Employee Ranking Systems LO16734

Richard C. Holloway (learnshops@thresholds.com)
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 08:45:40 -0800

Replying to LO16722 --

Performance reviews probably get such a bad rap because of the way in
which they are frequently misused, abused or even used.

Somethings I've learned over time is that they performance evaluations
cannot be universally applied within an organization. Each type of work,
in each type of suborganization within an organization has different
performance standards and processes against which to meaure their success.

Systems problems are rarely taken into account on performance evaluations.

I've heard some good examples of performance feedback loops on this list.
I believe that a continuous dialog process within a work unit or team, in
which each person is able to evaluate the performance of the larger
organization and system, of their own work unit, and of each other
(including self and peer evaluations) is a process that works.

I think bosses (replace that with the word appropriate for you) should
receive verbal and written feedback from the folks they are responsible
for (if the environment is safe, bosses will get good feedback).
(Ironically, I detest the 360 degree evaluation process, but the idea is
proximate to what I'm advocating)

However, whenever the specter of losing one's job or being demoted is the
consequence of a poor performance evaluation, the nature of the process
quickly changes--it becomes legalistic, tied into the risk management
issues of employee relations.

Litigation is responsible for many of the features of performance
appraisals that we see today. As several have pointed out, there are
people within the organization who don't fit, can't meet standards or
whose interpersonal skills or behavior simply require them to be somewhere
else for the health of the organization. I firmly believe that continued
informal and formal processes of correcting substandard performance and
behavior is the secret of success in any performance appraisal
process--without waiting or relying on periodic reviews. The other side
of this, is that good and bad news (evaluations) must be shared generously
and graciously.

It's also important that the standards themselves be widely shared and,
when possible, subject to collaborative discourse. If the work unit can
come up with their own standards (which means that they need to have all
the information the management folks would have in setting the standards),
it is much more likely that they will work to meet those standards.

Finally, I'm convinced that any and all attempts at ranking will always be
subjective and capricious at some point in the ranking process. In my
many year's experience working with promotion systems in one of the most
rank conscious organizations (the military), I found that the process of
ranking people within the top ranked 2 or 3 percentile (in order to choose
the top .5 percentile who would be promoted) was simply reliant on human
judgment. Human, subjective, judgment--which is the best that we can rely
on . . . and that's the crux of the problem. Mental models, cultural
filters, biases and preferences all play havoc with selecting the right
people--those factors and the point that we rank past behavior/performance
as indicators of future behavior/performance. Sort of like the vaunted
Heisman Trophy being an indicator of how well the recipient will do in
professional football (I think that there success rate is around 50%,
isn't it).

Ah, well--and "there's the rub."

Doc Holloway

"The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great
machine."  -James Jeans

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