Report Cards and the Cirque du Performance Appraisal
Report Cards or progress reports are grades. Once you enter high school, grades become the key to your future especially if you are bound for college. Grades determine if you participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band, cheerleading etc. Grades are a critical component in college admissions and scholarship awards. So yes, grades are an important aspect of what happens in high school and beyond.
In my high school, we received report cards four times per year. On the report card, you received an achievement grade as well as an effort mark for each class from the teacher of that class. (Hold on to this fact for a challenge later) The grades were the normal grades that drove a GPA (4.0 = A; 3.5 = B+ etc.,) and the effort marks were (1 – You are just practically perfect; 2 – C’mon butt head, you can do better; 3 = You Suck). Now, I am not sure how this played out in all schools, but our report cards were handed to us in home room, and we had one week to bring them back in signed by a parent. We generally received them on a Thursday or Friday for reasons that, I believe to this day, were intended to ruin our weekend.
The fascinating part of this drama was that my parents focused more on the effort mark than the achievement grade. What is that all about? I have been a “bottom line” person for as long as I can remember. I never accepted the whine “it’s not whether you win or lose it is how you play the game”. Well, I call baloney on the majority of that idiom. Because, you have to play the game the right way, and you have to win. What is the point if you don’t win?
A little tangent there….back on track to grades and the importance of them. During every journey, you must periodically check your progress. Is the initial purpose of the journey still correct? Are you still on the right track? Are you on schedule? What adjustments need to be made going forward? Grades capture the snapshot in time of “How am I doing?” Grades enable you to measure yourself and your skill relative to everyone else. Grades fuel the fire for a competitive individual which is a good thing because the world is a competitive place. Unfortunately, grades are also utilized to stamp a label on an individual. We have all seen it and if we are honest with ourselves, have fallen into the same trap. Does this sound familiar??
• “Pam is a straight A student….she can go to any college she chooses…her future is a lock.”
• “Max is a solid C student…he is really very average. He obviously will not go college…his future is okay but nothing special.”
• “Homer is barely passing with just slightly above a D average. Good luck. He’s going to need it.”
We all understand grades and hopefully, we can stipulate that my rudimentary depiction of this complex system is acceptable. It is easy to see the conceptual similarities between the system of grades that we grew up with and the performance appraisal process that we utilize in the business environment. The annual performance evaluation has historically been perceived as an employee’s right and the organization’s responsibility to deliver. Each organization has a different process and utilizes different techniques. However, the basic exercise is extremely similar. There is a performance appraisal form that is completed by the supervisor as well as the employee in the event that a documented self-appraisal is part of the process.
The original creator of the basic performance evaluation form is not known. However, Human Resources historians have estimated that this form has been modified and copied more frequently than any other single document template in the past eighty-five years. It is incredible to note that given all the modifications the structural integrity has remained intact. The form has four fundamental evaluation sections:
• Performance against objectives
• Competency/skills assessment
• Job Knowledge
• Performance Rating
I have highlighted the performance rating because this is where business practice/organizational behavior bears the most striking resemblance to report cards and to the high school experience. Rating schemes vary but there are generally 3-5 tiers. Oftentimes the descriptive rating is converted to a number as outlined below:
2. Needs Improvement
3. Meets Expectations or Fully Qualified
4. Exceeds Expectations or Very Good
5. Consistently Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding
Just like the grades in high school, the performance rating is an identification label that impacts many things in the business environment. The performance rating that an individual receives in the performance-appraisal process is the prime element that generally determines the amount of the base salary merit increase amount or percentage the individual will receive. Oftentimes, it determines whether or not the individual can apply for another role in the organization. It is a key element in being considered for a promotion and generally, the top rated performers receive special perks in cash recognition and equity awards. In addition, the performance rating is a primary component in identifying individuals for headcount reductions. Just like grades, the performance rating is a label that defines the individual within the perceived value hierarchy of the organization.
• Shut down the Cirque du Performance Appraisal. It has been a nice run…but it is time for that template to retire. Instead of rating skills and competencies, evaluate and reward accomplishments and results!
• Stack Rank regularly. Know the relative value of your people assets.
• Conduct Quarterly Business Reviews with your team. How are we doing? Are we on the right Track? How did we do versus what we said we would do? Where are the gaps? Where do we need to adjust? What are we going to commit to for the upcoming quarter(s)?