Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Fallacy of Performance Appraisals: Birds Gotta Swim and Fish Gotta Sing!

During a recent radio interview I was asked about the tendency in the business world to focus on employees’ weaknesses rather than their strengths. This, of course, led to a discussion about Performance Appraisals and what their real purpose is. Most major companies today provide their employees with an annual review of their performance through a formal “Performance Review” process. This process generally involves a manager completing a highly detailed and often subjective document about each employee’s performance and display of “skills” that supposedly relate to their jobs. These forms are quite generic and the managers often receive little, if any, training as to how these reviews will actually enhance employees’ skills. The “Performance Review” is then based off of this form and, often, consists of a short discussion on what an employee has done well followed by a lengthy and well documented review of “opportunity areas” or “areas of potential development” for the employees.

The Performance Appraisal process is certainly a well intentioned one that often seems to fall short of its intended mark. Instead of helping employees grow and prosper in an organization, they often sidetrack employees from making great progress by focusing on perceived weaknesses and ignoring the employee’s strengths. This leads to an intense focus on an area where little progress can be made and ignores the employee’s greatest area of potential growth.

In this discussion I began to think of that old adage “Birds gotta sing and fish gotta swim”. I started to wonder what would happen if the animal kingdom performed Performance Appraisals the way the business world did. Picture the lion, the king of the jungle calling in the Nightingale for its annual performance appraisal.

“Overall you’ve had a pretty good year, Ms. Nightingale. Your songs are well known and appreciated by a vast audience. But, if you want to get ahead in the animal kingdom we’re going to need to spend some time on some of your other skills. For example, your hunting consists of a few small bugs and some worms. You need to think bigger. Over the next year, focus on taking down a monkey or two. That should help build your strength as a hunter and position you for future growth. Oh, and I’ve assigned the Sea Bass to help you with your aquatic skills. Learning to swim should really round you out.”

Does that sound a little silly to you? It might. But in reality, it is no sillier than taking a good accountant with no desire for leadership and assigning them the lead on some inter-departmental task force with the idea of developing their untapped skills. It’s one thing if the accountant has a desire to move up the chain and wants to stretch in new directions. It’s quite another thing if they don’t.

I once worked for an executive who was absolutely brilliant. He was a visionary with a creative mind and that rare ability to take widely disparate topics and find how they might mesh together.

But he couldn’t spell.

He couldn’t spell to save his life.

Fortunately, he was older and missed most of our well-intended but highly ineffective process of focusing on people’s weaknesses. Otherwise, I fear that his brilliance might have been overlooked and his weakness in spelling might have sidetracked his entire career.

Birds don’t have to swim to be the best bird possible. Nor do fish have to learn to sing. Before you sit down for your next set of Performance Appraisals identify whatever it is that your employees do well and figure out how to build those skills and make them more beneficial to the team.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Amen Amen

    Over the last 15 years, I have completed my own performance appraisals and then had them critiqued by the "boss". My belief is that we provide consistent, communication on well done's and ways to improve and then when the appraisal comes have a nice dinner or lunch and celebrate the year.