Employment Today – July 2000 issue                                                           back to articles menu

“Selling the Review Process”

“Numerical Scoring - Fair & Equal?”

The final in this five-part series on Performance Review. What do you do, as an HR Manager, when despite all the training, the provision of systems, and the exhortations – Line Management still haven’t ‘embraced’ the process. You could try electro-convulsive therapy but it might have an effect on management turnover. What about if (horrors) we actually tried to ‘sell’ the concept? And while we’re on the subject, how about a short dissertation on the merits of numerical scoring systems. That should provoke a comment or two.

Apathy? Who Cares! I saw that piece of wit written in graffiti many years ago, and it kind of stuck in my mind, right alongside another one – ‘Wither Atrophy?’ – and another, written at the top of the loo door just below the gap – ‘Beware the Irish limbo dancer’. OK now I’ve revealed my state of mind as I write this, which may have something to do with the ‘flu.

As I gird my loins (just what the hell are loins, where are they located, what is ‘girding’ and why would one engage in this activity?) in preparation for presenting a two-day workshop on Performance Management, my mind dwells on the success rate in terms of the seriousness or otherwise with which management treat the whole process of Performance Review. I should at this point say that there are some organizations, usually ‘corporate’ in nature, who do have some excellent processes in place, the processes are treated seriously, management are well-trained in their use, and they operate those processes religiously. I suppose you could say that the reason I know so few of them is that they don’t have need of our services in this area. What I do know, is that whenever I conduct a mini-survey by asking course participants (at all levels) ‘Have you had a review from your Boss this year?’ the responses (apart from a puzzled or embarrassed silence) include ‘A what?’, ‘er, I think so, not sure’, to a firm ‘Yes’. The firm yeses might make up 10% of the group. Not good news, I’m sure you’ll agree. ‘Why is this?’, you ask in dignified HR outrage. Because, quite frankly, the majority of management in general don’t appear to give a tinkers cuss about Performance Review. Oh, they’ll do the first part of it – setting objectives. Otherwise how will minions know what is expected? But the concept of discussing actual performance against those objectives is another thing entirely except, of course, when things are going wrong.

Why the apathy? Because for many it is seen as a chore; process-driven, compliance-based, time-consuming, uncomfortable and one of questionable value at that. Add to those reasons the fact that many have had particularly negative experiences of ‘appraisals’ in the past and you start to get the picture. Changing that thinking can appear to be an impossible task, but let me offer you some suggestions:

What we’re after here, is quite simply, a change in behaviour. We want Leaders to go from ‘not doing’ to ‘doing’, and to ‘do it’ for all the right reasons. Behaviour change requires motivation. Most people ‘do’ things because doing that thing will bring some kind of benefit (what’s in it for me?). Leaders are people. So –as any salesperson will tell you– we need to outline to Leaders what will be the ‘selfish’ benefits from this new behaviour. Let’s try out a logical argument and see how it fits:

I don’t know how to be any more logical than that showed in the flow of statements above. I do know that when I take Leaders through this logical sequence, a light seems to come on. If that doesn’t work, I take Leaders through the next process; styled on the old Three-Circles model of Leadership that has been around so long it’s got cobwebs on it:











For those that have never seen it, it is almost patronisingly simple (simplicity is why it works). The Leaders job is to produce a result – perform the task. In order to do that, they need to put together, and hold together, an effective team – maintain the team. In order to maintain a team, you need to consider each member as an absolute individual and tailor your Leadership function to them – develop and support the person. Between the logical flow of argument listed above, and the three circles model, I can usually win over the most apathetic anti-reviewer. Simply put, when Leaders carry out effective, meaningful and regular Performance Review, their teams perform better and are more likely to support the Leader, there is less stress on the Leader, and team goals are more likely to be achieved or exceeded.

But soft! What light through yonder window shines? Tis the Review! Sorry to inflict dear old Shakespeare on you. It’s the ‘flu – brings out the thespian in me. I digress.


