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Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology

Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology

Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology

For this assignment you will write a two- to- three page reflective paper evaluating your experience with performance appraisals in the workplace.  If you have never had a workplace performance appraisal, interview a friend or family member who has had one.


Describe the occasion in which you were being evaluated (e.g., annual review, quarterly review).  Describe the strengths and weaknesses of the evaluation process using concepts and/or theories from the week’s readings.  Provide at least two strategies to improve the performance appraisal process in your workplace for a more positive experience in the future.

Your assignment must be at least two to three double-spaced pages in length (excluding title and reference pages) and formatted according to APA guidelines.  Include a cover page and reference page in APA format.  In addition to the textbook, you must utilize at least one scholarly, peer-reviewed source that was published within the past five years.  Your sources must be cited according to APA format.

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    The Importance of Performance Appraisals

    One-panel comic of a woman reading to her daughter before bed. The girl says to her mother, “I think the Little Engine was probably worried about his performance reviews.”


    Throughout your life, people will make life-changing evaluations of your performance. From elementary school through college, on the playing field and in your community, from your first part-time job to your adult career, others will give you tests and evaluate and compare your performance, the results of which will determine your advancement (or failure to advance) to the next phase of life.


    Within organizations, assessment of employees’ performance tends to be perceived as a necessary evil that neither managers nor staff particularly like. Many employees fear that even one low performance rating could affect their pay or damage their career. Even more frightening is the prospect of receiving low ratings from a manager who doesn’t ever directly observe or work with the employee but uses secondhand information or personal biases to make his or her evaluations. Sadly, this frequently happens.



    Consider This: How Do You Feel About Being Evaluated?

    •Think about one or more occasions in which you were being evaluated. It could be at work, school, a playing field, or elsewhere.

    •Describe your feelings and thoughts before receiving these evaluations. Were you anxious? Were you looking forward to the evaluations?

    •Describe your feelings and thoughts while receiving these evaluations. Were you surprised? Upbeat? Interested in receiving feedback? Actively involved? Passively receiving the information? Feeling under attack?

    •Describe your feelings and thoughts immediately after these evaluations. Were you excited? Flattered? Humiliated? Angry? Defensive?

    •What effects did these evaluations have on your personal, social, or professional life? Did they make you a better person in any way? Explain.


    Managers also suffer anxiety when completing performance appraisals. Most often, they worry that criticisms, no matter how small, might provoke negative reactions, ranging from disappointment and frustration to anger and hostility. These emotions can put strain on the manager-employee relationship or cause the employee to become less motivated or even to quit. As a result, managers tend to shy away from providing negative performance feedback, which of course negates accuracy.



    Consider This: How Do You Feel About Evaluating Others?

    •Think about one or more occasions in which you had to evaluate or give feedback to someone. Again, it can be at work, school, or a playing field. Personal and social settings can also be used for this exercise.

    •Describe your feelings and thoughts before you gave your evaluation or feedback. Were you anxious? Hesitant? Excited?

    •What were your primary concerns? The fairness of your evaluations? The reactions of the people you were evaluating? The repercussions of your evaluation for yourself and/or the person you were evaluating?

    •Describe the settings in which you had to communicate your evaluations. Was it face to face? On the phone? Through e-mail? In a written report?

    •Describe the content of your feedback. Was it positive, neutral, or negative?

    •What were the reactions of the people you were evaluating? Was your feedback appreciated? Tolerated? Rejected?

    •How did you manage or leverage the reactions of the people you were evaluating? Did you involve them? Did you ask for their input?

    •Describe your feelings and thoughts after giving your evaluations. Were you stressed? Drained? Relieved? More confident about your feedback communication skills and your ability to accurately assess others’ performance?

    •What effects did your evaluations have on others’ personal, social, or professional lives? Did they make them better? Did they help them advance their careers? How did they affect your relationships with the individuals you evaluated? Explain.


    So then, if everyone dislikes performance appraisals, why keep doing them? For one thing, unmanaged performance is chaotic and random. Employees’ work needs to be aligned with the organization’s overall goals, and clear performance feedback helps everyone to know if this is indeed happening. In fact, a well-designed performance appraisal system should not only provide employees with rich feedback but should also communicate clear performance expectations and include information that will help them perform at the highest level possible (Pulakos & O’Leary, 2011). Appraisals that meet each of these concerns will enable the organization to further its mission to succeed. The question, then, is not whether to keep doing performance appraisals but how to make them most effective.


