23 Aug 2013
Dear Performance Appraisers:
In most companies , managers are required to first assess the performance of their subordinates during the course of past year – then based on that , decide annual awards (promotions/increments/salary-freeze etc )
But in most companies, most of the subordinates believe that the managers have already decided in advance whom to promote/ grant double increments etc, and then tweak the ritual of performance appraisal accordingly, in order to justify their decisions. Like first shooting and then drawing circles around the hole – a perfect bull’s eye!
If you do not believe me, get a third-party outside consultant to conduct an anonymous “Opinion Poll “in your company
Is there a way out of this, mostly “Confrontational/Denial “exercise?
My following note (some 43 year old!) addressed to the managers of L&T Switchgear Factory, might help you
17 Jul 1970
All Department/Section Heads
It is a thin line – the line that divides the 20 and odd student years of a man and the 30 years of his professional career.
It is indeed a thin line – about 6 months thin - the period of a man’s probation. It is somewhat like the DEW line – the Distant Early Warning line, stretching across the northern border of Canada, where radar installations keep sweeping the sky, day and night, to warn the American continent against a surprise Russian missile attack. Each and every blip on the radar-screen must be identified and acted upon.
Those of you who supervise new recruits have to keep watching the DEW line. Your constant watch may identify some undesirable blips of the man’s character – weakness which, if not given a mild mid-course correction immediately, may take him so far off-course that any latter-day correction would require the use of a massive side-thrust, which may strain the psychological components of the man’s make up beyond the breakdown point. The only other alternative would be to abandon the mission !!
The decision to write off a man, as a liability to the origanisation – a man who could very well have been an asset – is tough. It is tough for two reasons viz :
1. If we are sacking a good man entirely due to our poor evaluation system, we may be losing an asset. We would be doing injustice to the organization.
2. Let us suppose the man is truly below average and ought not to be confirmed. One or both of the following possibilities exist:
a. Due to our poor evaluation system, the man’s shortcomings remain hidden. One of us would say “I think he is alright. Not excellent but average and after all, all of our people cannot be excellent. There are bound to be some average people around.”
This is quite a profound statement. If someone senior enough happens to make it, rest of us tend to nod our head and say “Yes, I think so too” and we end up confirming the man, because we would not like to admit that our evaluation system itself is in a bad shape.
b. During the probationary period, we run into several instances of poor performance by the man and we vaguely and in a round-about manner tell him that he ought to do better but not having prescribed the standards of performance, we do not get down to tell the man what is expected of him. Nor do we make it clear that if he did not show an improvement he will not be confirmed.
Next thing we know six months are over and the confirmation papers are on our tables. By that time we have taken in a heavy dose of guilty conscience. If we decide not to confirm him, we know we will have to face him ( “But you never told me that I was not doing well and I may not be confirmed” ) and face our conscience. How much easier it is to write some such thing as “Mr. ________ has been working with us since January 1969 and is looking after the filling work of this department. His work is found to be satisfactory and we recommend that he be confirmed in the services”.
How wonderfully simply way to co-exist with your conscience ! As far as the organization is concerned, well, what damage can a sole poor performer do to the “young”, “dynamic”, “aggressive” character of L&T?
In the appendix 1, I have tried to construct a model of the situation. The model has along its axis,
1. The man
2. The performance evaluation system ( PE )
3. The feedback.
If, for the sake of simplicity, we assume for a moment that there are sharp dividing lines between
- A good man and a poor man
- A good evaluation system and a poor evaluation system
- A good feedback and a poor feedback
Various combinations of these three elements may exist as shown in the appendix. The combinations can be either desirable or undesirable, from the viewpoint of both the organization and the individual concerned. I suggest you take some time out to think over the matter and fill in the columns by one of the following expressions against each combination:
You may wonder why suddenly all this talk about performance evaluation. It is certainly not sudden but no doubt the emphasis is distinctly different. We do not have to go far to find the reason. We have in Switchgear Factory today, over 170 daily rated probationers and perhaps 10 monthly rated probationers. We expect an additional 15-20 monthly rated probationers. Besides, the level of sophistication in the area of personnel relations must necessarily keep pace with the advancement that we have made in technological sophistication.
During the probation period you would expect probationers to obtain and retain knowledge (information) pertaining to product, people, processes, procedures and their own job. In addition, we expect then to cultivate a certain attitude.
In the appendix 3, I have tried to put down the minimum specification of such knowledge that various people should obtain and retain by the end of the 6th month. We shall over the next few months make an attempt to define the various degrees of such knowledge in a measurable way. Then it should be possible to even devise written tests.
The attitude aspect is equally, if not more, important but at the same time almost impossible to define and very difficult to measure. May be some training courses could be devised. It would, however, be impossible to correct the wrong attitude of a man by announcing procedures and promulgating laws. You can compel a man to go the Church but that may or not make him religious.
I have discussed this matter with KKA ( Dr K K Anand ) and DFP ( Dannyson Pareira ), and they have agreed to help us organize a specific training programme for the department heads/section heads/supervisors in the switchgear factory. In the meantime, I suggest you also try to return to me duly filled in appendix 2 as applicable to the switchgear factory.