In Chapters of Books


A Generic Look At Appraisal processes


In days gone by, we were able to get away with providing satisfactory results from the satisfactory performance of our people. Moreover, this was easy to achieve, because, to achieve satisfactory performance, we only needed to put a variety of controls in place to ensure (or ‘force’?) satisfactory results to ‘pop out’ the other side. This enabled us, in many cases, to be reactive rather than proactive and resulted in our team members creating ways to ‘beat the system’. The result was that any success was often temporary and normally only at the level of satisfactory performance.

Nowadays, we are not allowed to get away with satisfactory performance, are we? Our responsibility for achieving results has risen enormously and the results required seem to grow almost exponentially each year – or at least that’s how it feels. The only way to achieve this superior performance is through team members who want similarly to achieve these results, not because they have to, but because they are personally committed to doing so. Accordingly, sustained superior performance is not under our control as managers, but under the control of the individual performers. After all, our team members have control over what task they will do now, how much energy they will put into the task, how long they will take on it, and how well they will do it. In short, they control their discretionary energy in these areas. What happens if they for some reason operate less than optimally? What happens if our old ways of managing are unable to ensure that they maximise their performance? Again, isn’t it our job as managers to channel this discretionary energy in a way that brings about the level of commitment that will maximise their performance so that superior performance and, therefore, superior results are achieved? If it’s not our job, then whose is it? And what, then, is our job? (Kinlaw _999:_–5)

Of course, our challenge is made even more difficult by the fact that most of our organisations have downsized, restructured, re-engineered, and managed our efficiencies to the point where we feel we are running on a treadmill, questioning whether we are in fact getting anywhere. The result: we have half the number of people doing three times more with fewer resources! Is this sustainable?

On top of this, less than 60 percent of us have had any training in managing people! And we wonder why work is such a stressful place!

But, what do we know about our people? One thing we intuitively know is that they are more likely to use their discretionary energy and time to better pursue organisational goals when – they are clear about where the goalposts are and why they are important

they are clear on what they have to do to be able to have some influence ?over the attainment of goals they feel they are sufficiently competent to achieve these goals they are appreciated for working so hard to achieve these goals
(Kinlaw _999:4–5)

This is where coaching comes in. In my view, coaching is not a fashionable substitute for control – this is not just another, or the latest, fad. The truth is that leaders, at every level, do not have the time or capacity to control any more. We have to empower and delegate to create a culture of responsibility and initiative. If we don’t get this right, we will increasingly feel ineffectual as more and more responsibility is heaped on our already overburdened shoulders. Accordingly, coaching, leading and managing are, for me, almost synonymous. Coaching, managing and leading become effective if we use relationships and dialogue to generate possibilities and growth. It is not simply a matter of learning certain techniques. Coaching is not a technique. It is not an add-on; it is the way we do these things. It needs to be the way we see the world, relationships and the organisation (Buys _007:5–6).


high perf_image 1Over the years, I have experienced exactly the same response from a variety of groups to an exercise that Tim Gallwey did in his seminars (Gallwey _000:85– 86). I put three  words on a board: ‘performance’, ‘learning’ and ‘enjoyment’. I then ask the group members whether they think these three components are interrelated. They always say “Yes”. “In that case,” I ask, “is it okay to group them as a triangle?” (what Gallwey calls ‘the Work Triangle’). They always agreed. I then point at a spot well inside the top (performance) corner of the triangle and ask: “How much emphasis does your or- ganisation put on performance? Tell me when to stop”, and I start moving my finger slowly upwards. “More,” they always say, “No, still more,” until I am well outside the triangle.


high perf_image 2


“Okay,” I ask, “if these three components are interrelated and your organisation puts that much emphasis on performance, what happens to learning and enjoyment in your organisation?” It doesn’t take rock-et scientists to realise that the amount of learning and enjoyment are proportionately reduced.




Of course, similar consequences would occur if excessive emphasis were put on either of the two other components. However, as Gallwey (_000:86) points out, it is obvious to most people that emphasising performance doesn’t make it happen. Furthermore, if either learning or enjoyment is ignored, performance will suffer in the long run. The problem is that, when this happens, management threatens and pushes even harder for performance. Learning and enjoyment diminish even further and so the cycle continues, ensuring that performance never reaches its potential.


The funny thing is that we don’t call what we are trying to do ‘performance management’. In addition, the systems we put in place to manage perform- ance are not called ‘performance management systems’ – they are called ‘per- formance appraisal systems’. Ironically, we apply the term ‘performance man- agement’ to the process we put in place for underperformers to whom we are giving a last chance before we manage them out! ‘Performance management’ seems to have largely replaced what we used to call ‘workplace counselling’.

So, the first question is: shouldn’t we be managing the performance of all the people who report to us?

There’s another funny thing. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get underperformers to perform at least adequately, and relatively little time on getting performers to perform even better! The irony is that underperformers normally suffer from at least some of the following: a poor work ethic, poor skills, poor motivation, an external locus of control, etcetera. In fact, unless the underperformer is a square peg in a round hole and we are able to find the square hole for him or her, the truth is that underperformers seldom improve their performance beyond average.

With these thoughts in mind, consider how much effort it takes for a manager to get an underperformer to perform sufficiently.

high perf_image 3







Performers, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. For starters, for them to be performers, they probably have a good work ethic, have good skills, are self-motivated and, hopefully, have an internal locus of control. Accordingly, the time and effort that we as managers need to invest in a performer are considerably less – as signified, if you like, by the length of the respective arrows

high perf)image 4







And look how much higher the performance ends up being in relation to the average result that occurred with the underperformer!

