The following essay is concerned with research about the topic of performance management and evaluation systems. Since performance management systems and its components such as performance evaluation are nowadays more than ever an important key factor within organizations to satisfy employees and to support and improve productivity, outcomes and organizational competitive advantages, it is imperative to consider a handful of aspects to be able to deliver effective and forward looking performance evaluation. Within this context establishing a ‘ culture of dialogue ’ with open two-way communication, performance self- appraisal forms and ongoing feedback is forward looking and can help firms to satisfy their employees in order to achieve acceptance with the performance management system as a whole. Moreover, organizations are increasing their emphasis on developing people what is an important aspect considered in the following assignment. If performance evaluation is to be effective it needs to identify employees ’ developmental needs linking them with training and developmental activities that provide employees with opportunities to enhance strengths and to improve weaknesses. How managers and supervisors can ensure this is achieved and what other important aspects are required to be considered in order to provide the organization and their employees with effective and forward looking performance evaluation will be researched and described in the following essay.
Implications for effective performance evaluation
As the topic of this assignment predicts that performance evaluation is to be effective only when it is forward looking in its focus and integrated with training and development activities, one essential aspect to be discussed within this context are “Performance Dialogues”. Performance dialogues are forward-looking rather than retrospective and focus on employee development which is an important key component within every performance management and evaluation system (Lecture on Managing, Evaluating and Developing Human Resources by Megan Paull, Murdoch University, S2 2010, Week 4, Slide 11; Aguinis 2009, 201). Two statements from key stakeholders (Rodriguez 2002, 2) pointed out in a performance management survey published in May-June issue 2001 of Harvard Business Review express obviously the need and the absence of performance dialogues as well as training and developmental activities pretty clear:
“Why should I devote a lot of energy to the performance management process? I can’t remember the last time I sat down with my boss to talk about my performance.”
“Our managers don’t know how to coach their staff and provide them with meaningful feedback.”
Even when those statements are just two of one survey about performance management, research revealed that achieving effective performance management processes requires a culture of dialogue that is constituted by pervasive and regular two-way communication meetings. Thus, individuals and groups are provided with the opportunity to question, challenge, interpret and clarify goals in order to align employees’ actions with the corporate goals (Rodriguez 2002, 2). Creating a culture of dialogue includes two things to be considered as essential components. First it needs to be ensured thorough clarity around functional and corporate goals what means that employees understand what they are expected to achieve, the importance of their performance for the accomplishment of the organizational goals and how their performance is actually linked to these corporate goals. Second, to ensure clarity of goals appropriate systems and processes are required to be found and implemented by HR managers. For example, this might be done by creating a “learning map” that displays graphically how each team and department and its functional goals are connected to organizational goals. Another method to achieve clarity around goals may be to create scorecards which determine five to seven individual annual goals. Those goals are set up between managers and subordinates when they finally agreed upon. The accomplishment of the goals will then be evaluated within the performance assessment phase through performance evaluation meetings (Rodriguez 2002, 3-4). As already mentioned beforehand, that individual performance and goals must be linked and aligned with organizational objectives it is imperative that performance evaluation systems are aligned as well with the firm’s strategic plan and corporate goals in order to deliver effective evaluation outcomes. Gary Boomer (2009, 27), president of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kansas, confirms this point by explaining that “how an employee’s performance integrates with the firm’s strategic plan is often missing from performance evaluation systems.”
Once performance evaluation meetings have been scheduled and managers and employees are supposed to meet each other, it is important to conduct the performance appraisal in a two-way communication in order to participate the employee in the evaluation process of his own performance (Aguinis 2009, 42). That also means that the manager or the supervisor should avoid dominance of the conversation. Brian Gill (1998, 72-74) supports this argument in the American Printer Magazine stating that “evaluations should be an open communication in which both the manager and the employee can determine what things are done well and where there is room for improvement”.
