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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2005

Автор: Смит Б.

Introduction

There are many important aspects to running a successful business, including finding the right product, location, customer base and raw materials, just to name a few. Business leaders today often find themselves facing not only local competitors, but global competitors as well. In the midst of a myriad of challenges, one aspect of business management that tends to be overlooked is Personnel Management, or how to manage the manpower needed to run a business.

In 1983, when I graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Chemical Engineering, I went to work for The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC). TDCC is the largest chemical company in the world with locations in 55 countries and over 46,000 employees. I found myself well equipped to handle the technical challenges of my new job. However, as my job grew and I became a supervisor, I realized that my university degree did not adequately prepare me for the challenges of dealing with personnel issues. Fortunately, TDCC had an excellent training program for supervisors that helped equip me for the task!

After working at TDCC for 16 years, I moved to Kazakhstan and began teaching management classes at the Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU) in Oskemen. I have taught Personnel Management at KAFU for the past five years and value the opportunity to teach students some fundamental principles that I wish I had learned before entering the marketplace. One of the requirements for that class is that students must take the elements they have learned about Personnel Management, apply them to a local business in Kazakhstan and write a course paper about their findings. Through reading those course papers and talking with graduates who are now working out in the market place, I have come to realize that companies in Kazakhstan, like many companies around the world, struggle with some aspects of personnel management. In particular, many companies do not have a standard method of conducting and documenting performance appraisals. I believe that a good performance appraisal system can significantly contribute to the success of any organization or business. Therefore, I would like to share my thoughts and recommendations about the performance appraisal process based upon my own personal experience.

The Performance Appraisal Process

Many people think of a performance appraisal as simply an evaluation of an employee’s performance. However, a successful performance appraisal process is much more than that. The goal of the performance appraisal process should be “A high level of performance by all employees.” Therefore, the performance appraisal process should not only evaluate employee performance, but it should also work on improving employee performance. With that in mind, the performance appraisal process should include four important steps as outlined below:

1. Set Standards for Employee Performance

2. Gather Information About Employee Performance

3. Evaluate the Employee

4. Communicate the Evaluation to the Employee

1. Set Standards for Employee Performance

In order for employees to have a high level of performance, they must first have a very clear idea of what the expectations are. The foundational expectations for employee performance may be found in each employee’s job description. The job description should include a list of the duties and responsibilities for the job. In addition, the employee will likely have some specific goals to meet during a specified performance period, typically one year. The employee and his/her supervisor must agree on those goals at the beginning of the performance period. This is commonly done through an annual goal setting session where the employee and supervisor meet together to discuss and define the employee’s goals for the upcoming year. As the goals are developed, it is helpful to remember the “S.M.A.R.T.” guideline, which states that the goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Trackable. If these guidelines are followed, it is likely that both the employee and supervisor will clearly understand what the goals are and whether or not they are being achieved as the year progresses. Like the job description, these goals should be documented and both the employee and the supervisor should keep a copy for reference purposes.

2. Gather Information About Employee Performance

One of the most important parts of gathering information about employee performance is to make sure that the data reflects the entire performance period. If a supervisor waits until the end of the year to begin collecting performance data, it is more likely that the information will only reflect the last part of the year. While the thought of collecting data throughout the year may sound a bit daunting at first, there are some things that can be done to make the process rather quick and easy.

First of all, I recommend that supervisors keep a personnel folder for each employee. While this can be an electronic folder, I found it easier to keep a paper folder because I could easily file handwritten notes without having to type them into the computer. A copy of the employee’s job description and annual goals should be placed in the folder. In addition, I recommend that employees submit “monthly highlights” to their supervisor each month. The highlights should briefly describe what was accomplished during the month, including any steps toward achieving annual goals. The supervisor can easily place the monthly highlights in the personnel folder. In addition, records of any disciplinary measures taken, awards received or other performance-related documents may be stored in the folder.

Secondly, I recommend a quarterly goal update session between the employee and their supervisor. This session does not need to be long and it does not require much preparation. I recommend that the supervisor print out a copy of the employee’s goals and then make hand written notes on the pages concerning progress, problems, changes, etc. The past three months of monthly highlights will be very helpful for this session, because they provide a ready record of what has taken place during the past quarter. When handled in this fashion, the employee’s annual goal sheet becomes a “living document”, changing as circumstances and company needs and priorities change.

