55 – Local government performance appraisal 2/4. Why do we do it?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                   480 words

line in sand

Well, often we don’t as previously discussed. Not all organisations complete them for every employee and in some organisations it is simply a compliance exercise. Even when you do have a performance review system, it may as easily not improve performance as the team at Utopia showed this with unerring insight. I suppose the relevant question is why do we think that we need performance appraisal?

I don’t think it is because we know that it works and helps to align effort and ensure accountability in delivering on organisational objectives. I think we do it because we are bound to do so by industrial agreements and because it creates the illusion of control. Looking like we are in control is as important in local government as it is in other public services. Without a performance planning and appraisal system there is no documented pathway to demonstrate that individuals are doing work that is in any way related to the goals set by the council or top management.

There is a level of management insecurity that needs a performance appraisal system. It reduces the risk that management will not be seen to be in control. For some managers it helps to manage the performance of employees and enables them to take performance management action. If there is someone in the team that they have their eye on, they make sure they have a performance plan to hold them accountable for delivering. In some ways, this reinforces some of the assumptions discussed in the previous post.

I mentioned industrial agreements earlier. I have worked for long enough to remember when there were no performance plans or PDP’s (performance development plans) or SDS’s (staff development schemes). They were introduced during award modernisation in the early 1990’s when pay structures were redesigned and employees became eligible for incremental annual salary increases. A mechanism was required to facilitate movement upwards through pay scales based on the performance of the employee. The system needed to have some objectivity and for the decision of the manager to be able to be challenged by the employee. I remember the trade unions wanting the performance plans. I suppose at the time it was a step forward from the days when employees were stuck on the pay scale that they started on unless their manager felt inclined to reclassify them and move them onto a higher pay scale.

These are valid reasons for a performance appraisal system but they are not good management reasons and they stem from distrust. Unions didn’t believe that managers would be able to fairly evaluate each employee’s performance without a system. Since that time, most councils have uncoupled incremental advancement from the performance appraisal system. Employees move through increments based on years of service.

The performance appraisal system is now seen as an alignment system for cascading objectives; a way of holding people accountable for what they have committed to do; and a control over behaviour, which must be in accordance with organisational values.