Performance Appraisals Designed to Improve Performance

By on November 25, 2012 in Current Events, Human Resources with 26 Comments

Sure, appraisals are supposed to reward the best performers, but many contend that high ratings are rotated based on informal quotas and that consistent excellence is seldom rewarded consistently. And, of course, appraisals are supposed to assist in clearing out the “dead wood”, although everyone knows that’s not really happening in the halls and byways of Federal agencies.

Few, however, ponder the possibility of appraisals focused on improving performance.  It’s always about the rating.  This article is for those who have not yet succumbed to cynicism and want to see an appraisal system that’s worth having.  I contend that performance appraisal is not only HR’s most visible program, but could become its most useful.

The past is prologue

To understand this article, readers may need to be reminded of two recent postings to FedSmith.  The first of these bore the title How HR Should View Critical Elements.  In that piece, I contend that good performance appraisal programs are often a reflection of good critical elements.  Generic elements inevitably lead to “generic” or “benchmark” standards.  These result in appraisals that meet requirements but accomplish little more that the same subjective ratings supervisors would have given had there been no elements or standards.  The intent is to meet requirements while giving lip service to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

Another article titled, The First Commandment of Performance Appraisal focused on “performance standards”.  It shows how any attempt to evaluate employees in terms of quality, quantity, and/or timeliness inevitably leads management to metric or weasel-worded standards.  Neither of these approaches has worked out well over the 3+ decades since the Civil Service Reform Act was implemented.

Standards presuming to rate people by the numbers (often referred to as a “bean count”) can be used effectively in only a few Federal environments – like call centers, claims processing units, etc.  In these workplaces, data on individual employee performance is commonly maintained and available to management.  The vast majority of Feds, however, work elsewhere.

Workplace “metricians” contend that all critical elements can be evaluated quantitatively.  Supervisors and managers, however, believe that even if they could gather and maintain such data, rating by metrics would prove wasteful.  For reasons discussed in that article, supervisors believe that bean counting would undermine the very service they and their staffs provide to the public.

Wedded to weasel words

Most Feds are rated by subjectively comparing their performance to “weasel words”.  Instead of hard unambiguous numbers, standards rely upon softer prose, often provided by agency experts.  Weasel-worded performance standards relieve management of the bean count but also lead to ratings that are blatantly subjective.

Weasel-worded standards often follow a “copycat” format.  From one level to the next, a few adjectives or adverbs are changed.  These fragments from the Department of Interior’s (I could cite several other agencies as well) “Benchmark Standards” serve as examples:

Fully Successful

“The employee demonstrates good, sound performance that meets organizational goals…”

Superior

“The employee demonstrates unusually good performance that exceeds expectations in critical areas and exhibits a sustained support of organizational goals…”

Exceptional

“The employee demonstrates particularly excellent performance that is of such high quality that organizational goals have been achieved that would not have been otherwise…”

These rhetorical gimmicks do not escape employee notice.  They also tend to become inflated, leading to “walk-on-water” expectations of creativity, clairvoyance, and superhuman aptitudes as authors run out of superlatives.  Truly outstanding employees are unlikely to reach such lofty heights.

The road less traveled

The limited choice of metrics vs. weasel words has vexed the Federal community for decades. I thought these were our only two options for writing standards.  Then an overlooked provision in the Code of Federal Regulations jumped off the page one day.  5 CFR 430.203 states, in part,

“A performance standard may include, but is not limited to, quality, quantity, timeliness, and manner of performance. [Emphasis added]

What would a “manner of performance” standard look like – especially since it differs from quality, quantity, and timeliness?  I presume these measures focus on work habits – the manner in which the employee does his/her job.  Instead of rating someone based on how fast, how accurately or how many; the manner of performance standard would focus attention on how they perform.

A different way to devise performance standards

In this article will illustrate the manner of performance option by using a critical element from one of my old performance plans as a springboard.  I was a Labor Relations Specialist, and the critical element I’ve chosen for this article is, “Case Preparation and Presentation”.  It involves taking HR cases to third-party hearings such as labor arbitration.

