human resources/HR

Performance Appraisal: Reducing Your Legal Liability Exposure

I've been writing a lot about performance appraisal lately - and that got me thinking.

There's one performance appraisal related resource that everyone needs to know about:


Alan Sklover is a New York-based attorney who has been writing and developing, by far, the best online resources for employees available. His blog is invaluable and it often addresses performance appraisal and the Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) that so often follow.

If you're an employee, you'll learn what to do. If you're in management, you'll learn how to avoid the legal, financial, cultural and operational problems that so often occur.

Frankly, there's no reason that organizations should mishandle the performance appraisal process to the extent that they do...which leads to employees feeling perfectly justified in taking action against them. And that leads to litigation.

If you read what Al has to say, you'll discover that there are ways to protect yourself if you're on the mishandled side and the organization if you're on the mishandling side.

Take a look. You'll be very glad you did.
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Al Sklover and I are colleagues and friends. This is not a paid endorsement.
Please note that nothing expressed above constitutes legal advice.

Performance Appraisal: What Do You Do with Your "Lowest" Performers?

Depending upon whose account you've read, when Jack Welch ran General Electric, the company's performance appraisal policy was to fire the lowest 10 (or 15 or 20) percent performers.

All based on their performance appraisal numbers.

Welch's thinking was that, whatever that percentage was, those people weren't fulfilling what the company needed, so why keep them? Better yet, since all the employees knew that that would be their fate, they'd work all the harder to perform all the better all year round.

And because it was Jack Welch, organizations worldwide adopted the policy and applied it to their own organizations.

Big mistake.

It doesn't work the way he thought. In fact, his was bad and counter-productive organizational thinking on two different fronts:
  1. Most appraisal-related numbers, no matter how hard management tries, are arbitrary, and
  2. By letting those folks go, you're adding costs to and losing opportunities for your operations and organization.
Here's how I know.

Numbers are numbers - even when descriptive words are attached to them. But the numbers and the words are still being interpreted by the person doing the appraising.

Is a 5 the same thing to you as it is to the rest of your colleagues? How about a 2 or a 3?

Do you all define, perceive and understand the descriptors the same way? Do the descriptors apply the same way across departments? Divisions? Corporate headquarters or a remote location?

How do you know?

Whether you're management or a first line employee, you're going to interpret the number, the description and the performance based on your own frame of reference. Yours. No one else's.

And, let's be honest, if you're in management, you're looking at your employees' performance through the filter of how your particular function, department or division is performing. After all, their performance determines the way that your performance is perceived by your management.

Managers can be trained and trained and trained again on the categories and criteria of the performance appraisal process - and you're still going to find inconsistencies across the organization.

You can't help it. Numbers and their associated descriptors are perceived and interpreted. That makes the results arbitrary - because an employee who performs the same way for two different managers is likely to be rated two different ways.

Now let's take it a step further. If you follow our friend Jack's advice and get rid of the 'lowest' performers, you've just dumped a percentage of your organization that has knowledge of how things are done - and how to get them done. You've lost specific expertise as well as the networks that those employees have developed to end-run problems, obstacles and any other form of dysfunction the organization presents.

So what do you do with under-performing employees? You ask questions. For example:
  • Have they been trained for the job they're performing?
  • When did that training take place?
  • What did the employee think of the training?
  • What was presented particularly well? What didn't fit or work?
  • Do they understand what they're being asked to do...and why?
  • Do they think that they're using their greatest skills?
  • When do they feel they're contributing the most to the organization?
  • How and when do they demonstrate those contributions?
What you're looking for is how to best utilize the knowledge, skill and experience that that employee already has - and then build upon it, whether in your department or another.

The more you know about your employees' skills, the more you can access and utilize them across the enterprise. Sure, it may mean that you're moving folks around - or changing and updating job descriptions. But the more you use the people you have...letting them use their greatest strengths...the more positive a culture you're building - and that translates to increased morale, productivity and profits.

This is not to say that there are employees who shouldn't stay with the organization. In those cases - because you already know who they are - it's your responsibility as a manager to take the necessary action. That way you become a hero for those of your employees (and you, too) who have been living - day after day - with the difficulties the truly problem employees create.

It's a win all the way around.
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Please note that nothing expressed above constitutes legal advice.

Performance Appraisal: "I neither agree nor accept."

It's performance appraisal season!

How do I know? Because, lately I've been getting calls from friends, colleagues and even former clients who are either getting ready for or are in the midst of their annual performance evaluations.

The one constant - no matter their level in the organization or the specific industry, sector or country they work in - is that no one is happy with the process.

They have every right and reason for that feeling.

In the vast majority of cases, there's no reason to be happy with performance evaluation systems. That's because they rarely do what they're supposed to do: Develop.
Develop the employee.
Develop the culture.
Develop the organization.
Develop profits and revenues for the organization and success and a sense of accomplishment for the employee.
Instead, they're more often used as a punishment tool or a box-ticking exercise by management. That not only defeats the purpose, but also adds exponential costs and lost opportunities to the organization.

I'll get into how all of that plays out in later posts, but, let's be specific for the moment.

What should you do as you're getting ready for your evaluation?

When I'm asked for my advice, the first thing I  say is:
You don't have to accept the evaluation you're given - not psychologically, emotionally nor in writing. The only time you accept is when you see merit in it and can agree with what's been written as being wholly representative of your performance.
In fact, just in case, I teach everyone the same sentence:
"I neither agree nor accept."
And I make them repeat it to me - many, many times - as our preparatory discussion ensues.

Why that sentence? Because it's liberating. It means that you're not just sitting there as a target for whatever impressions, thoughts, ideas or agendas may be thrown your way.

Too often, employees feel powerless in the evaluation process. It doesn't matter whether you're being asked to evaluate yourself or you're reading your manager's evaluation. It doesn't matter whether you're a front-line employee or have an office in the executive suite.

You sit. You listen. You feel violated.

Not if you neither agree nor accept. Better yet, not if you tell them so.

The thing is - to be able to make your case, you need to be prepared. You need to:
  • Get a copy of the blank evaluation form prior to your appraisal and become familiar with its criteria
  • Get a copy of your job description and review it before you fill out the appraisal form or have your appraisal interview
  • Put together a portfolio of your accomplishments for the appraisal period - with as many soft and hard numbers as you can include - that address the appraisal criteria and demonstrate how you've fulfilled and exceeded the criteria and your job description's responsibilities.
By doing so, if you disagree with your management's assessment, you have specifics and associated documentation to support your comments. You're not just spouting off. You're making a reasoned and reasonable case for your management to re-think their evaluation of you.

Because you deserve it.
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Please note that nothing expressed above constitutes legal advice.