Appraisals can make or break companies

Going through the humiliation of the Appraisal Process one wonders why they needs to be subjected to this barbarous act with tyrannical overtones in which personal dynamics or organizational realities are charaded  as performance measurement.

The above  can be aptly demonstrated by picking up the data of Good,Better and Best ratings of the last two years.Do employees who were “best” until last year have suddenly lost it to be rated as just OK or even poor this year.It is not the employee but the economy which is under  performing and wants to loose excess baggage for a tough uphill climb.

Having been through the grind from either side of the table for a number of years now I have realized that while the purpose of a performance appraisal is to”motivate” the employee for performing better in the coming year it most often  ends up as  a fault finding mission in which your boss frames you for crimes uncommitted for justifying a rating already conceived.

Data is twisted beyond recognition.If you are blessed , only those numbers will get highlighted which are in your favor and if you have rubbed the powers that be on the wrong side you may suddenly notice that the bars are smaller,the trend lines have a downward slope and you are falling behind everyone else like never before.

Before my motivational speech turns into a personal rant I would jump to the obvious question What’s the solution ?

To answer this we will first have to look at the cause of the problem.While organizations lay down seemingly fair ways of performance appraisal clearly defined by systems and methods it is ‘people’ who have to execute the process.We have to realize that organization is nothing but a group of people and people are humans who will have all the limitations of being one.They have egos when it comes to subordinates,jealousy when it comes to peers, and malice towards anyone who can take up their slot in the short run.I will give you a few examples to demonstrate why and how the system fails :

1.The rating of a yes man is always better than those who speak their own mind even though every official publication will talk about innovation and new ideas.Remember ‘The boss is always right’ .

2.Every time your boss recommends a promotion you come closer to becoming him especially if he is not moving up so he is perfectly justified that you are frozen in time too

3.The organization is visibly owned by nobody and so there is no point in putting too much premium on performance. Underachievers consistently  demotivate their team members to under perform  so they can never come close them in the hierarchy.Very difficult to prove but easy to to get away with.Appraisal happens once a year but the bosses can slow poison everyone around them every day.

So what should be done ?

OBJECTIVES  HAVE TO BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE

METRICS HAVE TO BE AS NUMERICAL AS POSSIBLE

APPRAISALS HAVE TO BE AS OBJECTIVE AS POSSIBLE.

The process has to be fair but more significantly it has to APPEAR to be fair.

It is very important that an employee understands the rating process and agrees to his rating.Unless they own their performance the whole purpose of conducting an appraisal is defeated.It is even more important that the areas of improvement and gaps in performance are well identified and specific measures are outlined to make sure the next years rating can be improved.You are successful as an appraiser only if you can get enhanced results from the Appraisees in the coming year.In fact there should be a penalty on those bosses whose teams ratings keep falling each year.

To ensure the above progress needs to be reviewed every quarter to take away any surprise element at the time of final assessment.

An appraisal that’s fair and well conducted will most certainly inspire the employee to do better.On the other hand an appraisal badly done can ruin the employee as well as the organization.

Some organizations do exceptionally well than the others – now you know why.

It is the Appraisal.

Would leave with parting lines from Marcus Aurelius ;

A man has to stand up straight,not straightened.

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10 comments on “Appraisals can make or break companies

  1. […] in India. There I saw that the author, Aahang, had recently posted a piece on Appraisals (here). He begins by saying: “Going through the humiliation of the Appraisal Process one wonders why […]

  2. Arsen Darnay says:

    We must distinguish between leadership and bureaucracy. What really matters in business is leadership. If it doesn’t exist above you, you can still supply it at your level. In due time this will manifest. The bureaucrats rely on mechanical forms of pressure, manipulating people by carrots and sticks. Ultimately these things don’t work, but try telling a genuine bureaucrat that.

    I’ve always regarded bureaucracies as I do the weather. You’ve got to live with it. When it rains, take an umbrella. You can get around it, use it, take advantage of its benefits, avoid its hardships, but it’s best to see it as a natural phenomenon and forgive the fools who try to make it run. They don’t know any better.