Any number of little things can/do go wrong when preparing and presenting cases.  After brainstorming specific problems within the employee’s control, an edited list might have the following items:

  • Demands from several pending cases result in last minute panics
  • The specialist fails to research judge/arbitrator’s past decisions
  • Pre-hearing deadlines are missed
  • Supervisor is uninformed re: status of pending cases
  • Settlement agreements are hastily arranged and decided
  • Opening and/or closing arguments are not prepared in advance

“Manners of performing”, if followed by the employee, might prevent each of these failings in the coming year.  Small, but specific, work habits become the grist for a Fully Successful standard designed to improve case preparation and presentation.  Presuming a five-level evaluation system by employing the titles “Outstanding”, “Superior”, “Fully Successful”, “Marginal” and “Unacceptable” – here’s an example:

Fully Successful Standard

Performs all aspects of the critical element and specifically follows all of the following:

  • Employee will maintain a calendar (accessible to supervisor) used to track progress of assigned cases.  Calendar is reviewed and updated daily.
  • A prospective arbitrator’s published decisions will be reviewed and annotated.
  • Supervisor will be advised at least a week in advance if any deadline might be missed.
  • Within a week of case assignment, employee will prepare a summary of the matter outlining the positions of the parties and forward it to supervisor.
  • Before discussing settlement, will develop options for management’s consideration.
  • Two workdays before any hearing, drafts of opening and closing statements will be confidentially forwarded to potential witnesses.

This example isn’t perfect.  The italicized preface can be changed to any supervisor’s taste, as can the specific work habits you see here.  What’s important is the format – specific work habits that, if encouraged and enforced, might lead to improved job performance.  The reader should notice that the standard doesn’t tell the employee how often s/he doesn’t follow these manners of performing.  The presumption is they follow each of them every day.

Avoiding a “backwards standard”

Where an element can be rated at any one of 5 levels, the next task is to distinguish the Marginal and Unacceptable standards.  Over the course of decades, agencies have been faulted by the MSPB and Federal courts for “backwards” standards.

I’ve settled on pre-formatted or “fill-in-the-blank” standards similar to these:

Marginal Standard

Following formal counseling, fails to follow any 1 item(s) shown in the Fully Successful standard on 2 occasions.

Unsatisfactory Standard

Following formal counseling, fails to follow any combination of item(s) shown in the Fully Successful standard for a total of 5 or more occasions.

The numbers you see in these examples are changeable by the supervisor devising the standards, as is the format.  Moreover, the metric is a simple number that isn’t required unless the supervisor’s assessment of the employee’s competence has led to a formal sit-down.  The idea is not to paint a picture of Marginal and Unacceptable performance.  Instead, frame these as failures to perform at Fully Successful.

Outstanding stands out

Next comes a written standard for the highest level of performance in this particular element, remembering that there might be 3-4 critical elements in a performance plan.  Consider the best performers who have prepared and presented cases in administrative hearings.  What were the little things that makes/made their work stand out?  Here’s a potential list:

  • Uses visual aids to map and/or diagrams events.
  • Provides witnesses with written sets of anticipated questions.
  • Preparation of witnesses includes mock cross-examination.
  • Makes arrangements with judge/arbitrator that will minimize witness waiting time.
  • Has published case law copied and available at hearing.

The standard derived from brainstorming such positive work habits might look like this:

Outstanding Standard

Meets Fully Successful and, in addition, demonstrates all of the following work habits:

  • Employee will identify testimony that might be enhanced by illustration and prepare witnesses to use whiteboard or other acceptable medium.
  • Each witness will be given direct examination questions and their answers from earlier discussions/interviews.
  • First time management witnesses will be prepared at least twice for any given case and provided with simulated cross examination at their last preparatory meeting.
  • In pre-hearing conference, employee will discuss how witnesses may be notified “just in time” to minimize their non-productive hours without delaying the hearing.
  • When citing relevant case law and regulations during testimony or closing arguments, copies will be made available to hearing official.

The statement at the top of this list of work habits is important.  It clearly explains that the highest level performance comes from a List A + List B concept.  List A was designed to improve problematic performance.  List B represents “best practices”.  All are aimed at ensuring positive outcomes and improving performance at the individual level.