A helpful instrument to facilitate and achieve those participative meetings is the use of self appraisal forms provided to the evaluated employee. As within the assessment phase both the manager and the employee are supposed to deliver information about the employees’ performance, self appraisal forms provide a good opportunity for the employee to assess his
own behaviors, results and goals expected to be displayed and achieved in the foregoing review period. Since the performance of the employee is illuminated by both individuals the assessment delivers better information (Aguinis 2009, 41-42). Hence, having better information to be used as a discussion-basis makes the evaluation process finally more effective. Furthermore, Aguinis (2009) explains that self-ratings are useful to reveal potential discrepancies between self-views and the views of others that relate to the evaluated results, behaviors and goals. He also points out that it is more likely to initiate developmental efforts when there are any discrepancies between supervisor and employees (42). Gary Boomer (2009, 27) makes the point that “(…) self-assessment is a powerful motivator.” Thus, giving the employee the opportunity to participate within the performance evaluation process leads to higher satisfaction with the evaluation system and the performance management system as a whole since employees are able to assess themselves making any suggestions, comments or interpretations regarding her own performance. Also it displays accuracy and fairness that supports the acceptance of the system by the employee and therefore the effectiveness of the performance evaluation process (Aguinis 2009, 42). Finally, an important step that never should be missing in the evaluation process is the need to review and re-develop the actual job descriptions ensuring that job tasks, knowledge, skills and abilities are kept up-dated and performance measurement and evaluation refers to that tasks and behaviors relevant and required to the job in question. Gill (1998, 72-74) underlines this essential point by emphasizing that “without a good, accurate job description, there is nothing substantial to evaluate performance against.” He further points out that “managers and employees should be able to review it before the actual evaluation to make changes, additions and corrections.” Thus, without regularly up-dated job descriptions effectiveness of performance evaluation will be declining and might be distorted by making wrong performance and development decisions due to the use of obsolete or inappropriate job descriptions as evaluation basis.
What is also important when managers and supervisors want to be engaged in effective performance evaluation?
First, it is necessary that managers and supervisors prepare their employees for evaluation meetings in order to avoid surprising situations giving the employee the opportunity to prepare him or herself for the meeting. That should include handing out the appraisal forms to the employee before the actual meeting takes place to make the employee aware of how he or she will be evaluated (Gill 1998, 72-74). Preparing the employee on time for her performance evaluation and giving her the opportunity to participate in the evaluation process most likely will increase the satisfaction and acceptance with the system as the employee will feel esteem and involvement in the process. Another point that Gill and Aguinis emphazise is the need for giving effective and ongoing performance feedback throughout the evaluation period (Gill 1998, 72-74; Aguinis 2009, 40). Aguinis (1998, 43) supports this statement by explaining that “providing feedback in an effective manner is extremely important because it leads not only to performance improvement but also to employee satisfaction with the system.” Gill (1998, 72-74) makes another substantial point by stating that “honesty and fairness are basis for productive performance appraisals”. Thus, performance evaluations should always be objective and separated from emotions. Performance appraisals that evaluate personality traits rather than relevant performance fail to achieve the predicted purpose of performance management systems and result in useless performance evaluation outcomes. Moreover, when conducting performance appraisals managers and supervisors should avoid too many negative comments and criticisms and they should never express subjective and vague descriptions. Gill (1998) provides an example of how performance feedback should not to be conveyed. Evaluating an employee with the statement “lacks customer orientation” perhaps would be too subjective and vague formulated. For example “does not greet customers quickly” might be more objective within this context (72-74).
Other important aspects that support satisfaction, acceptance, productivity and therefore effective performance evaluation processes are the avoidance of insincere and excessive praise as well as the need to use specific examples when discussing performance. Finally, to ensure that performance evaluation meetings run through completely managers and supervisors should put enough time aside planning the meeting to avoid interruptions and to devote total attention to the employee (Gill 1998, 72-74).
When talking about performance appraisal meetings there is one more point that needs to be addressed if performance evaluation is to be effective. That is the frequency of those meetings. Indeed, it is imperative that employee evaluation takes place more than one time a year. Performance evaluations conducted only once a year have several disadvantages and therefore do not contribute to effective performance evaluation systems. For example, annually conducted performance evaluations do not leave enough room for reviewing and, if necessary, adapting objectives, tasks, accountabilities, needed KSA’s (knowledge, skills and abilities) and actual job descriptions. They also hinder managers and supervisors to bring the employee back on the right track when she is heading to the wrong direction. Gary Boomer (2009) confirms this argument by stating that annually performance evaluations cannot properly focus on permanent improvement and personal growth. Beside that aspect there is a lack of specificity and risk of misunderstanding and misinterpreting of expectations. He further makes the suggestion of a 90-day game plan where performance evaluations are set up quarterly. Evaluations conducted four times a year provide the management with the advantage of a better overview about the employee’s strengths and weaknesses, goals and needs (27). Also Aguinis (2009, 131) refers to quarterly or at least semiannual evaluation reviews backing up his recommendation by saying that managers conducting reviews only once a year gamble with “(…) not sufficient opportunity for the supervisor and the subordinate to discuss performance issues in a formal setting.” Three Factors make Performance Management a Success (2009, 22) reveals that “(…) meet periodically (…) is a defining characteristic of the best performance management systems, because it ensures that performance coaching, feedback and monitoring of goals regularly take place.”
