Poor Performance: Why Appraisals Don’t Work, Pt 2

This is the second article in our series on why performance appraisals fail to correct poor performance.

In the first article, we saw that they were unpopular with both those who gave them and those who received them.

We also reminded ourselves of the copious amounts of time that are required to conduct them.

You already knew that.

It’s just that it had become such a habit that you hadn’t thought about it like that for a while.

The surprising thing is that, even though it’s widely known and accepted that they don’t work, you still use them.

And what’s particularly baffling is that you still cling to the vain hope that at some point those outcomes will change.



Perhaps you’ve heard the word insanity described as “doing the same thing day after day and expecting a different outcome”.

Actually, that statement isn’t true; at least not all the time.

That’s because the world doesn’t stand still while you do things the way you’ve always done them.

Sustaining the status quo doesn’t give you the same results.

Instead, they’ll be even worse than your worst-case scenario.


Take dieting, for instance.

As we age, we don’t need to eat as much.

If you’re 50 or older, then you know that you can’t chow down anything like as much as you could when you were 25.

If in middle age you try to eat the way you did as a teenager, you’ll probably make yourself sick.

As it is, your clothes are likely to be tighter now than they were even 10 years ago. (The average adult gains a pound each year from the age of 18 or so.)

And so, if you want to maintain your weight, then you have to eat less; because if you continue to consume food in the quantities that you did when you were younger, then you’ll gain weight.

Did you get that?

When it comes to eating, doing the same thing day after day will cause you to gain weight.

In other words, you won’t get the same outcome by doing the same thing day after day.

In order to get a different outcome - maintain the weight of your youth - you have to do something else.

This article isn’t about eating; but that activity is an excellent example of the false assumption that so many people make when they quote that deceptive mantra.


What happens with performance appraisals?

If they’ll never produce the results that you want, what outcomes can you expect?

At the very least, they’ll do more harm than good, and that harm will increase over time.


Let’s think about the ineffectiveness of appraisals in a different way.

Suppose they were a product.

The product sells well, but nine out of ten customers tell you that it doesn’t perform as advertised.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Now, let’s turn it around.

Would you continue to spend thousands of pounds year after year to obtain a product that 90% of the time didn’t work?

If for every 100 products you bought, 90 of them made matters worse, would you keep on buying them?

Does that sound like a form of insanity to you?

If so, then you need to ask yourself why you continue to use performance appraisals; because those are the results you’re getting.

Perhaps you don’t think that things are as bad as all that.

Maybe you need a bit more evidence.

That’s okay.

There’s plenty.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll consider just one area, and it’s a biggy.


Emotional pain

Emotional pain is all about feelings.

And like many feelings, they can be hidden from onlookers.

That means that on the surface, everything looks fine.

However, feelings still influence how people behave, their ability to concentrate, and their productivity.

It’s a simple fact that if you’re hurting inside or if you’re frightened, then that will have an effect on everything and everyone that you come in contact with.

If that which hurts or scares you is another person, then the natural thing will be for you to try to avoid that individual at all costs; and if you’re unable to do so because that person is a colleague or worse - a supervisor - then you’ll withdraw so as to not upset him or her any more than is necessary.

Out of sight is out of mind; and that’s the goal.

Psychologically, it’s the equivalent of crossing the street in order to avoid having to speak with someone who is walking towards you.

It should already be obvious to you how simply knowing that an appraisal is coming up can cause such pain, especially if things haven’t gone as well as you had hoped.

It doesn’t end there.

It’s bad enough to know that you messed up.

Matters are made worse when you’re left wondering when the hammer will fall.

Cast your memory back a few years.

As a child, did your mother ever say to you, “Wait until your father gets home!”?

How did that make you feel?

Did you want to go outside and play with your friends as if everything was okay, or did you want to cower in your room in the hope that the family would forget that you lived there?

Same thing happens at work.


What else causes pain?

People don’t like to be told that what they’re doing is wrong or that what they’ve done is unacceptable.

Sometimes this can’t be avoided; but that doesn’t change the fact the people don’t like to hear it.

At work, the consequences of our own actions are often sufficient punishment without waiting until it becomes official during a performance appraisal.

In the run up to the performance review, we dread every moment we’re on the job.

It’s all we think about.

We don’t think about how to be more productive.

We don’t think about new ideas.

And we don’t strive to be better.


Because the die is cast, and nothing we do now will change what we’re sure you will say and / or do during the appraisal meeting.

And so, our only recourse is to stay as far away from you, and everything to do with you, as possible; because we don’t want to remind ourselves of what is coming or risk making the situation any worse.

Of course, all this damages relationships.

Now we all know that friendships can get in the way of effective supervision; but that doesn't mean that you go out of your way to make enemies.