Fill-in-the-blank again

As with Marginal and Unacceptable, a standard for Superior can be pre-formatted.  Here’s an example:

Superior Standard

Performs as described in all manners contained in the Fully Successful standard and, in addition, the first two items, but not all of Exceptional.

The blank can be filled with any simple metric, like “half” or “60%”.  Using this format, supervisors can more clearly distinguish among the most common three ratings – “Fully Successful”, “Superior” and “Outstanding” as they’re labeled in this example.  Each standard encourages the employee toward better performance than they may have exhibited the previous year.

Before and after

For comparison purposes, the standards the Navy had in use back in my day read as follows:

Superior

In addition to the Fully Successful standard below, incumbent shows expertise– coupled with creativity– in dealing with unusual or difficult cases.

Fully Successful

Case preparation is thorough, with regulatory or precedential questions or issues explored in detail.  Alternative solutions (including settlements) are researched and presented comprehensively.  Management representative duties are performed in a manner consistent with program policy and third-party requirements.

Marginal

Some aspects of case preparation or presentation are incomplete or technically inaccurate, showing inattention to details.  On occasion, alternative solutions are inconsistent with program goals.

The manner of performance standards look and read differently.  Those created for the critical element “Case preparation and presentation” would be read like this:

Outstanding

Meets Fully Successful and, in addition, demonstrates all of the following work habits:

  • Employee will identify testimony that might be enhanced by illustration and prepare witnesses to use whiteboard or other acceptable medium
  • Each witness will be given direct examination questions and their answers from earlier discussions/interviews.
  • First time management witnesses will be prepared at least twice for any given case and provided with simulated cross examination at their last preparatory meeting.
  • In pre-hearing conference, employee will discuss how witnesses may be notified “just in time” to minimize their non-productive hours without delaying the hearing.
  • When citing relevant case law and regulations during testimony or closing arguments, copies will be made available to hearing official.

Superior

Performs as described in all manners of performance contained in the Fully Successful standard and, in addition, the first two items, but not all, items in Exceptional.

Fully Successful Standard

Performs all aspects of the critical element and specifically follows all of the following:

  • Employee will maintain a calendar (accessible to supervisor) used to track progress of assigned cases.  Calendar is reviewed and updated daily.
  • A prospective arbitrator’s published decisions will be reviewed and annotated.
  • Supervisor will be advised at least a week in advance if any deadline might be missed.
  • Within a week of case assignment, employee will prepare a summary of the matter outlining the positions of the parties and forward it to supervisor.
  • Before discussing settlement, will develop options for management’s consideration.
  • Two workdays before any hearing, drafts of opening and closing statements will be confidentially forwarded to potential witnesses.

Marginal Standard

Following formal counseling, fails to follow any 1 item(s) shown in the Fully Successful standard on 2 occasions.

Unsatisfactory Standard

Following formal counseling, fails to follow any combination of item(s) shown in the Fully Successful standard for a total of 5 or more occasions.

Setting a new course

The Code of Federal Regulations cites three options for developing performance standards: 1) Quantity; 2) Quality; and 3) Manner of performance.  The first three inevitably lead to either metrics or weasel-worded generics.  These standards seldom serve to actually improve individual performance.

The manner of performance approach offers the possibility that the employee will be evaluated against positively stated criteria they can clearly see and understand.  All rating levels are clearly distinguished and focused on perfecting productive work habits where most needed.  While not as definitive as metrics, these standards may prove far more useful.

This idea isn’t for those who want simple solutions to complex problems.  It is of no use to those who wish appraisals would go away. This approach still requires supervisory observation and engagement.  If it’s not for you, head back to the familiar world of metrics and weasel words.

There are hundreds of HR Specialists, however, who have been frustrated when asked for help developing performance standards.  By focusing on work habits that produce results, rather the results themselves, manner of performance standards offer a different perspective – one focused more on improvement than racking and stacking.

As a recent seminar participant wrote in her evaluation, “The ‘manner of performance’ concept seems very intuitive but I can’t figure out why [her agency] has never used/embraced it.  It’s a challenge to write the Fully Successful level, but once that is done, it really should make the evaluation process easier and allow an employee to reach higher and improve.”

