Abolishing Performance Appraisals | Tom Coens

Summary of: Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead
By: Tom Coens


Are performance appraisals effective, or do they perpetuate myths, assumptions, and waste valuable resources? ‘Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead’ by Tom Coens challenges the notion that performance appraisals are necessary or beneficial. In place of traditional appraisals, the book proposes alternative strategies that focus on teamwork, coaching, feedback, and empowerment. This summary delves into the deep-seated issues surrounding performance appraisals and offers a blueprint for organizational improvement and employee empowerment in the modern corporate environment.

Rethinking Performance Appraisals

Are performance appraisals effective? This book excerpt challenges their usefulness and advocates for alternative approaches to evaluate employee performance. The author suggests that communication, feedback, and partnership with employees are more productive than appraisals. The prevailing mode of work has shifted to empowerment, collaboration, and teams, necessitating a new role for managers. They will no longer “manage” people but will help them manage themselves and the business. In this light, the author advises that managers excel in people skills and artful leadership rising from a shared sense of purpose and vision. Many widely held myths and false assumptions underlie the common management strategies associated with performance appraisals, and alternative, non-appraisal strategies can deliver the objectives of these functions. In conclusion, the author believes that the objectives of performance appraisals can be met through progressive approaches that emphasize teamwork, coaching, feedback, and empowerment.

The Changing Employee Model

Companies are shifting from a machine model to a new supportive work culture that empowers employees to take responsibility for themselves. With access to resources and training, employees can grow their skills and improve their performance in alignment with organizational needs. The old practice of individual performance appraisals is being replaced by a focus on outstanding organizational performance. To achieve organizational improvement, companies must improve the entire organization as a complex system. Managers are waking up to the drawbacks of control and mistrust in people systems and embracing a new, more supportive approach.

Beyond Appraisals: An Organizational Transformation

Organizations have relied on a traditional method of management, Management-by-Objective (MBO), to appraise employees’ performance. This method, based on quantitative targets, often failed to deliver expected results and became demotivating for the workforce. Moreover, organizations continued with performance appraisals because they didn’t have better alternatives, although they were aware of the negative effects of distrust and suppression associated with the appraisal system. However, organizations can seek improvement by focusing on broader aspects of performance and by creating a healthy work environment. Initiatives like personal development, coaching, and goal attainment, when combined with a systemic approach, can significantly contribute to organizational transformation and employee growth. Performance coaching aims at improving overall performance, enabling people to increase their work’s net value. It is high time organizations moved beyond appraisals and embraced newer, holistic approaches to performance management.

Reimagining Performance Appraisals

Leading experts admonish performance appraisals, calling it the “bloodletting” of modern management. Instead, they suggest managers create win-win agreements with employees based on trust and communication. The goal of feedback should be encouragement and improvement rather than criticism. W. Edwards Deming urged managers to have annual conversations without the pressure of feedback. Alternatives to performance appraisals include improving the organization’s system, fostering openness and trust, and valuing variation and diversity as pathways to innovation and improvement.

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