Accordingly, for the remainder of this book, I will use the term ‘performance management’ in a more general sense to that which has become more colloquial in our organisations – that is, the term refers to the management of performance wherever that performance finds itself on the scale between underperformance and superperformance. More particularly, it relates to the significant function we managers have in helping each one of our team members to consistently improve on their performance.


We’ve all heard the old management adage, “We get what we measure.” Of course, to a large extent, the adage comes true on a daily basis in our businesses. Nevertheless, over the last two decades, and perhaps more, we have converted this into some pretty scary performance management systems where we are not getting what we measure – and, sometimes, this may be just as well!

Let’s have a look, in general terms, at our attitude behind the way we currently manage performance:

  • First, our performance management process is event-driven – it is focused on, in most cases, an annual or biannual event called an ‘appraisal’.
  • In my experience, more often than not, this event is characterised by a tick-box mentality – we as managers just want to get the thing done and, consequently, go through the motions of completing the ‘process’ so that we have something for the file.
  • Often, we as managers see the appraisal system (as it is called) as something conjured up by the HR department to validate its existence!
  • When we get around to applying our minds to the appraisal review, we often find the stick with which to beat our poor, unsuspecting team member, who is surprised, if not shocked, by our revelation that he or she has notachieved this or that.
  • We find the whole process tedious, especially in those organisations where the expectation is that the actual appraisal should take place over two or even three hours (just so that everyone takes the ‘process’ seriously!).
  • Of course, with this approach, it is difficult to find the time to get through the review meetings with each of our team members. What happens, therefore, is that we tend to procrastinate in two ways: first, because we expect huge chunks of time to be taken out of our diary, we believe we don’t have the time to do so and take ages to get around to scheduling the review meetings; and, secondly, once we have them in our diary, a good number of them get rescheduled as other items overtake them in priority. What message are we giving the people affected by this?
  • The stick-driven approach where we catch our people doing things wrong ensures that we as managers become responsible for motivating our team members.
  • The stick-driven approach also ensures that we have an opportunity to pass on our years of experience and, of course, our wisdom in a directive, “thou shalt…” manner. ?

I know this is a pretty cynical view of the‘appraisal process’, yet, in my workshops and the talks I have given at conferences and in organisations, I have found much support for the fact that this is how it normally happens – compared with only one or two organisations indicating that they have moved on from this approach. ?We only have to ask ourselves how many of the managers in our organisation enjoy doing appraisals – and how many of our team members find the process stressful and less helpful than it should be – to start developing a realistic picture of what culture pervades our respective organisations.



  •  For underperformers
  • Event-driven
  • Tick-box mentality
  • Going through the motions
  • HR initiation
  • Surprises!
  • Tedious, lengthy ‘process’
  • No time – “I’ll get to it next month…”
  • Stick-driven
  • External motivation
  • Directive approach based on the perceived experience of the manager


The current way we think of performance management, if I am right, is the antithesis of what it should look like. After all, wouldn’t a performance management system based on the following principles and characteristics be more effective?
        • Performance is something that we expect on a daily and ongoing basis. Accordingly, the management of performance should be daily, ongoing and continuous – after all, isn’t the management of the performance of our team members often our most important KPA as managers?


        • We should consistently focus on performance – it should form part of our daily mantra. If it doesn’t, then how can we expect our team members to focus consistently on their performance? So, why is it then that so many of us, having had an appraisal with a particular team member as recently as yesterday or last week, will avoid saying anything related to our discussion in that meeting if we bump into him or her today?
        • The measurement of performance should be conducted in a genuine manner that reflects our genuine desire to assist our team members to develop themselves in a way that makes them more effective.


        • If we have consistently focused on performance and see the management of performance as an ongoing process, by the time we get to the appraisal once or twice a year there should be no surprises for our team members. The appraisal becomes just part of our ongoing conversation, the part where we actually measure or record what has happened since the last appraisal and plan how we will work together to achieve the new targets or more effectively achieve the existing ones.
        • The practical application of all of this probably means that we should meet more regularly with our team members – at least monthly, but preferably fortnightly or weekly if at all possible. That may sound like the bad news, but the good news is that these meetings need to (and perhaps should) be brief and focused. The contents of these meetings constitute the content of this book and, if conducted effectively, such meetings are likely to help us to help our team members – and, therefore, ourselves – to ‘shoot the lights out’ far more effectively than we might be doing at present.
        • The practical application of all of this also means that, when we bump into team members in the corridor, this, too, is an opportunity to performance coach them, that is, to check quickly how they are progressing and to help them through any obstacles – even if it is only for _0 seconds.
        • Finally, at the end of the day, performance is the responsibility of each individual. Our responsibility as managers is to keep that responsibility with the team members and to help them to achieve, or exceed, their targets. Motivation, then, becomes the responsibility of the team member – it becomes inherent rather than enforced or imposed by us and, as such, is a far more powerful force of energy than if it were dependent on us.
  • For everyone – performers and underperformers
  • An ongoing, continuous process
  • Consistent focus on performance, learning and enjoyment
  • Genuine measurement
  • Genuine development of the individual
  • No surprises!
  • Frequent one-on-ones, including in the corridor
  • Inherent motivation


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