© 2016 Robbie Kunreuther. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robbie Kunreuther.

About the Author

Robbie Kunreuther is the Director of Government Personnel Services (GPS). GPS provides 1 to 3-day seminars to Federal agencies in four subject areas: Dealing with performance and conduct issues; Developing sensible performance appraisal criteria; Fostering cooperative labor-management relations; and Applying mediation skills in the workplace. Over the years, Robbie has trained thousands of Federal supervisors, managers, HR specialists, and union officials. For more information about him and GPS, go to trainlngfeds.com.

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  1. FrustratedSupervisor says:

    I only wish I could give helpful reviews! The agency I work for seems to be so nervous about ruffling feathers and making someone feel uncomfortable that us supervisors are pretty much told that we can’t use anything negative even constructive negativity. Here’s an example of what I mean: I have a staff member who, as part of their duties, is supposed to assist and train other staff members. This staff member has been horrible at it. They ignore the people they are supposed to be training, and are just really poor at it. I’ve been working to change this person’s behavior but HR doesn’t reply to any of my questions. So what can I do when I can’t write a realistic review, can’t get help from HR, and can’t influence the person’s behavior (since they know there is no repercussions for failing at their duties).

  2. Jay says:

    Very interesting points, Robbie.  In order to have a successful performance appraisal system within an organization, there must be consistency across the board and automation certainly helps.  In my experience, Performance Appraisals by TalentQuest of Atlanta, offer automated, multi-perspective, performance appraisals with integrated consulting and software solutions. The days of completing manual performance appraisals should be long gone. 

  3. Lwolfrey50 says:

    I am realtively new to the Fed jobs and as a supervisor I am required to write performance appraisal for my staff. While working in the private sector I also performed this function. The tremeandous difference is that in private it works, people are held accountable and in my case it resulted in a direct affect on the persons pay increase or lack of. In the Fed it means absolutely nothing. The performance appraisal results in no rewards or incentives to strive for high ratings, except self desire and if low rating is justified there is no punative action taken. Even in writing Performance Improvement Plans it is extremely difficult to eleminate underperforming personnel if they fail to improve to a successful level. The OPM regulations are so tilted in the employee’s favor that they fear nothing and do whatever they want. It takes an enormous amount of effort and conviction to deal with underperforming employees. I am currently dealing with two long term employees that have been underperforming for many years without anyone taking appropriate action to correct their behavior, now many years later they still collect full pay for less work than anyone else in the group. This is a sad situation for the honest hard working employees that see these two lackluster performers getting paid the same as everyone else for 1/3 the work.

  4. msgrowan says:

    The problem I have with this latest attempt to square the performance appraisal circle is that the proposed standards consist of what are largely duty statements, with considerations of quality of performance of said duties in particular being given short shrift.  However, the bottom line is that in the one-third of a century and more since passage of the 1978 CSRA, we have gone through this breast-beating and apparently unending quest for the Holy Grail of a performance evaluation process that would be regarded as valid and fair by both rating officials and those being rated.  Dr. W. Edwards Deming was right in the early 1980s when he told a group of senior OPM officials (I saw the videotape of his presentation) who were responsible for policy-setting in the employee relations area, that when it came to implementing the CSRA’s mandate for a new performence management system they had “an impossible job.”  He viewed the entire approach to performance appraisal as being destructive of team work and workforce cooperation, as well as assuming that rating officials could realistically be expected to get employee buy-in into such a necessarily subjective process (for any type of work going beyond the widget-producing level).  I have seen all too many “innovative” and “cutting edge” proposals floated over the years as their proponents in quixotic fashion charged at the windmill of the performance evaluation process and wound up no better than did Cervantes’ character.  All that has resulted is floods of actual and electronic ink and ever-more widespread cynicism in the Federal workforce over the gap between established grandiose goals and the grubby reality of the what the annual performance appraisal process.  The suggestion that this process be used actually to improve performance is not new, and is indeed embedded in the never-achievd expectations of the process itself.  One change in the mid-1980’s that exacerbated the inherent problems in the system was including performance appraisal ratings data in the mix of factors involved in constructing RIF retention registers.  That added anxiety to the toxic stew, and – not surprisingly – the rating inflation factor skyrocketed, as one’s job could now be at the mercy of one or more “merely” Fully Successful” ratings, and employees fought for ever-higher ratings, while supervisors sought at the same time to improve their employees’ retainability vis-a-vis those elsewhere in the organization by raising their average rating, resulting in an escalating rating war.   Things really haven’t moved much beyond that point.