Moreover, another substantial point regarding the support of effective and efficient performance evaluation is the need for rater (error) training programs (Aguinis 2009, 141). To ensure that performance evaluation is conducted in an accurate and fair manner and not being affected by biases that might distort the rating it is essential that raters, mostly managers and supervisors, receive consequent and pervasive rater training. If raters are not aware of certain rater errors that can occur within the rating and evaluation process, performance ratings will be either intentionally or unintentionally distorted. If this happens the rating-results get deformed, employees most likely feel treated unfairly due to incorrect decisions and the performance management system fails to deliver its predicted purpose and desired outcomes. That might inevitably come along with harmful impacts for the organization (Aguinis 2009, 138-139). As already mentioned before ratings can be distorted by intentionally and unintentionally errors (for a comprehensive explanation of intentional and unintentional errors refer to Aguinis 2009, 140, 162-164). To reduce the risk of making intentional errors coaches are to be required to convey the raters the benefits of providing accurate ratings rather than distorting them by demonstrating the outweighed positive impact that accurate ratings have for the organization. Moreover, incentives, rewards and benefits for accurate rating need to be created (Aguinis 2009, 164). However, Aguinis (2009) is pointing out that even a radical rater training program can never totally exclude and avoid the occurrence of unintentional and especially intentional rater errors (165).
Beside the need for rater training, self appraisals, effective and regular feedback and creating a culture of dialogue another important step to make performance evaluations more effective is the setup of a developmental plan linked with training and development activities. The developmental plan should concern identifying areas that need improvement by simultaneously setting goals to be achieved in each area. It can be either included in the performance appraisal form or in a separated form that focuses only on developmental needs and actions to improve those needs. Aguinis (2009, 201) supports the need for developmental plans and activities by stating that “personal developmental plans are a key component of a performance management system because they specify courses of action to be taken to improve performance.” In a nutshell, developmental plans highlight an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. They help to enhance areas of strength and improve areas of weaknesses by pursuing substantial goals such as encouraging continuous learning, performance improvement and personal growth (Aguinis 2009, 180-181). Within this context, Gary Boomer (2009, 27) makes the point that “(…) effective performance evaluations center on coaching and development.” He further explains that nowadays firms are increasing their focus on developing and training people which is an important pillar that needs to be considered by all firm employees (Boomer 2009, 27). The intersection of organizational learning and human resource development becomes nowadays more and more important especially when change has been occurring at an increasingly rapid pace in our environment (Smith 2004, 64). And that is why Ian Smith (2004) is underlining the importance for a permanent development of personal skills and knowledge of the workforce (64). He (2004, 64) is stating that “(…) ongoing development (…) is a strategic imperative for organizations” to finally maintain organizational capability and effectiveness.
Moreover, including personal developmental plans and communicating the message that the evaluation system is primarily used for developmental purposes rather than only for evaluative and administrative purposes (e.g. promoting, demoting or dismiss sb.) contributes to higher employee satisfaction and acceptance with the system as employees are provided with developmental activities to improve strengths and weaknesses. Hence, it integrates that person properly and deeper in the organization (Aguinis 2009, 180). To ensure that strengths and weaknesses will be concerned and improved personal developmental and training needs are to be linked with certain development activities and time frames in the developmental plan. Potential undertaken actions to improve one’s needs might be chosen from a variety of options of developmental activities. However, the range of options might consist of activities where the employee is being trained by other professionals with specific expertise such as on-the-job-training, mentoring programs and specific courses including getting a degree. But employees can also be trained by themselves by undertaking self- guided reading, temporary assignments, job rotation or adopting temporarily a leadership role in a professional or trade organization (Aguinis 2009, 182-185). Indeed, Aguinis (2009) explains that supervisors and managers are responsible for the creation and completion of the employee’s developmental plan. They must explain the employee what performance is expected from him and advising her about how those objectives can be achieved and what developmental activities might be helpful. Furthermore, the supervisor is required to revise the employee’s developmental goals and progress regularly ensuring that objectives are specific and feasible. After all, managers and supervisors need to motivate their subordinates through bonuses and benefits that help to achieve the developmental goals (187).
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