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Performance Reviews Made Easy

Edward S. (Ted) Barber served as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Personnel Operations at State University of New York from March 1974 until his untimely death in June of 1979. In spite of his short tenure with the University, his presence had an indelible impact on the personnel functions of the organization.

His enthusiasm for the personnel profession inspired all those with whom he had contact. His purpose was to serve the needs of both the University and its employees, and he accomplished this with a fresh, personal and uninhibited approach to personnel management. Ted was a dedicated, demanding executive and a sensitive, fun-loving friend. His style of leadership is epotimized in the following paper he wrote entitled "Performance Reviews Made Easy".



Much has been written in the area of personnel appraisal and review. Many elaborate programs have been established and courses taught in the art of conducting this particular type of review. Supervisors have been led to believe that this is an area that all must enter, but the chance of success is slim. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we stop the gobbledygook, fear and nonsense that has surrounded this procedure, anyone can handle it with ease. Performance reviews should not only be helpful in improving performance, but should be an exhilarating, desirable, and rewarding experience for both supervisor and subordinate. Performance reviews can be easy.

Let us first analyze the purpose that is to be accomplished. The only reason for their existence is to improve performance. Too many of the pitfalls that have been discussed by many writers have to do with facing the unpleasant task of telling an unsatisfactory employee that he is a poor worker. The verbal gymnastics they suggest to prevent getting this idea across would scare anyone but the most skilled psychoanalyst. But, why concentrate on the unsatisfactory employee? How many poor employees do we have? We certainly have not accomplished what we have with a herd of incompetents. Why, then, should this be the major group on which the procedure is based? You and I know that the great majority of employees are hard-working, loyal, enthusiastic individuals that get great satisfaction out of a job well done. Let's concern ourselves with helping them do an even better job. They will welcome our help and approach any performance interview with utmost enthusiasm.

By simplifying performance reviews, we may illustrate the point. Suppose you were to encounter a fellow with a stalled car on the highway. You stop and ask if you can help. Upon examining the situation, you note that the coil wire has worked loose. You suggest the solution to him and his car starts. Is this a real traumatic experience for both of you? Is he completely shaken by the experience? Or, do you think he would smile pleasantly and offer "thanks a lot"?

What is so difference about one of your subordinates if your honest desire is to be of help?

Some of you are probably thinking that the situation above is not analogous. Let's take a look. Man is "working" on car. You "appraise" his performance. You suggest an "improvement". He gets satisfactory results. What more could you ask of a personnel development situation?

Performance reviews can be easy. Ignore all the things you have heard in the past and try these simple steps to success. By making evaluations sound difficult, complicated and mysterious, authors of personnel journals have maintained their employment in order to interpret the self-cause confusion. Away with the smoke screen!

  1. Presently, we write elaborate job descriptions in terms that neither the employee nor the supervisor understand, but make awfully nice copy for someone to put in Position Description Manuals. These are probably necessary for new employees in new jobs to set up areas of responsibility. They are usually too general to be useful for defining the day-to-day job. What is needed is a simple statement of specific tasks for which the employee is to be held accountable. They should be items the employee is going to accomplish between now and some determined time. At this point, both the supervisor and subordinate will know what the subordinate is trying to do.

  2. The employee works on the tasks assigned and on a day- to-day basis, the supervisor should check to see how things are going. The supervisor's attitude can't be one of looking for a chance to "raise hell", but "how can I help". There must be an honest desire to render any assistance needed to get the job done. Note, I said needed. Don't just hop into the situation to prove to the employee what a smart boss he has. If he needs help, offer it. If he doesn't, leave him alone. Don't grab the broom. Let the person sweep.

  3. The next step is appraisal. This simply means watching him work and coming to some conclusion as to how he is doing. Look at it positively. Not what he is doing wrong, but what can he do to improve his performance. Ted Williams, the great slugger for the Boston Red Sox, was never noted for being an outstanding fielder. This did not prevent him from being the highest-paid player in baseball. He was a great hitter when he first came up to the leagues. By concentrating on improving his hitting and not worrying too much about his fielding, he became one of the greatest, if not greatest hitter of all times. Under present performance review procedures, the coach would worry about his fielding. Boston simply hired Jim Piersal in Center Field and told him to cover - as much of Left Field as possible. If you have a star salesperson who can't write reports to satisfy the administrators, perhaps you might try assigning a clerk to cover Left Field and give the salesperson more time to concentrate on selling. Both the salesperson and the company, like Ted Williams, might be richer for it.

  4. After making your appraisal, list strengths and weaknesses, and decide what one thing the person should try to improve to enable him to do a better job. Talk with him and see if you can work out a plan of action to take place over the next few months to work on that one point. Work with him on that point until you make as much headway as possible. Think how much improvement could take place in your organization if every employee improved just one thing he did over the next six months. The cumulative effect of all this improvement would make your company the most profitable in the county.

A Word of Caution!! Never sit down with a person and discuss all their strengths and weaknesses at one time. When you finish, the person will be so confused and the task will look so enormous that he will shrug his shoulders and ask "What's the use?" Psychologists have found that many times when a child doesn't eat it is because the parents heap his plate so full that he gets discouraged just looking at the task ahead of him. When small amounts are put on his plate, he quickly finishes them off and proudly asks for more. Try this with your employees. Bite off one item to improve at a time. Work on that item day to day.

I think you will agree that the steps I have outlined above should be quite easy to take. This is all that is needed to improve performance. Don't let anyone try to force a more complicated procedure upon you. Both you and your subordinate should find it a rewarding, performance-improving experience.

For you pessimists who like to concentrate on these few employees who just can't do a satisfactory job and can't improve, the above procedure might seem incomplete. Once again, this type of situation is easy to face if you are honest and sincere. No one likes to do an unsatisfactory job. Everyone likes to be a success. When you find an employee who does poorly on an assigned task, try to evaluate what he can do well. Use the positive approach. Suggest to him that he get into the type of work that will use these skills and minimize his weaknesses. How can an employee be unhappy if you approach the problem in this manner, and give him hope that he too can be a success.

If I have made this sound easier than you thought, then I have accomplished my goal. Complications have been created by pessimists. Difficulties don't need to exist to the extent they now seem to. Follow these simple steps and Performance Reviews will be easy and they will also be effective.