When you cannot scrap the Appraisal System


Hari Sundar. G
School of Communication and Management Studies
Kalamassery, Cochin

Years of research have gone into the process of Appraisals. Even with the old wine of 'Performance Appraisals' finding a new bottle in 'Performance Reviews' many a time the appraisal process and the appraisers conveniently forget or fail to meet the objective of the process. With most regard to the modern writings in this area and the management experts, let me in henceforth this article not use the word 'Appraisal' and use the more sophisticated and respected terms of Performance Management or Performance Reviews.

The Process

The Annual formal performance Review is just one part of the Performance Management system that consists of

  • Setting Objectives at the beginning
  • Continuous monitoring
  • Continuous Feedback
  • Continuous Coaching

Setting Objectives:

When the beginning is no doubt the setting of objectives or clarifying of expectations which becomes the goals or Key Result Area or Key Performance Areas which are nothing but different fancy names given to describe a supervisor's expectation about subordinates, the rest of the steps in the process may not necessarily follow the same sequence. But irrespective of the naming, the objective or expectation need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound)

No management guru would be able to point out a scale or instrument to measure many of the targets. For a receptionist utmost courtesy and pleasing manners become one of the parameters that determine her effectiveness. Though there is no scale that can measure the pleasantness, an indirect measure (Indicator) can be found in the number of complaints escalated. In the same manner for every expectation there would be some 'Performance Indicators' that would be reflective of the Performance Area.

Observation, Feedback and Coaching

Having set the expectations right, the next challenge is observation and feedback. I have always felt that a good parent can be a good supervisor. Having an eye on the employee just like you have an eye on your teenage daughter or son, ensuring that he takes the right steps, that his steps do not go in the wrong track and at the same time not giving him an uncomfortable feeling of being policed or closely observed, treating the employees equally and unbiased just the way you are cautious to avoid sibling rivalry and at the same time appreciating success and lending a helping hand to come up from failures or get better results (Coaching). A good laugh at the dinner table after a stressful day, playing different roles of parent and friend (read as boss and colleague)- These are just some things common to a good parent and a good boss

Can we scrap the appraisal process?

Having monitored continuously, having given feedback continuously, having recorded results and communication correctly, and having set formal and informal meetings or forums for two way communication you can think of scrapping the appraisal system. But fortunately or unfortunately our reward mechanisms are closely tied to Performance Reviews and a formal review process becomes necessary.

Effective Performance Review Discussions

Having said that the formal performance reviews cannot be avoided, it means we have to learn to deal with the necessary evil. A formal performance review process can become a smooth process for both the persons in the meeting when the communication has happened at least informally through out the year. Nevertheless there are some basic preparatory steps and code of conduct that facilitate a smooth performance review discussion


  • Have all information regarding your subordinate available with you. (Qualification, Experience, skills, previous performance records etc)
  • Anticipate the employee's concerns.
  • Pre-schedule a convenient meeting time and make sure that there are no interruptions (visitors, phone calls etc)
  • Have a rating done of his various Key Result Area, behavioral attributes necessary for the role etc

At the review discussion table

During the review session the following should be the code of conduct

  • Set the stage positive for performance reviews. Assure the employee that whatever being discussed is for his holistic improvement and long-term success.
  • Ask the employee to describe his activities and rate himself
  • Encourage the employee to talk more and ask exploratory questions which would penetrate more and lead the employee to give more correct self assessment
  • There should be no surprises at the review table. This is possible only with the process of continuous communication and feedbacks
  • Keep track of the time. Ideally 45 to 60 minutes should be the schedule for a review meeting. If it gets extended beyond 90 minutes break for the day with a clear schedule for follow up meeting

Common mistakes

Very often we come across line managers who think performance reviews are just a formality or documentation and ultimately what happens is a reverse engineering where they claim they convert the overall evaluation of the employee in terms of ratings for each attribute. But when that mental framework dominates what practically happens is not the conversion of overall evaluation, but a documentation of biases or feelings.

The biggest leap towards reducing errors is the awareness about possible errors and that is where the importance of training for reviewers comes. Often HR commits the mistake of assuming that the line managers are 'people managers' and would evidently know the basic thumb rules. But often you come across excellent project managers who would even question the existence of a concept of continuous communication or the need for avoiding recency effect. The need for trainings cannot by any means replaced by a literature. However to mention some, the common evaluator errors to be avoided are Halo effect, Recency Effect, Central tendency etc.

A reviewer has also to be weary about some common mistakes, which are made at review discussions. A line manager would be surprised to know that his opening remark at the discussion. 'Oh! You are a diploma holder' in fact spoiled the whole spirit of the discussion at a very young stage pushing the employee to a belief that irrespective of his performance his lower qualification is going to affect him negatively. Some other points a reviewer has to be careful to avoid are comparison with other employees (which of course is the easy way out, but most insulting and unfruitful way of performance reviews), discussion on salaries (which will prompt the employee to be every defensive), focusing a criticism on the employee and not behavior (e.g.: Rather than saying you are lazy it would be better if you point out the incidents which made you feel that he is lazy) etc

What do we have to achieve

However fair and transparent a system is and the manager who administers it, we are dealing with humans, each with his own positives and negatives and there is no perfect method even as perfect as any science has discovered to compare apples and oranges. But the success of the system comes in achieving the best possible objectivity, using it as a means to develop underperformers using the experiences from the best performers, retaining the best performers and last but not least recognizing and developing the average performers which form the bulk of any organization and hence is critical. In effect the success lies in an understanding that each employee is an important asset of the organization and doing the best to nurture it to the mutual benefit of the employee and the organization.


T. N. Chabbra, Human Resource Management, Himalaya Publishing House
Chaturvedi, Training and Development, ICFAI Books, 2005
Roland Garings, Selection- the process of winning, Wiley Eastern, 2002

Hari Sundar. G
School of Communication and Management Studies
Kalamassery, Cochin

Source: E-mail October 16, 2008


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