    As you imply, aahang, it’s the person who matters, and it’s best to cultivate one’s own real powers, get on with the job, and let these idiotic periods get past. Next year, again. If the economy turns and sales start climbing, the power shifts back to the performers and away from the bean-counters.

    • aahang says:

      Your take on bureaucracy is sharp and hilarious.I would like to thank you for your advice and promise myself that my response to bureaucracy will the same as my response to the weather.No point in cursing yourself or the sky when it rains,just take an umbrella 🙂
      Let’s hope for the best in the coming year.I WILL continue to do my best.When we were in school I got a plaque the philosophy of which got etched in my mind forever.It said :
      ” Devotion to duty is not a sacrifice,it’s the justification to your existence in this world.”

  3. Avanish says:

    Two things come to my mind after reading this.
    First being ‘Life is not fair’ but why is it so, nobody knows and to whom the unfairness happens knows that this is an easy phrase to refer but a difficult one to experience.

    The other is just going by our Geeta philosophy of doing your best efforts without consideration of the fruits. well if there are no fruits or they taste bitter after your year’s toil, you got to be hurt and not talk of philosophy.No answers just exploring…

    • aahang says:

      Ha Ha 🙂 You know me.These are just small things as I always look at the larger canvas.It’s just a f…ing job yaar.If you have it no one can take it away.If you don’t you can’t run a marathon.
      What’s important in one company is of no relevance in another so it does not matter anyways.
      sangharsh सनातन नहीं शत्रुता इस जीवन भर ही तो है
      But yes I am disturbed by the sheer starkness of it all.Sometimes it feels we are just corporate Bar girls vying with each other for the customer’s attention so we can make more money tonight , dancing on the same tunes as yesterday and tomorrow.

  4. Dheeraj Akula says:

    Very bold post but a good read.

    • aahang says:

      I just said what I felt strongly about.
      I have experienced it over the last 13 years of my career so I wouldn’t relate it so much to the current organization but generally to the way appraisals are being conducted across the board.
      I wish we could bring the spirit of doing the right thing rather than anything else.Most of the times you just have to put a hand on your heart and you get all the answers.

  5. Blog Gore says:

    Furthermore as almost all organisations link appraisals directly to compensation… appraisals are expected to provide a “raise” and for both the appraiser and the appraisee, the compensation becomes a focal point, while conducting the appraisal.

    So the chap getting appraised doesn’t care a hoot about what the assessment is or the road map is and is completely focused on what his compensation will be and interprets everything in the assessment as an indicator on what his compensation, at the end is likely to be. The manager on the other hand, as you rightly pointed out, conducts the appraisal as a justification for the compensation. His hands are tied too. From an organization perspective, the assessment system becomes more aligned to budgets as against objectives. And KRAs don’t change for years.

  6. Blog Gore says:

    Agree completely… The trouble with subjective rating based assessment systems is the bias that comes into the process… which cannot be avoided, as you said, because it is human.

    On the other side, a completely quantitative system can sometimes miss the finer points.. I mean… assesments are very important in providing road-maps… a completely quantitative system is good to assess past performance but misses out on skills, traits and knowledge.

    The right approach as you correctly said is a FLEXIBLE objective based system, aligned to goals that a manager has to set, and where results are assessed quantitatively with respect to results and time.

    Also, Managers need to be trained to make subjective assessments (on skills, etc) on a continual basis… and the assessments have to be calibrated

    Question is – Do organizations want to take this kind of trouble – when the easy way out is a subjective 360 type system. HR at the end is looked upon as a cost center.

    • aahang says:

      Thank for a long and well thought reply.
      Well to my mind it is a business requirement to focus on the appraisal process.
      In Ram Charan’s book Execution he says that it is important for the employees to align with organization’s goals but it is even more important for the organizations to align with the employees individual goals – personal or professional.Those who fail to realize this basic fact can seldom inspire their people to perform to their optimum.A stressed relationship hurts the company as well as the employee.
      It will be cliched to say that people are an organization’s biggest assets and not even common sense would suggest that you damage your own property.

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