Appraisal or settling scores ?

Most organizations would have completed their annual appraisal cycle at this time and so this is the most talked about topic for now. There are two myths that I want to help break in this post – the force fitted bell curve and therefore fairness of the rating.

At the very start of my career with NIIT Vizag, the franchisor of the Vizag centre told me, that two conversations should never come as a surprise to an employee – the appraisal conversation and the firing conversation. If they do, then as a manager you haven’t done your job. The very fact that it is stuck in my head even after 23 years is testimony to its veracity. I have said this to my managers in most conversations and I say it during every appraisal cycle again. This statement negates the “force fitted” bell curve. The only way the two conversations cannot be a surprise is when you have had regular conversations and kept the employee appraised of his/her performance relative to others. Also understand that appraisals are about a twelve month period, not your entire life.

If you have had regular 1:1’s with your direct reports and kept track of how they were performing, the year end conversation should be a breeze and the bell curve would be easy. Understand that the bell curve is a natural phenomenon – in any group of 100 or more people you will always have 10% that don’t meet the performance standards, 20% that exceed and the rest meet the standards. Watch around you … Is everyone rich, is everyone poor, is everyone good looking, is everyone ugly ? Nature follows the bell curve. The point is, the bottom 10% are not “bad” performers, they are “bad” performers in the current context and in the last twelve months and could be rock stars in a different context and another period !! We just don’t have the patience nor are we willing to put in the effort to help them move to a different context and develop themselves. Imagine if Einstein was thrown out of school since he was in the bottom 10%.

Being a manager and leading people has to be a passion – if you don’t have it, don’t be one and don’t promote one who doesn’t enjoy it.

The second myth that follows the “force fitted” bell curve is the fairness of the rating. A good way to judge if your rating is fair is to see how it would be if the ratings were openly shared – can you justify them ? It’s convenient to keep ratings confidential … It gives power to the manager and the lesser manager can settle scores, play favourites etc. Great organizations have a redressal mechanism through which the employee can contest his/her rating and the rating will be changed if found incorrect. The Unilever group is one such organization and Krishnan has had a first hand experience nearly 25 years back ! No wonder Unilever continues to produce world class leaders. Develop the right professional muscles and help your organization get stronger – as you do the yearly appraisal think of it as open to feedback and justify the rating as though you were defending it in public. Use the 360 feedback in your decision making process for the rating, not use it post facto to justify whatever rating you pre-decided. I have come across examples where the person got a mile long developmental feedback for a given year but got rated as exceeding expectations 🙁 fairness applies both ways – don’t penalise unnecessarily and don’t play favourites either. If you are not fair, you will never gain the trust of your team and the whole thing is a downward spiral.

So use the appraisal conversation to build a career, counsel for improved performance, gain trust and play fair not as a tick box activity and certainly not for settling scores !!

7 thoughts on “Appraisal or settling scores ?”

  1. Great timing, Great philosophy and Great articulation

    Here is the unnerving side, the other side. This is the ‘desirable’ state. The point of arrival, unfortunately happens to be entirely contrary. The gap between how a Manager perceives final outcome of the process is widest then how an employee perceives it. Otherwise the mass of employees would’nt end up calling the process unfair, forced and biased. The fact remains as a process, this methodology is super sound. However, the critical links in the process chain do not play their role effectively in communicating, setting expectations, iterative reviews, goal alignment / re-alignment, reprimand, confidentiality, process integrity and so on. The hard fact is if the Manager and employee, both felt the annual process is a cake-walk, none would dread to be a subject in the process. The peak attrition would’nt be immediately after announcement of final outcome across 12 months of the year.

    • Exactly Brajesh – its important that every part of the chain does what he/she is supposed to and one of the changes that we can hopefully bring is in the way managers approach appraisals – not antagonistically but as an important activity in an employee’s lifecycle.

      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone Essar

  2. This is so true and something that I have been following too as a manager! Its simple at any time an EWS status or Rating comes as a surprise to your colleague that clearly means that you my dear friend have failed as a manager and you cant pass the buck to anyone but yourself! This clearly means that there has simply been no connect forget relationship building infact chances are post appraisal that kid is running out the door. My question is what do we do about appraisals that are done based on the so-called ” perceptions”! Now for this one no matter even if you give the appraisers 12 months or 12 years if their minds are closed then there is no escape..they will sell it to you like chuskis at India Gate. its important for them to know that career graphs of any individual cant always show an upward trend! Its important to see failure at times to stop check and self motivate and challenge yourself.

    To be able to develop others its important that you consistently develop yourselves first 🙂

    Its really great to read your stuff which is so close to reality and maybe thats why its gives me immense pleasure to read honesty!

    • Shibani, thanks for your kind words. Understand that perception is reality. So constantly be alert to the perception you are creating and what someone else is creating. As far appraisals based on perceptions go, if you get subjected to one, ask for data, and try reasoning it out. These battles are sometimes not worth it especially if the manager is not very open to being challenged. The way to train a manager like that is to conduct your 1:1s with him/her with just data and facts. Might work in some cases.

      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone Essar

  3. Nice article, Bindu. People management is a passion not a 9-5 Job. Leadership is not a one day exercise , it’s a daily habbit. Once a Manager understands the same , issues about biasness, force fitting etc. won’t crop up. While you try to fit employees (during appraisals) as MS Excel row items (or in HRMS Tool), it is important for Managers and employees to understand that its not a mechanical process but try to rationalise the Performance Management process and make it a success. Completely agree there can not be any surprises, if there is, then the Manager has failed somewhere.


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