appraisal pitfalls

We have seen that appraisals are not universally liked, but they can still play a useful role in managing performance and help the professional development of individual employees. These are some of the common pitfalls in appraisal:

  • performance reviews easily recognise the extremes of good and poor performance, but have difficulty distinguishing performance differences within the large group ‘in the middle’
  • concentrating efforts on an annual appraisal process can mean that managers neglect day-to-day performance management, thus storing up issues and negating what should be a positive process
  • the appraisal process has a tendency to concentrate on the past – meaning not enough time is devoted to planning future development
  • the fast pace of organisational change means that by the time team and individual goals have filtered down through the performance management process they are out of date
  • research has indicated that people tend to develop their strengths rather than address their weaknesses, emphasising the importance of focusing on the future, rather than dwelling on the past
  • individual appraisal can be detrimental to team effort as people compete with each other – to counteract this an increasing number of organisations are now using team appraisals

the problem with ‘bell curves’

The use of a ‘stacking’ or ‘bell curve’ system of ranking performance can also be problematic. This automatically assumes that in every team a set percentage of people are underperforming and that these people are spread evenly over every team in an organisation.

Under this system a team of 11 would see one person ranked as outstanding; one as seriously underperforming; two as performing better than average; two as performing worse than average, and the remaining five as average performers.

However, someone considered the weakest member of a high-performing team may still be working better than the outstanding member of a weaker team. It also fails to answer the question what happens if the number of poor performers is higher (or lower) than the set percentage?

fear of appraisal

Performance management and appraisals greatly increases the power of managers to control the workplace and coordinate the work that is performed. This can create fear among employees who face appraisal.

The appraiser faces pitfalls as well. During the interview appraisers must take care to avoid:

  • the ‘halo’ effect: does one characteristic of the employee colour the appraiser’s judgement and make it inevitably favourable?
  • the ‘horns’ effect: does one characteristic of the appraisee make it inevitable that the appraiser will condemn them?
  • the ‘crony’ effect: are the appraiser and the appraisee such good friends that the appraisal is not going to be fair?
  • the ‘Veblen’ effect: the tendency to mark all appraisees in the mid range to avoid difficult decisions
  • the ‘impression’ effect: does the appraisee manage to obscure measures of performance with charm and by manipulating the appraiser?

performance management checklist

Five steps to positive performance appraisals:

  1. confirm organisational goals: where are we going and where do we want to go?
  2. confirm departmental goals: how do the organisation’s goals translate into the objectives of departments?
  3. confirm individual employees' goals: with organisational targets in mind, departmental managers work on the goals and objectives of each member of staff
  4. discuss individual goals in appraisals: these targets are put to employees and depending on the style of management, are either discussed and agreed on during the appraisal interview or just handed down to employees
  5. conduct reviews: the performance of individual employees is reviewed at regular intervals and when the cycle is completed the whole process begins again

further advice

While most of the tasks involved in managing performance and appraisal meetings are within the scope of line managers, HR experts such as Randstad HR Consulting can be engaged to advice and assist, particularly in the areas of leadership coaching and development. 


more articles about: performance management and appraisals