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A Manager’s Viewpoint

Problems in performance review

SEVERAL YEARS ago, when I took special management studies in England, our class on HRM discussed one day the subject of performance evaluation. Almost everybody shared his unhappy experience on how his performance was evaluated. Majority of the class felt that performance review should be abolished.

The professor was sympathetic to their views. When it was my turn, I told the class: “There is nothing perfect in any management system. If nobody give us a feedback how we perform in our jobs how the h**l shall we know if we did well or not?” That cut short the whiners in the class.

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Performance review, next to compensation, is perhaps the most emotional issue in managing people. If not handled properly, it can de-motivate people and worse, could end in an illegal dismissal suit if the dismissal is due to poor performance. I’m sure this problem is endemic not only in Western countries where subordinates are more assertive but also in the Philippines.

To be sure, our culture works against the system. We are not that brutally frank. We don’t want to hurt people. We beat around the bush, we go for euphemisms instead of calling a spade a dirty shovel. So, when we are told that in the performance interview we start first with the positives or “gold stamps” – what he has done well – before telling him the “warts,” we tend to avoid or minimize the negatives and dwell mostly on the positives.

Result is, the performance appraisal becomes ineffective. We are not only doing a disservice to the organization but also to our subordinates. The subordinate goes on his merry way not trying to improve his performance because he got the impression that he was doing all right.

Frankness is even a problem in the western culture. Authors Pfau and Kay of the book “Human Capital Edge,” report, “Research shows that most systems (referring to Performance Evaluation) do not encourage the necessary frankness, and most people do not put in the time it would take to make the exercise worthwhile.”

I have worked so long in the corporate world where managers in judging their subordinates tend to use “soft cuss words” to describe their shortcomings or weaknesses. They are called ‘cuss’ because they attempt to condemn an undesirable part of their character but qualify it with the adjective ‘soft’ to blunt its intended purpose which is to jolt them out of their comfort zones to improve on their performance.

The result is, the subordinate comes out of the performance interview with the feeling “I’m doing great. Therefore, I must continue what I’m doing.” And I think this is where the performance interview fails as it creates resentment when he does not get the promotion or the raise in pay he was aspiring for.

The reluctance of managers to submit the performance review of their subordinates on time is not uncommon occurrence in some companies. They offer so many alibis like other important deadlines to meet. The truth is, some managers tend to postpone doing an unpleasant task.

One should be wary of “cuss words” like “a little seasoning, he’d be ready for advancement,” “communication skills should be developed further,” or “you need to work more on your leadership talent.” You should be able to read between the lines, be a little bit discerning what your superior wants. Prod him as your coach and mentor what he meant by these words. Be alert to know that these are “cuss words” masking some concerns that you should try to overcome.

‘Little seasoning’ might mean you have to hone in your interpersonal skills so that you will not lose your cool when you try to thresh out your conflict with your peers. If you write and speak well, ‘Communication skills should be developed further,’ could perhaps mean that you have to sharpen your active listening skills. You love to talk but don’t listen to the arguments of others.

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Likewise, if you run a cohesive, highly motivated team, the comment ‘you need to work more on your leadership talents’ could mean that you are a micro manager. You poke your nose on everything in your department. You are the “cross the T’s and dot the I’s type” and you don’t delegate. Put a little trust in your capable subordinates, develop their talents but monitor constantly what you have delegated.

In summary, Performance Evaluation System can never be perfect. But it can not be done away with. It can be improved through constant review, training of the raters and validated through improved results. It might be a distasteful kind of a job of a manager but it is a job that has to be done.
(The author is Chairman of Change Management International, a management consultancy firm; currently, Vice-President of ECOP; professional lecturer on Human Resource Management, Labor Relations, Corporate Governance and member of the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (TIPC), and member of the Tripartite Executive Committee (TEC) and Commissioner of Tripartite Voluntary Arbitration Advisory Council (TVAAC). He is co-author of the book, “Personnel Management in the 21st Century and author of the book, “Human Resource Management – From the Practitioner’s Point of View.” His email address is: [email protected])

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