Abolishing Performance Appraisal: Why They Backfire and What to Do About It

COENS, T. & JENKINS, M. (2000) Abolishing Performance Appraisal: Why They Backfire and What to Do About It (Chapter 4: Coaching employees in the new workplace), San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pub., p. 73-114.

Five primary tasks of coaching

  1. Guidance and direction
  2. Goal setting
  3. Feedback
  4. Development
  5. Training and assistance

Intended effects of coaching

  • Alignment
  • Motivation
  • Increased capability

The ultimate goal of coaching is performance or perhaps improved performance

The changing role of supervisors

Administer an overloaded appraisal process that rolls together ratings, feedback, improvement goals, development, training plans, pay-raise decisions, and even the triggering of disciplinary measures.

Assumption 1:

  • The supervisor has the attributes and skills to be an effective coach.
  • Supervisors have the knowledge to assess and guide improvement.


  • Depending on the situation, people, and particular need, an employee’s supervisor may or may not be an effective coach
  • To fulfill their coaching needs, most people will require an array of coaching resources, including, but not necessarily predominantly, the supervisor

Appraisal expects the supervisor to be the capable and knowledgeable coach who drives the process.

He is the focal point in either the delivery or processing of collected feedback.

We hold the supervisor accountable to oversee the learning, coaching, and improvement related to performance feedback.

Recent changes

  • Sharp rise in the number of employees
  • Remote-managing
  • Managing of specialists outside the supervisor’s expertise
  • Dual roles of supervisor and producer

We need to stop the sport metaphors, in real life, we don’t look to a single coach, why should we in the workplace?

Guidance and direction

Assumption 2:

  • To get alignment and desired performance, people require formal and specific direction


  • Alignment and desired performance are enhanced by a shared sense of purpose and common vision for the future
  • If people have the right information and opportunities, they usually will perform their work in alignment with the organization’s needs and pressing priorities.
  • Alignment is advanced by effective leadership, which may include both formal and informal direction

Accountability or control?

Assumption 3:

  • All people will perform better if they are held accountable through a formal process


  • People will perform better if they have adequate direction and guidance
  • Under the right conditions, people will hold themselves accountable to do the work that is required
  • People will perform better when they feel trusted

Rather than try to promote accountability, we force people to be responsible.

Though we consciously hold a positive outlook toward people, we have unsurfaced beliefs and assumptions that run counter.

  • Without control, people will withhold their best efforts
  • People will not, on their own volition, take responsibility to develop and improve their performance
  • Holding people accountable with a written formal process is an effective form of control
  • People will not improve without tangible and specific targets and goals
  • Documented processes, such as annual evaluation and structured performance feedback, will motivate people to improve their performance

Managers would not let the PA process be voluntary, believing that people wouldn’t do them or take responsibility for improvements.

If employees were to be the sole keepers of the paperwork, they believe the process would not be taken seriously.

They believe people are not interested in improvement and control devices are necessary.

Rating and ranking as a source of guidance and direction

Assumption 4:

  • Rating and ranking are effective motivational and coaching tools


  • People are intrinsically motivated to do a good job
  • People will use good information to improve their performance, if given the training and opportunity

Evaluation is not in itself the problem, the multi-uses of a single annual event is the problem.

Rating and ranking are inherently destructive of self-esteem.

Ratings encourage superficial conversations. Instead of focusing on the problem or opportunity, supervisors assume the rating itself conveys clear and helpful information.

People used to being the best see any rating less that exceptional as insulting and demoralizing.

One-size-fits-all approaches to guidance and direction

Assumption 5:

  • A one-size-fits-all coaching structure works well for all employees.
  • Supervisors in each organization want or need to use the same approach to guide, develop, and manage people


  • Employee’s preferences and needs for coaching, direction, and support vary with the individual and the situation, and change over time
  • Supervisor’s preferences and needs in supporting and managing people vary with the individual and the situation, and change over time

Prescribed appraisal methods strips the supervisors of their individuality and unique preferences in managing people.

We should train, educate and offer tools to those managers.