    Uses of Performance Appraisal


    A performance appraisal is the formal process through which employee performance is assessed, feedback is provided to the employee, and corrective action plans are designed. Organizations conduct performance appraisals for the following reasons:


    Photo of an evolution form. The evolution check boxes read unsatisfactory, marginal, satisfactory, very good, and outstanding.

    Performance appraisals have several benefits, including increased worker motivation. Employees are more productive and satisfied when they know what is expected of them and how they can achieve these results.

    1.To evaluate performance objectively. Organizations need some sort of system to measure the value of each employee’s performance. These measures must be objective and must allow for consistent comparison of performance of people with the same job function.

    2.To increase worker motivation. Appraisals provide employees with specific feedback regarding their strengths and weaknesses. When workers know what they should be doing, how they actually are doing, and how they can improve, they are often motivated to perform better.

    3.To make administrative decisions. Managers rely heavily on data from performance appraisals when making decisions about employee raises and bonuses, promotions, demotions, or even terminations. Employees must perceive these decisions as fair and free from bias; a good performance appraisal will facilitate those favorable perceptions.

    4.To improve organizational performance. Performance appraisals are essential to improving organizational performance (DeNisi & Sonesh, 2010). They pinpoint skill deficiencies in specific parts of the organization, helping managers to focus their training and selection efforts. Appraisals also enhance an organization’s opportunities for success by identifying poor performers, which not only helps weed out subpar personnel but also motivates top performers to keep their performance levels high.

    5.To establish training requirements. Appraisal data provide insight into workers’ knowledge, skill, and deficiency levels. This information helps managers establish specific training objectives, update or redesign training programs, and provide appropriate retraining for specific employees.

    6.To enhance selection and testing processes and outcomes. An important use of performance- appraisal data is to establish the criterion-related validity of selection tests. Recall from chapter 3 that criterion-related validity establishes a predictive, empirical (number-based) link between test scores and actual job performance by correlating applicants’ employment test scores with their subsequent performance on the job. How can the predictive capacity of a test be determined if the organization does not design and implement objective performance measures and procedures? It would have no accurate data to correlate test scores with, which would hinder its ability to design and use accurate tests and implement effective selection processes.




    4.2 Approaches to Measuring Performance

    I/O psychologists have identified a number of techniques to measure employee performance. These measures can be either objective or subjective. Generally, what is measured and how it is done depends on the type of work an employee performs. Some jobs, such as sales and assembly-line work, have objective outcome measures (sales revenue, number of pieces assembled), whereas others are more subjective (wait staff performance, art design work).


    Objective Performance Measures



    Concepts in Motion:

    How to Evaluate Business Performance

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    Objective performance measures are quantitative measures of performance that can be found in unbiased organizational records. They are generally easy to gather and include two types of data: production measures (such as sales volume, number of units made, number of error occurrences) and personnel measures (such as absenteeism, tardiness, theft, and safety behaviors). Both measures are also usually evaluated according to the quality of performance. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    However, objective measures can be deceivingly simple. Consider the performance of two sales professionals in an insurance company. Over the course of a year, Salesperson A sold 500 policies and Salesperson B sold 1,000. According to this data, Salesperson B appears to be the better salesperson—twice as good, in fact. However, if we examine the quality of each worker’s performance, we might learn that Salesperson B sold unprofitable policies, resulting in a $1 million loss for the company. Salesperson A, on the other hand, sold very profitable policies, resulting in a $1 million profit.


    Alternatively, Salesperson B may have focused on selling more policies while cutting corners on after-sale service and follow-up, which could have resulted in dissatisfied customers. On the other hand, Salesperson A may have invested more time per sold policy on such interactions. Although after-sale service and follow up may not be directly measured or rewarded by the organization, these customer interactions can help build the reputation of the organization and are known to result in more satisfied customers returning for additional products and referring others. Repeat business from and referrals by satisfied customers are significantly less costly for an organization to generate than is building new clientele. However, these additional sales may not be easily attributable to Salesperson A if the returning or referred customers are assigned to another salesperson. As you can see, evaluating worker performance by quantity alone without also adding in the quality component is not a wise course of action.


