Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




More Performance Appraisals



Does anybody know of a large company that has followed the advice of Deming, Kohn, and Spolsky to abolish performance appraisals?

just curious.

Matt H.
Monday, June 09, 2003

You don't understand large companies.

Performance appraisals are necessary for the HR Dept to justify it's existance. Without the appraisal system, there would be no documented method of measuring performance. The documentation paper trail is key later on when they may want to separate the good, the bad and the ugly. Managers cannot be trusted to rate employees objectively and employees cannot be trusted to work well without a codified set of performance criteria.

Without performance appraisals it wouldn't be possible to reward some and punish others. It wouldn't be possible to determine who to lay off and who to give bonuses.

Unless, of course, you trusted both your managers to be fair and your employees to do their jobs properly. Whoa, radical thought, that would never work.

old_timer
Monday, June 09, 2003

Where does Joel say to abolish performance appraisals, I only recall him saying not to tie performance appraisals to bonuses or other monetary incentives.

Gerald

Gerald Nunn
Monday, June 09, 2003

A place I worked abolished them for a while for that very reason.  This place is pretty large - 10,000 employees worldwide, one main site in the US with about 6000 employees (I think...)

The unintended result was that some managers never spoke to their employees again. These employees had no idea whether they were doing a good job, and they often had trouble sticking to the organizations goals in their work. Why? because nobody told them they were getting off track.

Before dropping the reviews, the process was somewhat stiff and artificial, including forms to fill out. But at least it forced managers to talk to their employees once a year!

So, I think reviews are generally good because it forces the dialog to happen. Too many managers are too busy or too lazy or too shy/introverted to do this on their own.

Lauren B.
Monday, June 09, 2003

"The unintended result was that some managers never spoke to their employees again. These employees had no idea whether they were doing a good job, and they often had trouble sticking to the organizations goals in their work."

I disagree with your conclusion that reviews are good.

I'll argue that very few (if any) of the employees know whether they're doing good work. There's no reason to believe that the reviews are 100% honest and/or accurate. You cannot solve bad management (i.e., failure to communicate) with a review process. Just because you waste a few hours a year on a piece of paper doesn't mean you're now magically communicating.

Fire those incompetent managers!

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, June 09, 2003

Joel wrote:

"Most software managers have no choice but to go along with performance review systems that are already in place. If you're in this position, the only way to prevent teamicide is to simply give everyone on your team a gushing review. But if you do have any choice in the matter, I'd recommend that you run fleeing from any kind of performance review, incentive bonus, or stupid corporate employee-of-the-month program"

Matt H.
Monday, June 09, 2003

Performance reviews that actually do just that, review your performance over the past year, going over the good, the bad and the ugly are useful (presuming the manager is halfway in touch with the employee).  Constructive criticism is always good.

Using the reviews as the sole base of salary determination is dead wrong though. When I worked at MegaCorp. one supervisor told me, "Mark, I would have ranked you much higher on the review but the budget's been cut, and I have to make the review fit the salary."

Mark Newman
Monday, June 09, 2003

I remember working at one place where there was supposed to be an appraisal at 6 months, then every year. These dates rolled by and no appraisal -- "We're just too busy right now and I need you to come in on Sunday as well as Saturday again this weekend."

Eventually I got the appraisal and a small raise that was actually an insult. I moved on and more than doubled my salary in one move.

If the appraisal was earlier, I would have moved on earlier.

I think appraisals are critical. I expect to hear I am doing great and get a fat raise. Or if not, a coherent explanation of what went wrong and what we can do to make it better.

Without reviews, you just drag on for years with no feedback at all. Screw that I say.

anon
Monday, June 09, 2003

I've never understood Joel's and others (Deming, et al cited) disdain for performance reviews.  At the same time, I like the opening to "How do You Compensate Programmers?" - all the listings of salary grades and expectations.
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000040.html
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000038.html
It goes on to list incentives: salary, bonus, options, ...

OK, so point blank: isn't rating your engineers against salary grades exactly what a performance review is?  I don't see how you get around it.  Call it what you want, you're discriminating based on ability and ongoing growth of the individual to determine benefits (bribes).  Whatever...

Nat Ersoz
Monday, June 09, 2003

Without reviews, you just drag on for years with no feedback at all.

If this is the case, your company is screwed up and reviews won't help.

You should be getting constant feedback - a lot more often than every 6 months.