    • Robbie Kunreuther says:

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments and the perspective of decades.  It’s a frustrating subject area and perspectives like mine are commonly greeted with “I see flaws.  Show me the Holy Grail or move on.”

      We have elements and standards by law.  Deming lost his argument — not only with OPM but in the private sector as well.  We’re left with the choice of performance measures: 1) metrics, 2) weasel words, and 3) manner of performance.  These are the constraints we’ve had for over 3 decades.  The only systemic change that I see on the horizon is another attempt to implement pay-for-performance:  http://www.federaltimes.com/ar

      I’m working with the constraints at hand.  The only future changes I read about are moves like GEAR, proposing a rehash of “management by objectives” with the cascading objectives you no doubt remember from the pre-Deming era.  This is my imperfect idea for improving the investment made in performance evaluations, given those constraints.

      • msgrowan says:

        Good points indeed.  However, I’m inclined to disagree that, at least with regard to the legitimacy of Deming’s point, he indeed “lost his argument.”  5 USC, Chapter 43 and 5 CFR, Part 430, indeed mandate the framework used in the Federal performance appraisal process, but the record of failure over the last third of a century, despite the dedication of the equivalent of copious amounts of “blood, sweat, and tears,” to establish a viable system that meets the well intentioned goals found in the CSRA, lead many – including me – to conclude that the fault is not in the execution, but in the flawed legal framework itself.  I acknowledge that we have no other course at present than to continue flogging this particular defunct equine quadruped since that is what the law mandates (though that does raise a relevant memory of Dickens’ henpecked character Mr. Bumble, who upon being told that the law said he was absolute master over his household said “Sir, if the law says that, the law is a ass!”), but the said elusive Holy Grail just keeps getting … elusiver?  Ah well, on to the next third of a century of frustration for ER specialists, rating officials, and their victims …er, subordinates.

  5. Mark318 says:

    They should fire the author of this article. He’s obviously not in the real world. I’ve had 35 evals. All were baloney. Not only that they just stirred up the pot and proved that gov’t mgmt is incompetent. I got promoted a few times and every time it was 5-7 blacks and 5-7 whites. Then there are the women. Evals or quotas? I missed that paragraph. 

    • Robbie Kunreuther says:

       The author of this article works for himself… and I’ve considered firing him on several occasions.  He would probably litigate the matter and tie me up in hearings for decades.  So I let him continue to teach seminars to those incompetent managers you attract and write these frivolous articles that distract serious scholars like yourself from their important work.

  6. Super_Babysitter says:

    As an employee and as a manager I have been continually frustrated with appraisals. It should be a good tool. Equally frustrating is the fact that when we fill open positions we can’t see applicants performance appraisals. We are to assume everyone is an exceptional employee.

    One of the blaring management issues is poor training in how to supervise/manage. A new wrinkle for all of us will be the impending budget cuts. Folks will be looking for better appraisals as a safety net. I myself don’t think that will help much.

    We are told you can’t have too many exceptional employees. I work in a repair/overhaul shop. Most of the folks are educated and loyal to our mission. So I’m frustrated by the “you can’t have too many exceptional people.” Likewise if you give a low appraisal to someone you better be prepared for a fight from the union/EEO and HR. Before everyone get crazy the Union/EEO environment seems to be improving but only time will tell.

    All non-management employees at my facility receives the same bonus no matter their appraisal score. Managers are on a different bonus plan. Everyone was put on this bonus plan because it was recognized that if your boss didn’t like you, you were screwed. Our bonus plan was linked to metrics the entire facility had to meet. This was kind of nuts as it held workers to metrics they had no control of. Hence that is not a good incentive. Most employees are smart they see who produces and who doesn’t.

