and goal setting – as opposed to trudging through the same old misery every year.