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Appraisal hiccups

For some time now, I have been hearing complaints from a number of employees about the stress they experience when they receive their performance evaluation at work. In fact, one employee suggested that her boss does not provide any feedback about performance until their evaluations are due.

A check with several employees in organisations across Barbados revealed similar results. Given these reports, I have concluded that several managers and supervisors are unaware of the importance of the performance management function.

This situation can be deemed untenable, especially in light of the new Employment Rights Act, which depends heavily on the employee’s job description and hence by extension performance appraisals.

The article this week is about performance management/ appraisals and the associated problems. Please note that performance management and performance appraisals will be used interchangeably in this paper.

Research by Jones and Culbertson (2011) who cited Pulakos and O’Leary suggested that performance management is a broken system based on the authoritarian communication style of management. They suggest that performance management has been perceived by some managers as a relic that focuses only on carrying messages to employees about appropriate and or inappropriate behaviour rather than on what actions are needed to accomplish specific goals.

Furthermore, they argue that very often performance feedback is about relational processes that do not include organisational or employee outcomes. Actually, these researchers are suggesting that performance appraisals are often used by managers to demoralise employee confidence and harm any kind of relationship that may exist between manager and employee.

This research seems to support the claims by several employees who reported that they dread their performance appraisal discussion which, feels more like a fight with their respective superiors than a time where positive communication takes place.

In all fairness, this situation has been occurring for several years in the private sector although it may be a new process in the public sector. Be that as it may, the performance appraisal process has been misconstrued by several managers who, are of the view that as long as their own performance is suitable they can provide whatever feedback they like without considering the implications of the impact on subordinates.

There are some who recognise that this is indeed a problem and have suggested that training would eliminate this issue. However, Jones and Culbertson (2011) argued that training may create a medium for effectively communicating work goals but may still foster the authoritarian style of management that perpetuates the problem.

Although this may be true, some have contended that training in good communication and people skills may result in creating an environment where supervisors can communicate expectations that encourage employees to perform at higher standards and not produce debilitating results.

This research is so important to us here in the Caribbean, given our historical background, where the “employee/employer relationship” was one of subservience where employees’ output was not valued. This situation gave rise to a culture where employees are given average or above average performance appraisals when they have acted submissively (eager to please and follow instructions).

This meant that the ones who felt that the process should be a “two-way” one, where their assertions, opinions and feelings should be considered are marginalised and punished which is verified with the bestowing of a less than acceptable performance appraisal.

Unfortunately, as many management specialists have pointed out, employees resist change especially when the motive is to modify something that was embedded in their culture for many years. Now, with the current Employment Rights Act, performance evaluations have come into sharp focus and if this culture of favouritism for submissive behaviour continues throughout organisations, severe problems will ensue.

It is true that the relationship between the employer and employee is central to performance management systems and no one wants to work with an employee who is under-performing. However, if the recruitment and selection criteria is one that professes to prefer an employee who is analytical and “thinks outside the box” how can this employee be expected to change and become subservient when on the job.

This same relationship, although seen by some as vital to the smooth flow of organisational wide processes, can be the crux of the problem in the performance management process. As Jones and Culbertson pointed out, this relationship could account for the ineffectiveness of the system in the first place.

To expand on this point, these researchers further asserted that a manager/employee relationship where the manager is solely responsible for determining and defining criteria and standards while the employee follows instructions and takes feedback on performance is flawed. They argued that such a system conjures up the impression of “the manager as the water and the employee as the vessel” just waiting to be filled.

Furthermore, this form of relationship, which can be described as one where (a) employees follow orders blindly, while (b) managers are seen as the absolute authority, will always result in creating an environment where the successful employees are the ones who develop the “father knows best” approach and the ones who do not, will be seen as troublemakers.

One may posit that managers, who receive training at university level or with other professional bodies, should not act in this way. However, this training also supports the ‘father knows best’ approach and is perhaps responsible for the failure of performance appraisal systems in our organisations.

One suggestion that may solve this problem is the recruitment and selection of employees/professionals who are allowed to contribute to the development of the organisation. They should be included in the development of the ethical code of conduct for the organisation which should underpin high performance standards.

In addition, arguments on performance appraisals suggest that instead of having management solely responsible for defining and maintaining performance expectations and criteria, this responsibility should be broadened to include employees.

This argument could mean that given that almost every organisation aspires to hire employees who are professionals (possess a degree) in their own right, they be encouraged to utilise adult discussions concerning their performance and not be relegated to use a “father/child” like relationship.

Finally, one must admit that the current performance appraisal system, in organisations around the world today and in particular the Caribbean, has not been as successful as expected. Instead, employees leave the interview process feeling undervalued with the resultant loss of self-esteem and damaged relationships between management and subordinates.

Perhaps underpinning these issues is the ease with which we discourteously treat each other. However, I must agree with Jones and Culbertson (2011) that, if employees are treated as professionals who can contribute to the development of performance standards and measures and we decrease the authoritarian style of management which has so damaged the employer/employee relationship, then performance appraisals and consequently management would be perceived in a more positive light. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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