    Photo of a man pointing to his wristwatch.

    Types of personal data like absenteeism and tardiness are used to evaluate workers’ performance and provide an objective measure of an employee’s success or failure on the job.


    Unfortunately, even after controlling for performance quality, objective data may not provide an accurate or complete picture of an employee’s performance. Many factors beyond workers’ control can limit their ability to perform their best. Looking more closely at our two insurance salespeople, we might discover that the difference in sales volume could be attributable to the location of each employee’s branch office. Salesperson A could work in a small Midwestern town while Salesperson B works in Manhattan. Thus, Salesperson A could have captured a larger market share of his designated region than Salesperson B, even though he sold fewer policies. Alternatively, perhaps Salesperson B was assigned an easyto- sell policy because she was a new employee, while Salesperson A, as a veteran employee, was assigned a hard-to-sell but very lucrative policy. As you can see, accurate performance evaluations require more than a cursory look at sales and production numbers, although adding manager interpretation into the mix does make objective performance measures more subjective.


    Personnel data, another objective measure, includes such components as theft, tardiness, absenteeism, safety behaviors, and rate of advancement. Though not typically related to a worker’s ability to do the job, these elements do indicate job success or failure. Many jobs, such as teachers, customer service representatives, and bank tellers, require consistent daily attendance. Thus, absenteeism and tardiness are often used to evaluate these workers’ performance. Other jobs, such as machine operators, assembly-line workers, and truck drivers, have serious safety risks. With jobs such as these, it makes sense to keep count of employees’ accidents and safety incidents and use them as objective measures of performance.


    As with any type of objective data, however, taken on its own, personnel data can be misleading. Once again, circumstances outside the worker’s control could affect performance. Sick children, a death in the family, or transportation troubles may affect an otherwise superior employee’s ability to come to work. Similarly, a workplace accident could have been caused by faulty company equipment, not worker error. Because you now understand the limits of objective data, let’s turn to subjective performance measures, their limitations, and ways to keep this data fair and free from bias. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    Subjective Performance Measures


    The allure of objective performance measures has to do with their ability to provide biasfree information on all workers across a specific job. Of course, we now know that objective data can still be misleading. Further, most jobs require much more than simply looking at sales or production numbers, because most jobs are composed of a complex web of tasks, not all of which can be measured objectively. A teacher’s performance must be made up of more than his or her students’ test scores, just as a police officer cannot be evaluated solely on the number of arrests he or she makes each month. To address these issues, I/O psychologists created subjective performance measures, which rely on human judgment and are thus exposed to some degree of subjectivity. To reduce bias, which is always a factor in subjective measurements, evaluators must base their ratings on observations of worker behaviors that are critical for successful job performance. Further, these behaviors must be identified through an accurate job analysis.


    Interestingly, research shows only a small correlation between objective and subjective performance measures, which suggests that they measure different aspects of worker performance (Bommer, Johnson, Rich, Podsakoff, & McKenzie, 1995). Thus, the two sets of measures are complementary and should be utilized in conjunction whenever possible.


    Organizations use many types of subjective performance measures, ranging from manager-composed performance narratives to numerically oriented rating scales. Each method differs in complexity as well as the amount of time required to create and implement it. The next section provides a brief review of some common subjective performance measures.


    Written Narratives


    Photo of a businessman writing with a pen.

    Reference letters are one type of written narrative used by managers to highlight an employee’s performance over a certain period of time. Written narratives can also be used for performance evaluation, highlighting the worker’s strengths and weaknesses. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    With the written narrative, one of the easiest performance measures to develop, the manager writes a paragraph or two summarizing an employee’s performance over a certain length of time. An example of a written narrative is a reference letter written by a supervisor for an intern at the end of an internship. When used for performance measurement, managers often share specific examples about the worker’s strengths and weaknesses, which the worker can then use to help improve his or her performance during the next appraisal cycle.


