Performance Appraisal Series: Problems

Performance appraisal is a troubled topic that’s part of our daily work. In this series, I’ll share some thoughts, problems, and possible solutions for it.

So, after around one year focused on my MBAs work about performance appraisal, I’m back to share some more thoughts on our IT world. A lot happened since then, so I expect to have some more content flowing on this topic.


Being a topic discussed over and over since early 1900, I felt I should share my thoughts on it. I really love the topic, although knowing that the debates on this won’t reach an agreement in the near future. My MBA final work was to present (yet) another methodology of performance assessment. Having the opportunity to think about the details of the topic helped me a lot to understand how complex it is. In this post, I’ll bring some reasons why performance appraisal is so frustrating (to the point of having people suggesting to abolish it completely!).

First problem: Wrong questions.

The amount of performance appraisal formats on the market may be similar to the amount of companies around the globe. I’d bet two distinct companies won’t use exactly the same system and structure, as performance appraisal questions must be tailored to the company’s environment, culture and goals (amongst other factors). Happens that, as you might notice, these factors are volatile. So, having an appraisal performance system applying the same questions without revisiting them to check if they match the company’s goals simply won’t work (or won’t add much value to the process). As one of the main reasons for having performance appraisal is to guide the professionals showing where they’re doing right or wrong, asking the wrong questions might cause more damage than benefit.

Second problem: Wrong answers.

Ok, the questions are being reviewed from time to time, the HR sector takes special attention to the appraisal performance format and review the questions based on the professional’s work. The question is put in a very clear and objective way… but the evaluator answers the question picking a ‘value from 0 to 10 where 0 is totally disagree and 10 is totally agree’. You can flush your appraisal system again, without losing much. Why? The concepts of good, bad, perfect, poor, unacceptable, exceeds are completely opinion based. What’s a 5 for me may be an 8 to that other evaluator. Therefore, ‘scales’ without proper values correlated to them won’t work.

Third problem: The human factor.

That’s a derivation of the second problem, as both evaluator and evaluated are human beings with their own assumptions of poor, good and excellent… but this time we add to the human factor all the relationships between the actors involved and we reach a scenario almost completely biased. A combo of scale answers plus relationship issues between evaluator and evaluated can easily end up with professionals being fired due to ‘poor performance’.

Forth problem: The time factor.

Partially a derivation of the third problem. The performance appraisal cycle is something that needs to be part of the day to day work. When something bad happens, it needs to be put on the table with candidness. When something good happens, the same should apply. At the end of the cycle, the results must be based on real achievements or problems faced during the period, not on guesses or events not properly reported. It’s an evaluator’s duty to make clear at the very moment something happens that could impact on the professional’s performance to report it and discuss what’s going to be done next about this. There might be nothing more frustrating than feedback about a problem that happened 6 months ago and wasn’t brought to the professional before. That’s unfair. The problem here is that constant feedback requires two things: candidness and dedication. It’s rare to find evaluator / evaluated pair in such a relationship having one of them, let alone both. Regarding dedication and availability to provide feedback, I strongly believe that the underlying cause is that professionals are expected to work 100% on their daily jobs plus mentoring and coaching. In the end of the day, one might need to work 120%. It’s actually counterproductive: if we give a proper feedback once something good or bad happens, we’ll reinforce the message that this specific action is the correct or incorrect way of working and therefore avoiding the same problem in the future.

Do you see other problems that could be added to the list? Would you have suggestions to mitigate them? I’m looking forward your comments!

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