At the end of the year, when the time comes to do the annual performance appraisal, the supervisor will have most of the data he/she needs to do the evaluation already in the personnel folder. Depending upon the nature of the job, it may also be appropriate to do a survey regarding employee performance in order to gain additional insight into employee performance. There are a wide variety of surveys available on the market and they include everything from customer surveys to peer feedback surveys. While surveys can be helpful, I would caution supervisors to use them with care. My personal experience would suggest that surveys are best used as “double-check” for the supervisor, just to make certain that they have not missed a significant issue.

3. Evaluate the Employee

It is important at this point to remember that the goal of the performance appraisal process is to improve employee performance. Therefore, during the evaluation process, the supervisor needs to develop a short list of recommendations for the employee. While it may be tempting at times to make a long list of recommendations, it is best to keep the list to a “critical few” so that the employee will focus on the most important issues. The evaluation needs to emphasize the employees strengths (what they are doing well) as well as improvement needs that they may have. Many companies have found using a performance appraisal form to be very helpful.

There are a wide variety of performance appraisal forms available on the market today. I highly recommend that companies and businesses use a standardized form within their organization as much as possible. Of course, it may be that several different forms are needed for different job categories. For example, the performance appraisal form for a truck driver will likely look very different than the appraisal form for a department supervisor. However, standardization allows supervisors and employees to become more familiar with the forms, which means they will likely be more comfortable with the performance appraisal process overall. Regardless of what type of form is used, it is vital that both employees and supervisors are trained on the use of the forms so that they will be properly used and understood.

Most performance appraisal forms include a list of attributes, such as “Quantity of Work”, “Job Knowledge”, “Initiative”, “Teamwork”, etc., along with a description of what each attribute entails. For example, the form might describe “initiative” as “Earnestness in seeking increased responsibilities. Self-starting, unafraid to proceed alone.” The format used to evaluate these different attributes can vary greatly from one form to another. Some performance appraisal forms, such as the “Rating Scale Method” have a checklist format, where the supervisor checks the most appropriate response from a list of descriptions that are provided, or they may be asked to rank the employee’s performance on a scale from “unsatisfactory” to “outstanding”. Other methods, such as the “Essay Method”, provide the supervisor with a blank space where he/she should write out in essay form how the employee has performed according to each attribute. These are just two of many different methods of performance evaluation.

I had the opportunity to use several different performance appraisal forms during my career at TDCC. As other supervisors have also concluded, I found that the checklist format did not provide enough detailed information for the employee to truly understand performance issues. The essay format, on the other hand, is highly dependant upon the writing skills of the supervisor. The last form that we used at TDCC proved to be the most useful for me personally and was also best received by the employees who worked for me. The form included three sections.

The first section was basically a blank page where the employee’s goals were listed, along with specific data explaining the extent to which the goals were achieved. In essence, the first page addressed “what” the employee accomplished. The second page contained a list of attributes, along with a detailed description of what behaviors exemplify that attribute. Next to that explanation was a blank box where the supervisor wrote in brief, but specific comments about the employee’s performance in relation to each attribute. The supervisor also wrote specific recommendations for improvement in that box. This second page addressed “how” the employee accomplished his/her goals.

The third page included three sections. In the first section, the supervisor wrote an overall summary of the employee’s performance, including specific recommendations for improvement. In effect, this was the “bottom line” of the performance evaluation. The second section included a blank space where the employee could write comments, if they chose to do so. I was surprised by how many of the employees who worked for me took advantage of this opportunity and used this space to summarize their own thoughts about their performance and their commitment to specific improvements in the year ahead. The third section was the signature section, where the employee and the supervisor signed and dated the performance appraisal form. There was also a place for “second level approval”, where the supervisor’s supervisor reviews and signs the form.

4. Communicate the Evaluation to the Employee

Once the evaluation is complete, it is time to share the results of the evaluation with the employee. It is important for the performance appraisal session to be totally separate from the goal setting session because the purpose of the two sessions is very different. The emphasis of the performance appraisal session is to improve performance. The emphasis of the goal setting session is to set goals for the year ahead. I recommend that the performance appraisal session be held first because it is likely that some ideas for goals will be generated during that session.