    Although written narratives are quick and easy, they have a number of drawbacks. First, every manager will set different evaluation standards, making it impossible to compare workers with different managers. As a result, the written narrative should not be used to make decisions about compensation, promotions, or layoffs. Second, managers vary in their level of written communication skills. Some may use ambiguous, incomplete, or misleading language, which can mean that the employee could misinterpret or not understand the manager’s feedback. Finally, managers are often reluctant to address poor performance in a straightforward manner and sometimes deliberately write the narrative to cast a positive light on negative behavior.


    The drawbacks of the written narrative have prompted I/O psychologists to develop a number of techniques both to improve the objectivity of subjective performance measures and to reduce managerial biases.


    Rank Ordering


    Cartoon of a man balancing on top of a chair which is placed on top of a desk. There are three judges seated at another desk holding up sings with the number “5” on each to judge his balancing act. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    Rank ordering requires no forms or instruments and is the easiest way to evaluate workers. Managers simply rank their employees from best to worst. Some managers have the tendency to evaluate employees similarly. Rank ordering provides muchneeded differentiation, even though the small differences between median employees still make ranking employees a challenge for managers. Rankings also do not provide workers with performance feedback, which means they are not useful as tools for self-improvement or training guidance. Because of their limitations, rankings should be used only during periods of downsizing, reorganization, or any other situation in which understanding a worker’s relative standing to other workers would be valuable.


    Paired Comparison


    As with rank ordering, the paired comparison technique requires the manager to evaluate a worker’s performance in comparison to the other workers on the team. In a systematic fashion, the manager compares one pair of workers at a time and then judges which of the two demonstrates superior performance. After comparing all the workers in all possible pairings, the manager then creates a rank ordering based on the number of times each worker is the better performer of a pair. For example, using the formula (N(N − 1)/2)N to determine the number of discrete pairings in a group, a manager with 10 employees would need to make 45 paired comparisons. A manager with a team of 20 employees would need to make 190 comparisons. As you can see, the number of pairs goes up quite quickly as the size of the team increases. For this reason, paired comparisons are advantageous only for smaller groups.


    Like general rank orderings, paired comparisons do not provide performance feedback. However, they are generally simpler to use because managers need only compare one employee pair at a time instead of the entire work team. Organizational leaders should keep in mind that rankings are not standard across the entire workplace. The lowest ranked member of a high-performing team might, for example, actually perform better than the highest-ranked member of a poorly performing team. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    Forced Distribution


    When an organization needs to evaluate a large number of employees, forced distribution is a viable option. With this technique, managers place employees into categories based on pre-established proportions. A typical performance distribution uses the following performance categories and proportions:


    Superior 10%

    Above average 20%

    Average 40%

    Below average 20%

    Poor 10%


    Using this distribution for a team of 100 workers, a manager would identify the top 10 employees (10%) and the bottom 10 employees (10%) and place them in the superior and poor categories, respectively. From the remaining 80 workers, the manager would then select the next 20 highest performers (20%) for the above-average category and the next 20 lowest performers (20%) for the below-average category. The final 40 workers (40% of the original 100) would fall into the average category. The lowest performance group would then be reprimanded, put on probation, or terminated. This approach is most commonly associated with Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. GE eliminated the lowest 10% of performers every year using this method.


    Obviously, one of the major drawbacks of forced distribution is that it assumes that worker performance follows a normal distribution (some high performers, some low, most somewhere in the middle). This method makes no concessions for teams filled with superior performers or, conversely, teams fraught with poor performers. Further, it makes no distinctions among workers in a category; all average workers, for example, are simply considered average. Finally, as with rank ordering and paired comparisons, forced distribution can add artificial luster to “superior” members of poor-performing teams, or unfairly tarnish “poor” members of a high-performing team.


    Graphic Rating Scale


    Graphic rating scales are the most commonly used method for rating worker performance. Managers observe specific employee behaviors or job duties along a number of predetermined performance dimensions, such as quality of work, teamwork, initiative, leadership ability, and judgment. Then, the manager rates the quality of performance for each dimension on a scale ranging from high to low performance. Looking at Figure 4.1, you can see that this employee received a below-average rating on teamwork. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    Figure 4.1: General graphic rating scale



    Each point on a graphic rating scale, called an anchor, is defined along the continuum. Anchors can vary in number, description, and depth of detail and can be stated in numbers, words, longer phrases, or a combination of these forms. Typically, the manager rates workers’ performance for each anchor using the five-point rating scale, although sevenor even nine-point scales are not uncommon.