Then again, lots of companies (lots and lots and lots) are screwed up ... :-)

Matt H.
Monday, June 09, 2003

I think performance appraisals are a symptom, not the cause of good management.
This reminds me of the recent thread about measuring the quality of code. There are lots of rules out there for good code, i.e. don't pass more then 7 parameters to a function, but no one developed that rule and proved that if you use it you will have good code. Projects were evaluated, and it was found that the projects that finished on-time, with low bug counts, etc. often had similarities in the code. So while good programmers seem to follow the rules, just following the rules blindly doesn't automatically make you a good programmer. Similarly, good management knows it's important to communicate with other workers. One way they may do this is with performance reviews, but just having performance reviews doesn't mean you have good management. It's like the Cargo Cult phenomenon in Pacific Islands after WWII. Just because you build a runway doesn't mean planes are gonna start landing and bringing you supplies.

Bill
Monday, June 09, 2003

So...  You just toss a few hundred thousand bucks on floor of the lobby, invite your development group in say "Here's our budget for this years' wages.  Divide it up.  Y'all been great this year,"  Fun stuff.

Nat Ersoz
Monday, June 09, 2003

Nat - or you do effectively the same thing, except you cover it with a patina of respectibility by calling it "performance reviews"

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 09, 2003

What you're saying is that working as a full time employee is a scam, period.  That, I can reconcile and accept.  Which leaves working as a contractor as the only viable option.  I can live with that - no problem.

Nat Ersoz
Monday, June 09, 2003

I know of no large company that's abandoned performance appraisals.  All the small companies that I've worked for had no standard performance appraisals; all the large ones did.

I prefer having performance appraisals.  They can be abused, yes.  But I've seen them used well.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, June 09, 2003

Performance reviews can work well (that is, indeed, what every company claims) --but-- in general they are a bad tool easily misused.

Managers should regularly interact with their team, and the best managers I've worked for never needed the review to know how everyone was doing. They could have made a salary recommendation without a "review session".

There are many people out there who shouldn't be managers, and is a piece of sticky tape to cover up the cracks. Metrics have their place, but the best I hope for from a performance review is that I come out unscathed. The damage they can do can be irreversible and I've seen it many a time.

Joel Goodwin
Monday, June 09, 2003

It seems to me that most *traditional* performance appraisals are directly related to perception:
-How hard have I seen you working?
-What good results of yours have been called to my attention?
-What have you screwed up that's been brought to my attention?

Note that all these criteria are very, very easily gamed, esp. if the manager allows themselves to be overtasked so they're not actually managing. For example, the person who pulls three 80-hour weeks to finish just a week late may get a higher rating (for being a "team player") than the programmer whose work habits allows him to quietly complete his project on time.

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 09, 2003

Philo - sounds like a situation you were just in, eh?

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, June 09, 2003

Where do you think I got my inspiration? [grin]

I actually used this type of thing to explain "work smarter, not harder" to my wife this evening.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

And how it can lead to getting you fired?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Yeah, that's what she said, too. :-P

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

No human being has the right to judge any other human being, ever.

R C
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

RC,

But at the same time we have to, because people can't always be trusted to do the right thing.

jbr
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

"No human being has the right to judge any other human being, ever. "

Wow. now thats quite a statement.

moses whitecotton
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I disagree with Philo's statement that traditional performance appraisals are related to perception.  In my experience, appraisals are meant to allow the person be appraised to highlight victories that the boss may not be aware of, or may have forgotten about.

In my experience, performance appraisals are used as a summary of a developer's accomplishments (and trip-ups) over the past year, and that's the spirit I've seen them used.  I see perversions as just that, perversions, that don't reflect on what performance appraisals are intended for in a mature world.

I also disagree with Joel Goodwin that performance appraisals are a "bad tool."  I think they're a tool that can be abused easily.

Note that performance appraisals should not replace team interaction; they're just a reminder of what's happened over the past year.  Look at it this way:  You probably know what's going on in your best friend's life pretty well.  Imagine, though, if you came across a one-page summary of everything that happened to your best friend in the past year.  Mightn't that provide a refreshing view of your friend's accomplishments and trials in the past year?

In other words, even if a manager is close to his or her team, that manager can still lack a long-term view of the team members' progress, goals, etc.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

"No human being has the right to judge any other human being, ever."