You should have a good, even friendly, relationship with all who you supervise.

Irrespective of how you feel or to a certain extent how friendly you behave toward those you supervise, they will possess an inherent fear of you even if you were friends before you became their supervisor.

That’s just how it is.

You may even know of people who once worked for someone and for one reason or another now supervise them.

And you will have noticed how the relationship between them has changed as a result.

That’s why.

It occurs not only because you as the supervisor have the authority to promote or sack; reward or discipline, but also because the decision to do so may come from someone who is higher up the food chain.

You can mitigate that feeling considerably by how you treat those you supervise.

And although mutual respect goes a long way; it won’t eliminate the fear altogether.


Bearing that in mind, what effect do you think emotional pain plays in the cohesiveness of teams?

Teams don’t just happen.

You can’t just throw a group of people together, and then call them a team.

You have to nurture them.

If there is emotional pain, then the distancing of one member of the team won’t end with the performance appraisal.

If things don’t go as well as the person in question had hoped, then he or she will continue to drift away from you, as well as the team.


For one thing, it’s because of the divided loyalties of the team.

On the one hand, they’ll feel loyal to you; but on the other, they’ll feel loyal to each other, including the team member who’s not getting on with you.

That means that they won’t know how much support to give to the team member who’s in trouble.

They’ll be faced with a situation where they have to choose.

They’ll be pulled between supporting you, because you supervise them, and the team member, because he or she is one of them.

No one can serve two masters.


The story of Mutiny on the Bounty exemplifies this.

Most of the crew eventually got fed up with Lieutenant Bligh’s treatment or mistreatment, depending on your perspective, of the various seamen.

It seems that one-by-one, they were singled out.

Mutinies occur when the loyalty to members of the team exceeds loyalty to the manager.

So the unity of the team can be affected by the extent to which each member of it is loyal to you.

But there’s another reason, and that is that it can affect the degree to which various team members are loyal to the person who’s in trouble.

Just as in the case of the Bounty, some of the crew departed with the skipper.

They all didn’t end up on Pitcairn Island.

But even in the most favourable of cases - one where only the offending team member is ostracised, and all the rest are with you, the team will break up.

The loss of the one member will create a hole in what was once complete.

It won’t be like sand on the seashore that simply fills in the gap.

Instead it will be like a knot that has fallen out of a piece of wood.


What else?

We’ve already touched on the idea that most people don’t like to give performance reviews where the rating is less the wonderful.

Maybe you’re the exception.


It’s because supervisors dislike giving appraisals where poor performance is the central theme that they get postponed.

That’s because normal people don’t look forward to negative experiences.

And so, they tend to put them off for as long as possible.

Admittedly, this may make the problem worse, not only because the behaviour is allowed to continue, but also because the person whose performance is questionable gets more uptight as time goes along.

Remember, “wait until your father gets home”?

It’s exactly the same thing.

We’ve just begun to scratch the surface on emotional pain, but for this article, we’ll look at one more reason why performance appraisals cause it to occur.

It’s because of the time involved.

We’ve seen already that with a mere 110 employees, that an entire man- / woman-year can be expended in simply conducting the meetings.

Of course, the problems don’t end there.

If the appraisal is one hour long and occurs between two people, then that’s two hours.


But how much can you learn about what someone has been doing for the past year in an hour?

How deep can you go?

If you’re using one of the multi-rater methods, then you might only get a half an hour or 20 minutes.

How much can you learn about someone in that amount of time?

Very little, if truth be told.

You can’t even drink a cup of tea in that amount of time.

And many appraisals not only include a discussion about past performance, but also future goals, training needs, promotion opportunities, the list goes on.

There really isn’t enough time to get to know what someone has done, should do, or will do in the time afforded for performance appraisals.

And those who are being evaluated feel this.

It’s rush, rush, rush. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

If the overall news is bad, and it is if it falls short of what employees hope for, then those who are assessed will feel that they haven’t been afforded the opportunity to properly explain what happened.

They won’t feel, as the Americans say, that they’ve “had their day in court”.

Instead they’ll feel that there’s nothing that they can do to mitigate the consequences.

They will be further demoralised.



In this article, we’ve explored just one reason why appraisals fail to correct poor work.

It’s because of the emotional pain they inflict, not only on those who receive them, but also on those who give them.

This reason alone is sufficient to demonstrate that they are ineffective and should be abandoned altogether.

Perhaps you’re still not convinced.


In the next article, we’ll consider the abuses of this means of evaluation.

Maybe then you’ll be willing to put them on the rubbish heap of management fads.


If you would like to improve Appraisals, or Performance Management, then please email me via this link and start a conversation

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