    Graphic rating scales are versatile, inexpensive, and quickly made. However, in order for the manager to make clear, accurate distinctions in worker performance across different dimensions, care must be taken to create specific and unambiguous anchor descriptions. For example, in Figure 4.2, scale A uses only qualitative anchors and requires the rater to place a check mark at the point that represents the worker’s current performance level. This is a poorly designed rating scale because the rating anchors are left undefined. Similarly, scales B, C, and D include both verbal and numerical anchors, but ratings rely solely on manager judgment. Of course, this can problematic, because one manager might judge his or her employees more or less stringently than another. Standard measures allow for clear comparisons across workers, even if they have different managers.


    Figure 4.2: Examples of different graphic rating scales



    Some organizations ask managers to provide written examples that support their ratings of employees for each performance dimension and/or for their overall level of performance. By combining both their rating scores and written feedback, employees learn both how their performance compares to the company’s expectations and what their current strengths and weaknesses are. This allows the company to set goals or devise training strategies and the employee to seek self-improvement or educational resources to improve his or her performance. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology

    Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale


    First proposed by Smith and Kendall in 1963, the behaviorally anchored rating scale, also called BARS, attempts to evaluate workers’ performance of very specific behaviors critical for job success. These behaviors are established using the critical-incidents job analysis technique discussed in chapter 2.


    Developing a BARS can be a long and difficult process. To begin, a group of supervisors familiar with the job identifies both the performance dimensions (quality of work, teamwork, initiative, etc.) that should be measured and observe critical incidents that exemplify both effective and ineffective job performance. Another group of subject matter experts transforms the list of critical incidents into behavioral statements that describe different levels of performance. A final group evaluates the behavioral statements and assigns a numerical value scale to each. See Figure 4.3 for an example.


    Figure 4.3: Example of a behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS)



    One positive feature of the BARS approach is that the behaviorally defined anchors are very explicit as to what performance criteria are being measured. This makes it much easier for managers to distinguish between high and low performers. Additionally, because the rating scale is standardized, managers can compare BARS performance ratings across individuals and teams. Further, workers perceive BARS to have high face validity, which reduces negative reactions to low ratings.


    Despite the advantages, the significant time investment needed to develop BARS means that most organizations do not employ this technique. Additionally, this method’s overall rating quality is still dependent upon each manager’s observational skills (or lack thereof). Finally, research shows that the BARS is no more valid or reliable than any other rating method, nor is it more successful at decreasing rater error (Landy & Farr, 1980). Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology


    Behavioral Observation Scale


    The behavioral observation scale (BOS) is similar to BARS in that both use critical incidents to identify worker behaviors observed on the job. The biggest difference between BOS and BARS is the rating format. Instead of quality, BOS rates the frequency with which a worker is observed to perform a critical job behavior (see Figure 4.4 for an example). Frequency is typically measured on a five-point rating scale, comprising numerical (0–10% of the time, 11–20% of the time, etc.) or verbal assignments (sometimes, always, never, etc.) or a combination. The ratings are aggregated across all behavioral statements to establish a total score. Some researchers have tried to determine which method, BARS or BOS, is superior, but the research has been mixed and inconclusive.


    Figure 4.4: Example of a behavioral observation scale (BOS) for a bank teller




    4.3 Sources of Performance Appraisal


    Concepts in Motion:

    How Can Business Performance Be Evaluated?

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    The goal of performance appraisal is to accurately measure employees’ performance. To do so, raters must directly observe an employee’s actions and behaviors. In many cases, managers cannot directly observe their employees often. A police chief, for example, cannot accompany all of his or her officers as they perform their daily patrols, nor can a school principal sit in classrooms all day long. Who, then, should evaluate such workers? For many jobs, input from a variety of sources (for a police officer, his or her partner or members of the community; for a professor, students or fellow faculty members) helps to create a more accurate, well-rounded performance appraisal. The following section describes the most common sources of input. Performance Appraisals and Positive Psychology

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