    I am at a production facility and one would assume it would be easier to write standards here. With the production employees setting finite standards should be easy. You can set thresholds but as someone already pointed out, the employee can meet that particular goal and then perform poorly in other areas.

  7. frustrated says:

    I spent 7 years in the Forest Service wondering what “exceeds” meant and so I got with my supervisor and we hashed it out. The standards were then written down and each standard was to be evaluated each appraisal. It still doesn’t work, supervisors still ignore what is written down.

  8. Shemp Howard says:

       After having spent much,if not all, of my career in a Ludite organization, it is my opinion that performance appraisals are meaningless.  It seems most of the promotions were political in nature.  It appears no effort was truly made to encourage employee personal growth or, for that matter,  the retention of good employees.  Some of the bosses I had played the race card anyway they could and got away with it.  Intimidation and bullying seemed the norm.

      My bosses’ “handlers” were too busy protecting their individual fiefdoms, and gatekeeping seemed quite the norm in the organization I worked in.

       I had one or maybe two good bosses who tried to encourage me, but by that time it was too late.  I became jaded and gave up. 

       I also feel that had I “compromised my values”, I’m sure I would have gone a lot further in my career. 

  9. NoDonkey says:

    NSPS was a much better and more useful system than the GS system, not sure why we went back to GS where I work. 

  10. Guest says:

    I am a former supervisor.  As such, I have seen both sides of the system.
    Of course there are many “supervisors” who will not take the time to use the system that is in place.  I know of one who rates ALL his folks as superior  -  regardless of the quality of their work.   What insentive is there to do anything extra, and what incentive is there to change poor behavior  ???
    On the other hand, there’s the HR folks who don’t do much of anything except be an obstruction.  And the other extreme, the union, who believes all their people are exceptional  -  regardless of their output.
    Speaking for myself … my people are my assets.  The better they do, the better I do.  A good supervisor simply MUST find the time to acknowledge the good work, and TEACH the mirginal staff what is expected … and follow-up as necessary.

  11. Fred L M Ployee says:

    All appraisal systems essentially and totally worthless! What is even more hilarious is now spending weeks and weeks on performance appraisals that agencies used to spend about 15 min a year on per person. Massive amounts of productivity lost with absolutely no changes in overall outcome except for significantly increased demotivation and demoralization of entire agency staff. Simple Pass/Fail system is the only efficient and minimal negative impact system. People pretty much retiring out and leaving in droves. Mass exodus pretty much can be expected with baloney such as this. What a farce!

  12. guest says:

    performance evaluations are a joke in our office.  Boss uses copy/paste so often I have to send him corrections; I am not a he or a him or his.  There are six of us in the same job, and we have compared our evaluations and they are usually identical.  BOsses ideal of dealing with the weak link was to have us others do her job.  Then we “revolted” and what happened.  Nothing, except the boss now does her work for her!!   Worst supervisor I’ve ever had in 28 years of government service so yes, as another person commented I’d love to rate my boss.  Everything about the performance process is set up so that the manager does not even speak to you- everything is done in the computer and e-mailed to you.  Never an in person counseling on any shortcomings or how to do the job better.  It’s a total joke.  Oh and the weak link?  Continues to pick up QUI’s.

  13. Ralutz says:

    Why doesn’t it go the other way around. I would like to appraise my boss

    • $15300432 says:

      because your not competant to do it

    • Iworkatcensus2012 says:

      We can always dream unless they take that away too.  Unfortunately the workplace is not a democracy, but we live in a country that is.  Ironic isn’t it.  A truly honest and democratic organisation will allow dual mode evaluation.  Let’s face it.  It’s very sad when a business does poorly and elects to lay off employees when they had nothing to do with the past and current business decisions.

    • Just Lost says:

      I receive a performance appraisal evaluation every year from my staff. They can provide feedback each year anonymously and appreciate this feedback as it helps me understand how others see me and what they expect from me. 