The performance appraisal session is a one-on-one meeting between the supervisor and the employee. As stated earlier, it is typically held once a year, often at the end of the year. There are several logistical issues that need to be addressed in order for the session to proceed smoothly. These may seem like minor details, but each one is important so that there will be no distractions from the main purpose of the meeting – to improve performance!

First of all, the meeting should be schedule in advance so that the employee has time to prepare his/her thoughts prior to the meeting. Secondly, the employee should be given a general schedule for what will take place during the meeting and should be given a blank copy of the appraisal form so that they can review it. If the employee has not already been trained on the appraisal form, that should take place prior to the meeting. Thirdly, the supervisor needs to be well prepared! The evaluation process should be completed well ahead of the performance appraisal meeting. Fourthly, the supervisor should schedule one hour of uninterrupted time for the meeting. Arrangements should be made so that the meeting takes place in a private location, such as an office and so that no phone calls or interruptions are allowed. My experience has been that most performance appraisals take less than an hour, but it is always a good idea to have a full hour set aside in case an unexpected issue arises and extra time is needed to clarify it with the employee.

During the session, the supervisor should work through the appraisal form with the employee. I like to start by reviewing the list of goals and accomplishments and then go through the rest of the form. I found that it was useful to keep a pen close by so that I could add additional information to the form, as needed. In this way, the appraisal form is treated as a “living document” until the final signatures are made. I also found that this added an extra air of credibility to the process, as it showed the employee that I was open to their opinions and suggestions. There were times when I found that I had missed an accomplishment that need to be added to the form. Sometimes I found that I needed to change a word or two in order to make the evaluation more clearly to the employee. Remember, the main goal is to improve performance, not to have a beautiful piece of paper!

During the performance appraisal session, it is important to concentrate on specific behaviors that need to change, rather than making suggestions or recommendations that involve changing character traits. For example, rather than telling a salesman “You need to stop being so short-tempered”, the supervisor needs to address the specific behavior by saying something like “You should not slam the door and leave during the middle of a meeting.” On a related note, it is also important to not use labels to describe the problem, but to instead specifically describe the behavioral issue. For example, if a supervisor tells and employee “You’re lazy.”, that label can mean a lot of different things and the employee will not necessarily know how his/her performance needs to change. However, if the supervisor says, “You produced only 60% as much product as the other people you work with” the employee has a much better idea of what the specific issue is.

In general, the supervisor should listen more than he/she speaks during the performance appraisal session. Some employees may feel nervous or anxious, so it is often helpful for the supervisor to use follow-up questions in order to draw out more information from the employee. It is also a good idea for the supervisor to repeat back to the employee what they think the employee said to them. This can help clarify the issues and solidify the impressions that the supervisor has of the employee. Finally, it is very important for the employee to “own” their performance. It is very common for employees to make excuses for poor performance and to play the role of “victim”. Sometimes it is tempting for the supervisor to take responsibility themselves for performance improvement by creating a list of action items for themselves. Beware of this! Each employee is responsible for his/her own behavior and that needs to be clear if there is truly going to be an improvement in performance.

The session should end with the employee and the supervisor signing the appraisal form. I recommend that the supervisor make a copy of the appraisal form and give it to the employee at this point. It will be a good reference tool for the employee as they seek to improve during the coming year.

Conclusion

Business leaders today have a wide variety of issues that they must deal with as they strive to make their organizations successful. They are often facing not only local competition, but global competition as well. In the midst of it all, sometimes leaders overlook the importance of personnel management. In order to have a successful organization, every part of that organization must work well. That can only happen if the employees who make up each part of the organization are performing at a high level. The better employees perform, the more successful the business will be. One important aspect of personnel management is having a good performance appraisal system. Through the use of a successful performance appraisal system, employee performance will improve and the organization itself will be more successful.

REFERENCE

Managing Human Resources, 8th edition, by Sherman, Bohlander, & Chruden, South-Western Publishing Co., Cincinatti, OH, 1988.



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №4 - 2005


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