BINGO! There's a key problem, right there: The inability to take any form of criticism as something other than a personal failure or insult (or the inability to form such a criticism), as well as the inability to sepperate the actions of a person from that person's core identity and feelings (or one's own).

Everyone has the inherant right to analyze and judge a trade, in whatever way they see fit. They further have a right to reject any trade they like, especially bad ones. And, to connect it all together: employment is a constant trade. Every paycheck is a trade, and each agent has the full right to consider whether or not they wish to continue to engage in the same trade in the future.

Plutarck
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

As one of my bosses told me :
Evry two weeks we are even.

moses whitecotton
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

moses, could you clarify the above comment?  It makes no sense to me.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

> Ev[e]ry two weeks we are even.

But I need more than that. I need to know that we can make the trade again next week, on similar terms. How else can one take on a mortgage or make other long-term monetary commitments without having some confidence that the exchange you allude to is repeatable and dependable?

I know, one can supposedly always find another job, but witness the current unemployment rate before resting on that fallback plan.

Steven E. Harris
Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Brent, I agree that the concept of an appraisal is fine in theory, but its a bad tool because its so easily misused. They *tend* to be okay if you're firing on all cylinders and you're doing well, but they have a tendency to highlight what's wrong rather than what's right. And that doesn't even begin to take into account if there are some external factors like politics, budget restrictions, etc. that can come into play.

I have to agree with Deming on this one. Plus, "First Break All The Rules" from Gallup is also quite interesting, although does labour over the point somewhat.

Joel Goodwin
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"How else can one take on a mortgage or make other long-term monetary commitments without having some confidence that the exchange you allude to is repeatable and dependable?"

Uh, hate to break it to you, but that kind of garuntee doesn't really exist, at least in the U.S.  Maybe if you're in a union or you're a professional athlete or entertainer that can get a garunteed contract, it's different.  But for the rest of us, that uncertainty is just life.

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

> that kind of garuntee doesn't really exist,
> at least in the U.S.

If my employer was to consider, "Is this employee going to show up tomorrow, even though there's no law forcing him to do so?" the answer is probably a 99% likelihood. Similarly, when I consider, "Am I going to still have this job tomorrow, even though no law entitles me to keep it?" the answer is around a 95% likelihood. Those answers don't change every time I get a paycheck. It is those paired, mostly unchanging likelihoods that one must depend on.

I agree that resignations and layoffs can come with absolutely no warning, but those events come with far less frequency than a semi-monthly paycheck.

Steven E. Harris
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

> Those answers don't change every time I get a paycheck. It is those paired, mostly unchanging likelihoods that one must depend on. <

Yes but if Bob Barker showed you 3 possible career paths...

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

> Yes but if Bob Barker showed you
> 3 possible career paths...

Sorry, I don't get it. It's probably a "Price Is Right" reference, right? I need you to elaborate.

Steven E. Harris
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I know this may sound somewhat arrogant, but I consider myself a good supervisor (manager) and my staff seem to think the same.  I give annual Performance Appraisals only because my organization reguires it for some false sense of acccountability.  However, these appraisals go well, my staff are grateful, and HR is appeased.  And yet, it it were my choice I wouldn't do them.

Why you ask?  Because I have not been able myself conclude or to find anyone else who can really tell me the benefits of such appraisals in terms of the bottom line.  At the same time they are costly, requiring expensive HR burearcracy to back them up and wasting employees, managers, and administrators time.

Why do mine go well?  Because I supervise professional staff that are very self-motivated.  I'm in touch with them weekly by phone and in person even though my region covers 12 counties.  I want to know their concerns, problems, successes, failures, etc. and I want to do everything I can to support them and keep the garbage out of their lives.  I provide incentives as I can to motivation, but recognize each as an individual with different ways of getting the job done successfully and with different needs and wants.  So, by the time annual appraisals come around, there's nothing new.  We know what's been accomplished, what problems have been solved and not solved, and we know where we're headed next year.  So. the PA is just a waste of time and paper.  What I really need from Administration is a true vision of where they want this organization to be in 5 to 25 years so I can help my staff know how they will assist getting us there.  I don't need someone looking over my shoulder through various bureaucratic procedures like perfromance appraisals.

I suggest reading the Gallup series on excellent management to see why PA's, training, and other HR demogogy is so useless to the bottom line and so outdated for modern business success.

Edward Brown
Friday, July 09, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home