  14. RollingInTheFederalGravy says:

    De-linking appraisals with the time of the year is a great suggestion.  Another (2) suggestions I offer are a certification that the supervisor (and not the subordinate) wrote the appraisal, and that all appraisals be considered by advancement boards so that the “grade average” of the supervisor is considered when employees seek promotion (like in the military).  I currently have a supervisor who asks all of their subordinates to write their own appraisal.  It gets adopted word for word.  I even left a few grammatical errors in mine just to see if they would be corrected.  Nope.  Just a cut-paste-print-and sign.  And in case you are curious – I usually say I am doing an excellent job!  I also have seen supervisors that grade rather harshly – meaning that their employees get screwed over in comparison to the glowing appraisal that I write for myself.  Look, I love having a hands-off supervisor, but it only works when you have workaholic employees with good judgment.  If I were a supervisor, I would be paying attention to “what” my subordinates were doing and “how” they were doing it.  I would also look for a way to quantify “cost-savings/efficiencies” based upon employee performance.  E.g.   Does the employees decision result in litigation?  Administrative appeals?  Other down the line costs?  Or does the employee have work-product that never, never, ever results in controversy – meaning they might just be going along to get along?  (And not perhaps doing what they should be?)   Anyway, in my job – the appraisals really don’t stand for anything and are about as worthless as the myriad of on-line mandatory trainings I have to “click-through” as fast as possible at the end of the year…

    I do like the notion of appraisals being used to improve performance, but I offer (a slightly disguised) personal example.  I get a rating of 9.8 out of 10.  I get a reward of a $1000 bonus.  Colleagues with 9.0 out of 10 also get $1000.  Colleagues with 8.0 out of 10 get $500 and 20 hours of leave.  Is it possible that appraisals could have the consequence of demotivating performance?

    One thing they need to start doing is (A) publicly posting organizational group PPA averages and (B) publicly posting award averages.  Then each employee will know if they are above or below the curve and each employee will know if the level of effort expended was worth it.

  15. Personnel Officer says:

    These standards will never work… giving employees clear expectations for what they must do to meet standards and to exceed standards is a clear recipe for a bunch of employees doing what it takes to exceed the standards–they’ll be expecting that high level rating when they’ve jumped through every hoop we give them.  We certainly can’t have 70%+ employees exceeding standards can we?  That kind of rating distribution isn’t “normal” and is evidence of rating inflation and lack of “sufficient rigor” in the standards…  I actually agree with you Robbie, but as long as there is flak from Congress, the press, public interest groups, and agency executives and senior managers for “too many” high-level ratings, the system is going to break down for reasons entirely unrelated to individual employee performance.  Federal managers cannot afford to be pinned down with explicit, clear-cut performance standards, especially standards that define what it takes to exceed.  Subjective, nebuluous performance standards are the only way they have to avoid that.  That way, they can make the rating be whatever they need it to be at the end of the rating period. 

    I personally think the biggest improvement we could make to the system is to stop rating everyone on the same appraisal cycle.  That just leads to comparisons between employees and too much attention being paid to performance appraisal distributions, etc. rather at individual employee performance measured completely against the performance standards.  A better system would be to rate on an individual appraisal cycle (say, by birthdate or service computation date) and, therefore, delink performance ratings from other employees.  Managers would be rating employees throughout the year and it really would be all about the individual employee’s performance. 

    • Ross200 says:

      Years ago, the IRS actually had a contract for their bargaining unit employees which resulted in employees being rated by month of birth.  Later, employees were rated by the last digit of their Social Security Number. The idea was to reduce managerial burden by not having all performance appraisals due at the same time in the rating cycle. Performance Appraisals are spread out during the year, and this allows managers to devote an appropriate amount of time to appraise employees. 

      For the most part, employees of the IRS are actually rated on their individual performance and accomplishments during the rating cycle of one year.  I find it rather disconcerting that I keep reading on blogs how DOD Employees (and employees of some other agencies) are rated on the basis of favoritism, political views, old boys network etc. Is there any wonder that DOD can’t deliver weapon systems on time , on budget and which work as they were supposed to ?  I am so glad to have spent my career working at the IRS where my hard work and accomplishments were amply rewarded. I feel sorry for those of you who work for agencies where this is not the case. 

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