Staff Appraisals

Softly, softly staff appraisals – an uncomfortable reality

I just stumbled across this article about the awkwardness that line managers can feel about delivering performance management feedback to their staff at their appraisal. What an apt topic given that Cluer HR’s people management course at the Overbury Business Centre yesterday was ‘Delivering Effective Appraisals’!

Watch this space by the way because by popular demand we will be running another ‘Delivering Effective Appraisals’ very soon!

Performance appraisal is an important aspect of effective people management but surely one of the trickiest. As the authors of this article comment, much research has highlighted that many employees resist the duty to evaluate others’ performance and skew the judgements they make. This comes particularly from the discomfort we feel, which leads to leniency in ratings – something that is widely seen to be the greatest threat to the integrity of performance management.

What’s more, leniency tends not to be an unconscious bias, but a deliberate attempt to distort the performance management process. It satisfies a drive to feel better about ourselves, avoid conflict or support other political agendas, such as making ourselves look more successful as line managers.

Existing research has found that leniency is related to personality traits – in particular, that highly agreeable people rate others more highly, and highly conscientious people rate others lower.

This research adds to that by looking at the impact of cultural values on discomfort and leniency in appraising others’ performance. Drawing on survey data collected from students, it finds that the value of interdependence – the ‘fundamental connectedness’ that is stronger in more collectivist societies – is indeed positively related to discomfort with appraisal and that this feeds through to leniency in ratings.

The authors do not propose any sure-fire ways of dealing with this specific problem. They recommend organisations pay attention to the cultural values of appraisers and point to the value of short training programmes in conducting appraisals, which have been shown to reduce discomfort and increase efficacy. They also recommend measures such as making questionnaire response scales as easy to use as possible, and considering anonymous feedback and using intermediaries (e.g. HR professionals) to deliver feedback.

But, fundamentally, the lesson put forward is that managers’ comfort with an appraisal process can support or undermine the integrity of a performance management system. This is another example showing that if HR functions are to be truly effective, it is simply not enough for them to develop relevant policies and processes. They must consider how culture and human behaviour will affect the uptake of those policies in practice and do what they can to ensure they get traction.

Article written by M. Carolina Saffie-Robertson and Stephane Brutus, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol 25 No 3, February 2014. pp459-473, cited by the CIPD.