Evaluation of Evaluations
Do public employee appraisals actually accomplish anything?
When we asked B&G readers how effective they deemed performance evaluations, the responses varied widely. (It turns out that's typical of almost everything we ask B&G readers.) We found the comments to be truly interesting to us, and we thought they deserved more than just a cursory overview in a single item. So, here, a half a dozen of our favorites:
"It seems silly to think that performance can be evaluated by sitting down every 12 months and trying to decide what's been done, or needs improvement or whatever. I know the ones we receive where I am are pro forma and worthless. A manager, any manager, should be constantly evaluating their employees' performance. And I've worked for managers that really understood what I did on a daily basis (note that is different than micro-managing) and knew what I was worth to the organization. However I've also worked for bosses who had no clue what their employees did all day, what their job entailed or whether that work would actually fill up a day. I've seen employees working for the latter managers only show up 50% of the time they are supposed to be at work and yet receive glowing performance reviews. If that doesn't tell you they are worthless, I'm not sure what does."
—Matt Roach, Chemist Advanced, Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene
"Modern performance appraisal is a year-round activity. It involves joint goal-setting by the employee and her/his supervisor, regular conversations about progress toward those targets, the role of the supervisor in helping the employee meet those targets, and a year-end, planned, face-to-face meeting or meetings that stress both the performance appraisal for the previous year and goal-setting for the next year. [...] Modern performance appraisal is an important managerial tool and leads to enhanced organizational effectiveness. Done right, it improves communication and motivation in the workplace. And yes, it ought to be linked to compensation. [...] We all evaluate others all the time. It's quite human. Modern performance appraisal channels this into a constructive management practice."
—Frederick S. Lane, Professor Emeritus of Public Affairs, Baruch College, The City University of New York
"I could not agree more about [performance evaluations] standing in the way of dealing with problem employees. I have been a manager with a number of organizations, all of which used traditional annual written reviews based on a form and I often found myself giving an employee an evaluation that I felt made them sound like a better employee than they were. It was as if the things that the evaluation looked at and the things that we needed in the work environment were too far apart to accurately reflect reality. I would score an employee well on attendance and job knowledge, for example, and that looks great, but the person would be unable to get along with others and would passive-aggressively (not blatantly) refuse to do certain tasks, which is awful, and there was no good way to reflect that. Thus no documentation and no way to move toward a dismissal."
—Lynnette Haggerty, assistant director, Ardmore Public Library, Ardmore, Okla.
"Theoretically, annual appraisals should not be necessary, if we as managers managed every day. That is, if we address every problem when it comes up and applaud every success when it happens, annual checkpoints should not be necessary. But in the daily press of things, we don't do that. And even if we did, a once-a-year look at where we are, where we've come from, and where we want to go is still a good idea. [...] So again, I couldn't disagree more with [the] contention that performance appraisals are not worthwhile. Although it is true . . . that I don't use the "1's" ("Unacceptable Performance") at all, and not a lot of "2's" ('Improvement Needed"), there's a reason for that. If someone's performance is unacceptable, I deal with it on a timely basis and get rid of non-performers. If there's a lot of improvement needed, again, I deal with it on a timely basis. So I would expect "Meets Performance Standards" to be a minimum rating. [...] Of course, the ratings can't be all that you do. Without the detailed comments based on observation, with specific examples and suggestions, the ratings would be meaningless."
—F. Milene Henley, Auditor, San Juan County, Calif.
"I [...] believe a great many people would just as soon have performance appraisals go by the wayside. However, the challenge is to find the right criteria to determine pay increases, bonuses, etc. Performance appraisals are used not only for compensation purposes but also for promotional considerations and employee development. We can't seem to get away from them any more than school systems can get away from grading students. We are predisposed to box people into categories of not so good, good, better, and best."
—Jim Kohmescher, director of administrative services, City of Wyoming, Mich.
"I worked at Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a civilian employee in the 1980s. During this period management and the labor union had a disagreement over the process of performing performance appraisals, and as a result we were not allowed to do them for a period of 2-3 years. The 'inability' to do appraisals in no way detracted from employee or enterprise performance, and we saved a ton of time and paperwork. I was not pleased when they returned. I always figured if you are providing feedback to employees in the context of a performance appraisal that you haven't already told them in the course of day to day supervision then you have already failed as a manager."
—Steve Lederer, director Napa County, Calif., Department of Environmental Management