by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins
by Steve McIntosh, PhD
(from the January 2001 edition of HR Magazine)
The research is clear. The
outcome is consistent. We know with certainty that the most powerful
leadership tool for improving productivity and increasing employee
satisfaction is regular, frequent, balanced performance feedback.
Emerging data shows that feedback is a key driver for continuous
learning, creativity and ultimately customer satisfaction.
material is very well written. The authors style is
crisp and clear, making it unusually readable."
How then does something with such potential for
success create so much dissatisfaction, lowered morale and genuine
disruption in the workplace? Any of us who have been on the giving
or receiving end of performance appraisals sadly know the answers:
the transition from theory to application is disjointed and the
practices incorporated to facilitate and support feedback are flawed.
Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins
make yet another attempt to help us understand why things go wrong
in the performance appraisal process. They readily admit that Abolishing
Performance Appraisals is one of numbers of books slicing and dicing
the practice of performance appraisal. But there are a several things
that set this effort apart from similar pieces of work.
The material is very well written.
The authors style is crisp and clear, making it unusually readable.
Three discrete sections bring logic and order to an encumbered and
sometimes confounding management system by reviewing the traditional
causes of failure, examining the core reasons for conducting appraisals,
and describing the transition to alternatives.
From the beginning
we are warned that the objective of the book is not to provide solutions.
Rather, the goal is to reformulate our thinking and modify our assumptions
so that we are prepared to forge a new environment. In this work
culture, partnership is the cornerstone, supervisors have the latitude
to provide feedback in the form most appropriate to their individual
situations, and employees take full responsibility for themselves.
While it sounds Pollyannaish
at best and completely naove at worst, the authors attack the issues
with such energy and enthusiasm its difficult to dismiss their
approach out of hand.
Coens and Jenkins
say their research indicates that performance appraisals are conducted
for one or a combination of six reasons: improvement, coaching/guidance,
feedback/communication, compensation, staffing/development and termination/documentation.
Herein lies, they continue, the fundamental problem using one
process as the delivery vehicle for so many complex activities is
not only impractical, it is dysfunctional. And, they continue, no
amount of tinkering can solve the problem. As such, they dismiss
efforts at using 360s, performance management, MBO, etc, as futile,
because the only true solution is wholesale abandonment of performance
The chapters analyzing
the relationship of performance appraisals with the six functional
areas are especially well done. In fact, they are so compelling
and the authors so ardent at times that you want to say, OK, I
surrender. I promise never to use performance appraisals again.
And just to keep you interested, at the end of each chapter, the
authors cleverly conduct a comprehensive review of traditional assumptions
and layout alternative assumptions that amplify and clarify their
thinking and logic.
Section three sets out
a 14-step methodology for making the transition from traditional
performance appraisals to alternatives. This is the most disappointing
part of the book. Even though the sequence is nicely designed and
carefully constructed, there is no resolution. The authors justify
this lack of closure by saying that there is no existing model that
resolves the issues they have identified. They state that each individual
organization must find its own answer, and they warn this is a time,
effort and cost intensive process that cannot be shortcut. The combination
leaves the reader frustrated.
In their defense, the
authors do give ample warning about the endpoint. So if approached
with that knowledge, Abolishing Performance Appraisals positions
itself as a useful addition to the performance appraisal literature.
Dr. Steve McIntosh is president of Tartan Consulting and is a
founding partner of the Southern Leadership Institute, headquartered
in Bonita Springs, Florida.