Performance without Appraisal

re: Managing with Trust post from Coding Horror

This interesting post includes the quote:

It seems cheap to dispatch [performance reviews] without suggesting some alternative.”

Dr. Deming would mention Peter Scholtes thoughts on why performance appraisals were bad management when asked about his belief that performance appraisals should be eliminated. In the short article Performance Without Appraisal: What to do Instead of Performance Appraisals, Peter wrote:

Dr. Deming said of Performance Appraisals, “Stop doing them and things will get better.” He was correct. Many organizations, however, wonder what to do instead.

For those that do require “some alternative” Peter included some good ideas in The Leader’s Handbook(see chapter 9 “Performance without Appraisal pages 293 to 368). This chapter has excellent material for any manager. In the interest of full disclosure I not only think Peter’s ideas are great I consider him a friend and host his web site (he is retired).

Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead by Tom Coens, Mary Jenkins (forward by Peter Block), 2000, is another excellent source of “what to do instead.”

I think the Managing with Trust post has some good ideas but I don’t agree with everything. “In order to manage a project, you have to objectively measure what your teammates are doing.” I don’t agree with this quote. I agree you must manage a project and “that trusting your team is not a substitute for managing them.” However a manager must manage many unmeasurable factors. The stuff that can be measured is the easy part. The largest part of the job is managing the things that are unmeasurable.

Deming explores the idea of rating people on page 109 of Out of the Crisis and states “fair rating is impossible.” He goes on to explore what is commonly known as the “red bead experiment” where he shows an example of how easy it is to assign numbers to people to aid in managing. But the experiment actually shows how easy it is to be distracted by numbers instead of actually managing. It is easier to make decisions based just on the numbers you have than to take on the challenging task of managing. And to help this process along it is easier to reduce employees to simple numbers (ratings or rankings) than to deal with the complexity and interdependence that actually exists.

The Managing with Trust post also mentions Tom Demarco. I am in the midst of reading the second edition of Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom Demarco, Timothy Lister and it is an excellent book.

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