(excerpted from the L.E.T. book, by Dr. Thomas Gordon)
But first, what’s so wrong with them anyway?
In over 25 years of consulting with many kinds of organizations, I never saw a performance evaluation system that people liked—either leaders who administered it or group members on whom it was used. Typically, performance evaluation causes problems and headaches for both the evaluator and the person evaluated. Being evaluated by another is so often threatening. People dread being told they haven’t done a good job or their work is not satisfactory or they’re only 4 on a scale of 7. Managers, too, dislike sending such messages—they know how they hurt, how they lower a person’s self-esteem, how they provoke arguments.
Here are some other serious deficiencies in performance evaluations:
1. Job descriptions are usually not adequate for defining specific functions which a team member is expected to perform. People with identical job descriptions often end up doing quite different things. And studies generally have shown substantial differences between leaders and team members as to what responsibilities and duties the member is expected to perform.
2. Leaders are required to fill out rating forms that usually contain lists of “traits” and “characteristics,” such as cooperativeness, initiative, creativity, thoroughness, etc., that are next to impossible to evaluate objectively and accurately.
3. Extreme variations exist in the standards and the rating practices of different leaders. Each has biases and pet ideas about what ratings should be given (“Nobody gets an Excellent rating from me”; “I never rate anyone Below Average because if he’s that bad I shouldn’t keep him”).
4. Leaders’ ratings have a tendency to show the “halo effect”: they first make an overall judgment of a team member’s performance and then indiscriminately rate all specific items consistent with the general rating.
5. Leaders’ ratings are strongly influenced by whatever administrative actions they may have to take in the future. (“If I rate too high, she’ll expect to get a raise”; “If I rate too high I’ll not be able to justify firing him in the future”).
6. Ratings of team members often cause the same kinds of reactions as the grading of children in school—buttering up, covering up, “working only for the grade,” competitiveness, arguments, loss of self-esteem, etc.
7. Most performance evaluation systems focus only on past performance—they look back on what has already happened rather than encourage effective performance in the future.
8. While leaders are supposed to explain and discuss team members’ evaluations with them, some avoid these conferences like the plague. They know they’ll be unpleasant.
The Periodic Planning Conference (PPC)
Over several years, I developed for my client organizations a new approach to performance appraisal which I am convinced is one of the most important tools of an effective leader. The PPC is a regularly scheduled conference with each of the leader’s group members, generally every six months. The length of the conference may vary from a half hour to two or more hours. Sometimes the conference has to be spread over more than one meeting.
It is a specified time set aside for the leader and the group member to lay out a plan of what the member intends to do during the next six months to improve performance, to develop new skills, and to institute changes in carrying out functions of the job. The group member is also invited to discuss ways for the leader to help the group member accomplish the next six months’ goals.
It is an opportunity for group members to discuss with the leader any problem or concern that may be affecting their job performance, job satisfaction, or future with the company.
Rather than focus on past performance (what already has been done), the PPC requires the leader and the group members to focus on future performance (what can be done). Thereby, the PPC to a great extent eliminates the distasteful feature of most merit-rating systems—namely, the leader’s having to evaluate, judge, and rate group member’s past performance.
The PPC requires the group member and the leader to focus on the job, the work, the goals, the programs—all job-related activities. Thus the PPC eliminates another distasteful feature of merit-rating systems: rating personal traits such as loyalty, cooperativeness, conscientiousness, leadership, etc. The PPC does away with “scores,” which in most merit-rating systems cause so much defensiveness on the part of the group member and arguments between the leader and the members.
The PPC, unlike most merit-rating systems, is a two-way conference. Group members participate even more than the leader in setting their own goals and planning their own activities. In addition, members are encouraged to suggest how the leader can be better at helping them achieve their goals.
Interested in learning more?
• Read this powerful Blog on ranking systems and performance reviews by one of our master trainers.
• Check out the L.E.T. book (Kindle, hardback, etc.).