On to the Numerical Scoring System debate, and this is where I get into hot water with some of my peers in HR – particularly those who have invested heavily in sophisticated computer-based systems that require numbers to think with and are linked to remuneration. One wonders if the investment is the motive for the argument – hush my mouth, did I say that?

The first statement I will make is that Performance Review should not be linked to Remuneration (I can already hear the shotguns being loaded). It’s my opinion that a Performance Review tells you (among other things) how well you’re doing your job compared to expectations, finds out what support you need, and mutually identifies opportunities and plans for improvement. A Salary Review can happen anytime, and is a commercial negotiation that determines how much your job is worth when it is done well.

The problem that occurs if you stitch these two separate processes together, is that a persons remuneration is therefore determined in part or in whole by the outcome of a Review. This brings into scrutiny the quality of the Review, the frequency of it, and the training and objectiveness of the Reviewer. Should a person get an increase, decrease or status quo in salary simply because of the incompetent, indifferent or biassed treatment of a Reviewer? Will a Reviewer, in reviewing 12 staff, review them all in exactly the same manner, using exactly the same criteria, be absolutely objective and impartial and be in exactly the same mental state at each Review?  I put it to you, in all sincerity, that because the Reviewer is also Human, then the answer to the above is ‘NO’. Into that maelstrom of Human Frailty, let’s now add a Numerical Scoring System, where the Reviewer has a score of (say) 1-5, where 1 = Poor and 5 = Excellent. No, I can’t produce the Research but I’ve seen plenty that indicates a resistance to selecting ‘1’ because to do so forces remedial action, and a resistance to ‘5’ because it indicates perfection, which doesn’t exist, and gives rise to expectations of Financial Reward. Therefore there is a tendency and attraction to the selection of 2 – 4. Is that valid? I think not. Secondly, if you ask 10 reviewers operating the same internal system for their definition of what constitutes a ‘3’, it’s my experience that you will get 10 different answers, ranging from almost but not quite similar, to wildly different. Is that valid? Is it fair to all those being reviewed? Again, I think not. An unfair, subjective and differently applied system is worse that no system at all. Now, before you fire that shotgun, make sure you’re not shooting simply because you have an emotional and/or financial investment in your existing system, or because you can’t think of a better way. So what is a better way?

Opinion again, but if you separate the Performance Review from Remuneration, why do you need a numerical system? Whatever happened to the simple use of written statements about whether or not someone has achieved their objectives, whether they have the competencies required (and how they’re going to get them if not), and whether they are applying those competencies?

Let me finish with an analogy. Imagine a courtroom, the District Court, on a Friday afternoon. The crime – first offence, driving over the legal alcohol limit. The Judge is eagerly anticipating a weekend skiing with her new lover, which the matrimonial partner knows nothing about. The defendant is a well-dressed young executive, looking suitably humble and contrite, represented by a top-notch lawyer from a prestigious law firm. Let’s say a penalty of ‘x’ is imposed.

Now let’s move forward in time to the following Monday morning. The defendant is a member of Satan’s Dogs, dressed suitably in bikie fashion - leathers, tats, scars, unshaven, unwashed, greeting the Court with a two-finger salute and disdainful sneers, and represented by a legal-aid lawyer who met his client for the first time five minutes ago outside in the street. The same Judge appears, but the events over the weekend have taken their toll – the husband found out, confronted the lovers ‘in flagrante delicto’ (as it were) at the Ski Lodge, is filing for divorce and leaked it to the Herald, and she’s suffering a monumental hangover due to an attempt to escape reality last night. The defendant’s crime? – First offence, driving over the legal alcohol limit.

My question is this: Will the penalty still be ‘x’? Can it be possible that the Judge’s emotional state and reaction to visual appearance might have an effect on the equality of the judgement delivered to two individuals for the same offence?

Are our Leaders trained, experienced Judges? What did you say was the difference between a ‘3’ and a ‘4’?  Unload the shotgun, and let’s start a discussion on finding a better way…

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email: steve@sta.co.nz
© Steve Punter 2000 All rights reserved by the author

steve@sta.co.nz                                                                                                                                   back to articles menu