Men are more transactional and women more transformational (or so they say).

The lack of choice runs counter to our culture’s basic tenets of liberty.

Goal setting – A good strategy for improvement?

Assumption 6:

  • Individual goal setting is an effective motivational tool and strategy for improving performance
  • Having an annual conversation around improvement accomplishes improvement


  • Improvement results from identifying the cause of a problem or specific opportunity for improvement and developing a plan to act on such information
  • Open conversations about performance issues, problems, and opportunities may lead to the development of helpful plans to achieve improvement
  • Improving processes and systems generates improvement.
  • When individuals freely accept and commit to a goal, it can be effective
  • A group of people, as a work unit or organization, will perform and align better with common goals

As a performance strategy, goal setting assumes that:

  • Goal attainment represents good performance
  • Individual efforts have a dominant influence
  • Goal attainment is always measurable
  • Measurements are accurate and free from human bias and distortion
  • Giving goals leads to motivaiton

Individual performance is largely determined by the system in which one works.

Passing off responsibility for performance to individuals is quite tempting.

Acceptance and commitment of goals

  • Without acceptance and personal commitment, goals are largely ineffective.
  • Acceptance cannot be forced.

Multiple and complex goals

  • Most of the favorable research on using goals is derived from single goals.
  • Goal setting is less effective when goals are complex.

Quantity goals

  • Quality suffers when employees are given quantity goals
  • A preferable immediate goal would be to understand and eradicate the causes of errors or promote good behaviors.

Unintended consequences

  • Goal shortcomings can threaten people and tempt them to manipulate or distort data or act contrary to the company’s best interest.
  • Goals psychologically distance the supervisor from his employees, since he feel he has done his job.

Changes and trends affecting the workplace

  • Jobs are increasingly complex and interdependent
  • Individuals are more likely to have multiple responsibilities, tasks and priorities
  • The concept of a job, no less annual goals, is becoming obsolete
  • The greater focus on quality is nixing the focus on quantity
  • Corporations speak of empowerment, autonomy, choice and the use of collaborative teams
  • The influence of chaos and complexity theory lead to more open and naturally evolving systems

Our reliance on individual goal setting as the primary means of organizational improvement is an increasingly unwise strategy.

What to do instead

  • Probationary employees
  • Required for legal reasons
  • Particular coaching or counselling needs.

Drop organization mandated ratings and evaluations

  • Discontinue ratings and evaluations except in the cases where they are the best tool for the particular individual and situation or they are legally required.
  • Use only as required and confine the judgment to the purpose and providing useful information.
  • Don’t apply arbitrary numeric judgments when pass/fail will suffice.

Foster new roles for supervisors

  • Supervisors must unleash people to direct and monitor their own work.
  • Foster a learning environment.
  • Supervisor’s primary goal will be to engender commitment and the proclivity for people to be productive, resourceful and innovative.
  • The employee is primarily responsible for his own growth and successful performance.
  • With education, appropriate training, and support, people will take responsibility to see that they perform well, grow, and improve.
  • Training supervisors will not suffice. Everyone will need to be oriented, educated, and assisted in seeing new roles and alternative assumptions.

Create a variety of freely chosen delivery systems

  • Honor choice and recognize the variation of work situations, the variable needs of employees and the divergent style preferences of supervisors.
  • The paperwork from these tools would belong to the people that use them.
  • Elective tools are consistent with empowerment.
  • Educate and train employees and supervisors about the many widely accepted contingent and situational leadership models.

Use goals when it is effective

  • Avoid arbitrary quantitative goals
  • Foster individual commitment
  • Have a bias for single goals

Organizational goals

  • Often necessary and beneficial.
  • Coupled with a sense of common purpose, a clear mission, and genuinely espoused values.

Work unit goals

  • Critical aspect of optimal performance.
  • Create alignment and invigorate more cohesive efforts.
  • Connect everyone in the department to each other and a common vision.

Individual goals

  • Only where it is situationally effective.
  • When one needs to have defined targets to ensure the learning of particular skills.
  • Train all your employees on the situationally effective use and benefits of goals.
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