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On the Management Side: Ready for that Appraisal?

For many managers, passing judgment on another human being is an awkward exercise at best, a breeding ground for rancor and hostility at worst.Yet performance appraisal represents one of the management's most important responsibilities for a number of reasons.First, it is an important form of communi-cation, one of those rare periods when both the manager and the employee can be prepared to talk about job performance.

For many managers, passing judgment on another human being is an awkward exercise at best, a breeding ground for rancor and hostility at worst.

Yet performance appraisal represents one of the management's most important responsibilities for a number of reasons.

First, it is an important form of communi-cation, one of those rare periods when both the manager and the employee can be prepared to talk about job performance. Everyone likes to know the answer to, "How am I doing?"

Second, it is the manager's best opportunity to focus on the individual and inform him of the value of his contributions to the team effort.

Third, by mutual consent it's a kind of psychological neutral ground on which a no-holds-barred discussion of how things are going on both sides may be conducted.

Finally, its focus may be broadened or narrowed at will to include career direction, aspirations, opportunities, and individual potential.

For all these reasons, an appraisal session ought to be approached with high seriousness and thorough preparation. If you think you can "wing" your way through it, you're probably heading for trouble or, at best, a less-than-effective session.

One way to prepare yourself is to answer some questions about the individual employee and yourself before meeting with him or her. For example:

  1. How well do I really know this person?
  2. Am I prepared to cite specific examples of strengths and weaknesses? Are they the best possible examples?
  3. How frank can I be with this person when discussing performance deficiencies?
  4. How well does this person accept criticism?
  5. Have previous appraisals with this individual resulted in better performance?
  6. Ho well does this person accept praise? Can he take a compliment without letting it turn his head?
  7. Does he understand where he fits into the department?
  8. Does he like to participate in setting his work goals? Or does he prefer that I set them?
  9. What kind of jobs has he been doing since our last appraisal meeting?
  10. Does the type of work he's been doing permit any latitude in goal setting? If so, how much?
  11. Are there any peculiarities about this person that would suggest a best time for an appraisal session (e.g., some people are most alert early in the morning, others in the afternoon).
  12. Is there anything about my attitude toward this employee that could bias my judgment for or against him?
  13. Have there been any major changes in this individual's personal life (e.g., marriage, divorce, illness, a death in the family) that may have affected his recent performance?
  14. How long has it been since we last sat down together for the purpose of appraisal?
  15. What is his attitude toward appraisals? Does he recognize them as tools that can be helpful to both management and himself, or is he cynical about their usefulness?

Are Emotions Preventing You From Delegating? Sometimes the manager who can accept on an intellectual level that he is not delegating as much as he should, cannot change his ways because the real problem is emotional.

Here are some of the more prevalent, but buried, reasons for failure to delegate. Check yourself out.

Fear of being "found out." This usually occurs in the case of a younger manager newly appointed to a responsible post over the heads of others. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of his new job, he considers himself inadequate to it. As a result, he finds himself excessively dependent on his people and yet feels that he must maintain a front not only to the outside world—namely, his peers—but to these specialists as well. He hesitates to be in the position of continually asking their advice, or of passing along work to them which he does not fully understand.

To compensate, he immerses himself more and more in details, seeking to master them to an extent that will make him independent of his subordinates. This is virtually an impossible task if he is to remain in proper touch with all the other phases of his operation

Obsession with perfection. This leads to setting impossible standards, resulting in doing a job, or having it done, over and over again or holding up final action for more and more information.

What's needed is some mental stretching to recognize the fact that usually what is called for is some degree of practical commercial acceptability rather than mathematical precision or laboratory exactness.

Lack of confidence in the ability of others. The question to ask yourself is whether this is based on a valid assessment of the situation, whether it reflects a reluctance to let others try their wings and develop, or whether it is in some other way ego-centered. Some egos are so fragile that managers surround themselves with lesser lights so they may shine more brightly by comparison. In this way they may actually create the condition they bemoan—the lack of anyone to whom they can safely delegate.

Reluctance to admit that someone else knows more. This may be the trouble where, as a result of some change—a promotion or a restructuring of a company, for example—a manager finds himself more and more dependent upon his own technical staff. In today's increasingly complex business environment, it's easy for a manager who is supposed to be thinking about the big picture to become the captive of his technical people.

The manager will set out with grim determination to learn everything possible in order to make himself the peer of his people. This can result in an erratic expenditure of effort that impairs effectiveness.

Fear of not getting credit. Again, the problem is fundamentally one of insecurity. The desire to get credit for all the significant work done by a department reflects a need on the part of the manager for constant reassurance as to his own importance. This particular form of pettiness is no respecter of levels; it is found in high-ranking executives as well as in recently created supervisors.

Fear of a subordinate's progress. This may be the case where the manager is relatively young and so is an able, highly ambitious subordinate. Result: a strong competitive situation—a stimulant to achievement by both parties, providing it doesn't reach the harmful stage of causing the manager to refrain from delegation and indulge in worries about his own security. From the company's viewpoint, this may be a desirable situation—a stimulant to achievement by both parties, providing it doesn't reach the harmful stage of causing the manager to refrain from delegation and indulge in worries about his own security.

Face facts. Is the other person really so much better than you? What do you have to fear from competition? Why not lean over backwards and give him (her) a chance to run with the ball? Instead of an enemy, make an ally. 

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