HR professor

Is Performance Appraisal a Noose Around the Neck?

It is that time of the year. In corporate parlance it is called Performance Appraisal Meeting. In other words, it is Judgment Day -- the dreaded day in the life of an employee. Am I in or out? Am I good or bad? Am I going to get the thump on the back or the kick in the 'you-know-where'? Questions like these confound the employee's minds. It is time to count your deeds. Tell me honestly, how many of us enjoy this act?

The question that many HR executives ask me is, "What then, is the solution? How do we acknowledge good performance? How do we weed out the 'non-performing resource' from the performing ones?"

To be fair to the system, I must admit that I have no problem with the objectives of performance appraisal. I agree, with the lack of any suitable tool to identify talent, it is probably a fair tool in itself. Performance appraisal looks at human resource as any other resource and aims to enhance productivity by using fair measures. It also generates goodwill among the real achievers and acts as a deterrent to freeloaders.

What bothers me about the performance appraisal system is the implementation process. Very often, I have come across managers who think that performance appraisal is the tool to get back at erring employees. The attitude is high handed. It is more brickbats than bouquets for the employee.

It seems to me that in most cases, performance appraisal is created along the lines of Douglas Mcgregor's Theory X assumptions. According to Douglas Mcgregor's Theory X model, most people must be controlled or threatened before they work hard enough. The performance appraisal tool views the employee track record, without ever recording the causes behind the high and the low performance. Take the example of a regional sales manager I once knew. When he joined his organization, he was a highly motivated employee with great ambitions. However, three months into his job, the man was frustrated and under-performing. His record was showing a steady dip instead of a climb. In his performance review, his managers wrote him off as a liability to the organization and soon he was sacked. What went wrong with this highly motivated RSM? The reasons were hardly explored. Nobody bothered to find out that the RSM was de-motivated by the company's bureaucratic management. Rarely could he get his ideas across the management. Even if they did listen, they did not empathize or encourage creativity. Now who performed poorly in this case? The manager or the company?

When tools become the only guiding force, there is a lack of human touch. Organizations need to acknowledge that human resource is a 'thinking and feeling' resource that is unlike other inanimate resources. Hence human resource has to be treated with humanity. If we want individuals to be intellectually stimulated, creative and vibrant, we have to stop pretending that they are monkeys in a circus. Let us understand that human resource needs impassivity in judgment, but sensitivity in approach.

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