Working a Appraisal Job evaluation requires cooperation on both sides Robert McGarvey

September 08, 1993|By Robert McGarvey | Robert McGarvey,USAir Magazine

Pat Donnally had managed to get only a few sentences into the annual appraisal when his subordinate -- a quality engineer at a top computer company -- started to boil.

With a reddening face, the engineer abruptly stood up and said, "As far as I'm concerned, this discussion is over." Then he walked out of the room, leaving a stunned Mr. Donnally in his wake.

Five minutes later, he returned and asked Mr. Donnally for the rest of the day off. "I was sure we'd never see him again," Mr. Donnally says. But the next day the sheepish engineer returned and asked to resume the evaluation where it had broken off.

The memory lingers with Mr. Donnally, currently a consultant on TEAM, Total Excellence at MagneTek, a Los Angeles-based electronics company.

"His evaluation was good, but apparently not as high as he had expected," Mr. Donnally says. "Employees frequently are very, very touchy about appraisals."

Employees may be touchy about evaluations, but appraisals are an annual corporate rite. Everybody gets them and nobody likes them. Workers may not storm out of the room in the middle of an evaluation, but they may want to.

"Employees often think their evaluations are arbitrary and off base. Too often, they're right," says Dennis LaMountain, a human-resources consultant in Richmond, Va.

Also, many managers feel awkward, even inadequate, when it comes to delivering evaluations. "Few people are born with the ability to give a useful and honest appraisal," Mr. LaMountain says.

But the problem isn't entirely on the manager's shoulders. "Most employees fail to do what they can -- and should -- to make the evaluation process work," Mr. LaMountain says.

Employees want honest appraisals.

"Most workers crave feedback. They want to hear how they're doing and how to do better," says Dr. Hank Karp, a human-resources consultant in Virginia Beach, Va. "Trouble is, in most companies, workers aren't getting feedback."

That doesn't mean annual evaluations should be consigned to the dustbin.

"Companies need evaluations," says Bob Crossley, the vice president of administration at IMP, a San Jose, Calif.-based semiconductor manufacturer.

"The evaluation provides a documented record of what the employee is doing.

Intense competition

"In today's global economy, competition is intense. We're faced with getting more and more out of everybody. How do we do that? By knowing where people can do better. That's what an evaluation tells us."

That still leaves the problem of doing the evaluation itself.

"There's little mystery about how to do evaluations right," Mr. LaMountain says.

"Granted, most companies provide scant guidance about how to give -- or get -- them, but the information is out there. Evaluations are a task we know how to do."

Supervisors will start to grasp what's right with evaluations only when they see where appraisals go wrong.

Here are some sure-fire ways to derail an evaluation.

* Review the last month's work, not the last year's. "Employees commonly complain that their ratings are based on their past six weeks' efforts," Dr. Karp says. "Often their complaint is on target. Managers need to start preparing to do next year's review the moment they finish this year's."

* Transform the process into a popularity contest. "Too many managers rank employees on personality," Dr. Karp says. "Is he cheerful? Is she courteous? You may like a person, but that doesn't mean he is a solid performer."

* Skirt the negatives. "Many managers dislike delivering bad news," Mr. Donnally says. "They'll soften negative comments, perhaps even try to exclude them." But a steady diet of kind words doesn't do anybody any good.

"Praise is terrific -- we all like hearing it -- but the bad news is what lets us get better," Mr. Donnally says. "Employees prosper when they hear both sides."

* Downgrade your stars. While most evaluations are too generous, some go awry by deflating top performers.

"Many managers are fearful that if they tell their stars how good they really are, they'll lose them because their expectations will jump to levels the manager cannot meet," Mr. Crossley says.

When they're on target, however, "appraisals are accurate in all areas," Mr. Crossley says. "Stars need the truth as much as the next person does."

* Reserve high grades only for "clones": This flaw mars the most evaluations. "Frequently the best grades go to subordinates who are mirror images of the boss," Mr. LaMountain says.

The problem is that, just as managers may ignore their own flaws, they may overlook these flaws in their "clones" too.

Tips for managers

So how can managers make evaluations work? By providing a foundation.

"When employee and manager agree early on and in writing on the employee's key tasks for the upcoming year, the process gains dramatically in efficiency and usefulness," Mr. LaMountain says.

The list of tasks should include four to six duties that are crucial to the employee's performance. Long lists, Mr. LaMountain says, are less helpful.

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