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A hard look at performance reviews.

Whatever we call it--performance evaluation, performance appraisal, performance review, or performance management--we're talking about attempts to quantify the unquantifiable, namely human behavior. It is the human nature of the subject that precludes uniform measurement. Yet we're also talking about a qualitative control designed specifically to measure how well organizational goals are being met. Furthermore, sound management practice dictates that staff members have a right to know how well they're doing.

Most performance management tools are retrospective; that is, they consist of hindsight. Such approaches look at how well an individual performed in the last year, six months, or other specified time interval. Most lab managers and supervisors detest this task. They procrastinate, and when they finally face up to it, they don't do a very good job. What has brought us to this sorry state? What can we do about it?

* Formats and fallacies. Many organizations still rely on the single-page quality-and-quantity format. The word "quality" is followed by a few blank lines for the evaluator's assessment of the employee's past performance. Such words as "excellent," "good," and "satisfactory" typically abound.

Subjectivity renders this exercise essentially useless unless the descriptors are clearly defined. Unfortunately, excellence cannot be defined until we determine what is "average" or "satisfactory." The same holds true for the judgment "needs improvement." Without written standards spelling out what is considered "satisfactory" performance, a supervisor cannot begin to address the other performance categories.

Many of us believe we intuitively know what constitutes a good day's work. Should we apply the same standards to the student fresh out of training, or to the newly hired employee with several years' experience, or to a handicapped laboratorian? Suddenly what seems to be a simple task becomes a complex one.

One way out of this mess is to create behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS). This approach entails writing a competency statement for each aspect of the job. The detailed document covers the full range of performance possibilities from "outstanding" to "poor." The preparation is a chore and the paperwork is daunting, but the result is useful.

Then there's management by objectives (MBO). Critics charge that this strategy is useful only for middle and upper management. True, there's a "paper mill," and it takes up to three years to implement the program. But MBO also requires employees to set their own objectives in partnership with their supervisors. MBO's major attribute is its orientation toward the future in focusing on what staff members will do rather than on what they have done.

* Measures and standards. Performance standards are really a written set of management's expectations. The standards begin with a well-written job description. Then, when the onerous task of staff evaluations must be performed, the supervisor has the job description in hand and can objectively determine whether an employee is doing the job as described and to what degree. The trap lies in determining the degree of job performance.

Most authors and many practitioners subscribe to three performance levels: "above standard," "meets standard," and "below standard." These levels can be applied to a variety of job expectations, including attendance, ability to get along with others, technical expertise, and the specific demands of a particular position. Interpersonal skills are highly valued in a receptionist, for example, but less so in a research and development technologist. This is where management must do its job and set priorities.

* Pitfalls and remedies. Poor communication, the most common pitfall, entails failure to share management's expectations and to make sure these goals are clearly understood by the entire staff. Another way to put it is waiting six months or a year to deliver the good or the bad news.

Management messes up the process by failing to provide adequate training for its reviewers. Standardized systems do prevent lawsuits over firings, missed promotions, or even suspensions. There's a tendency to grade all staffers as a "three" on a five-point scale or as "satisfactory" on a three-factor scale. Check-the-box standardized forms lend themselves to this practice. The danger here is that employees rated "satisfactory" year after year could be passed over for promotion or even demoted.

Ideally, the immediate supervisor informally makes evaluations daily, weekly, and monthly. If the supervisor has no authority to grant tangible rewards--only to give punishments or across-the-board incentives--the process becomes ritualistic. The result is that mediocrity is rewarded.

The most meaningful system is for employees to do their own evaluations. Who knows better what their performance consists of, or should, or could? When this is done, the supervisor and employees can use their time more constructively and discuss any differences of opinion. If the manager remains focused on performance, he or she can avoid the typical traps.

Set aside time that cannot be interrupted except for emergencies. Have your phone calls held and devote yourself exclusively to this most important aspect of management: letting people know how they're doing.

Ask employees what you can do to make their jobs easier, better, and more meaningful. This step is probably the most neglected aspect of the appraisal process, yet their answers can make all the difference. Indeed, you may find that you are part of the problem when you should be part of the solution.

Since taking this action is the ultimate challenge of managing people, make sure you and your staff have been properly trained to do it. As the Buddha advises, maintain a "cool head and warm heart." Preventive maintenance contracts for people are far more important than those you routinely negotiate for all that exquisite, expensive laboratory equipment. Take care of your human resources, and you and your laboratory will thrive.

The author is professor and chairwoman, department of health services management, University of La Verne, La Verne, Calif.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:techniques in handling medical personnel's performance evaluation
Author:Day, Carmel Marti
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:On the move with Children's Hospital.
Next Article:Pulling the plug on an LIS project that failed.

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