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Keeping lies out of the performance appraisal.

In their book, How to Lie With Statistics, Huff and Geis note three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. They describe how people can use statistics to mislead others. Within the context of human resource management, we believe there are lies, damn lies and performance appraisals. Using these same ideas, one can show how performance appraisals can misrepresent reality (lie).

A lie is an untrue statement made with the intent to deceive. A misrepresentation is intentionally or unintentionally serving incorrect information. Therefore, a lie is always a misrepresentation while a misrepresentation is a lie only when incorrect information is intentionally provided. Both lies and misrepresentations have similar effects on the performance appraisal process. Both serve to deceive organizational members and detract from fair and accurate performance appraisal results.

Reasons for lies

There is considerable evidence that lies are a common feature of human social interaction. This is partly because there are many reasons for lies. Performance appraisal is not immune from lies. Some reasons for lying in the performance appraisal process are:

* Save labor costs when awarding merit

pay raises;

* Get even with employees;

* Avoid appraisee retribution;

* Keep good employees from promotion;

* Encourage employee to improve


* Build a disciplinary/discharge case

against an employee;

* Obey supervisor's orders;

* Keep from getting fired;

* Avoid making judgments; and

* Promote or transfer out poor employees.

The performance appraisal system

Ideally, job analysis and job descriptions should precede performance appraisals. Job-related tasks, duties and activities listed in job descriptions serve as aids to develop a performance appraisal instrument. Supervisors can evaluate subordinates on several scales. The average or total of these ratings becomes the final appraisal for the employee. Some organizations use this job related information to jointly set goals between the manager and subordinate. The mutually agreed upon goals are often the basis for periodic performance reviews. Formal performance appraisals are often followed by an appraisal meeting between the rater and the appraisee.

How to lie with performance appraisal

Lies can occur at any stage of the performance appraisal process. The job analysis can be faulty. The job descriptions can be inappropriately written. Errors can be committed during the observation and recording of information during the performance period. Evaluators can lie about performance during the formal written evaluation or during the subsequent appraisal meetings with the subordinate.

Ineffective job analysis

Performance appraisers can deceive the appraised by not conducting a job analysis or by having it poorly completed. Poor job analysis might help the appraiser justify creating performance appraisal instruments that have little to do with an employee's job.

Poor job analyses are accomplished in many ways. A company may provide a thick job analysis questionnaire one week before a major holiday and then ask employees to complete it before the holiday. People may receive no instruction in how to analyze jobs. Job incumbents may be given less than a page to list the major tasks in their jobs.

Poor job analyses also can occur because organizations often have untrained or poorly trained personnel perform the data collection and interpretation of job analysis. This commonly results in misrepresentations and errors.

Faulty job descriptions

After job analysis, a performance appraiser often uses the written summaries of jobs from the job descriptions. Performance appraisals can then be based on incomplete job descriptions. Lies with these job descriptions can occur when no one checks for accuracy. Important tasks that an employee mentions in a job analysis questionnaire can be left off the job description. Non-job-related tasks can be included that do not reflect important aspects of the job.

Poor performance appraisal instruments

A performance appraisal instrument might not be job related or based on job analysis. Also, a performance appraisal instrument might list only a few of the employee's tasks. Tasks that an employee excels in might be forgotten or ignored and tasks that an employee bungles might be emphasized. For example, interpersonal relations can be a very important aspect of performance. Yet, if it is not part of the appraisal form, its absence can result in deficient appraisals.

Different performance appraisal


Managers can change the performance appraisal questions and scoring rules. Both actions reduce the ability of appraisees to compare their present performance to their past performance. Appraisees would have to investigate the new performance appraisal system closely to check if they have been cheated. Also, if employees want to compare their performance appraisal ratings with others in the organization, the use of multiple performance appraisal forms might decrease the ability of ratees to compare their scores.

Poor observation and recording

A very common problem in many performance appraisals is the inability or unwillingness of managers to observe and record employee behaviors and performances throughout the performance period. Because managers do not have enough specific information related to performance, they might fabricate it based on general impressions or other non job-performance related information.

Performance appraisal secrecy

Appraisers can provide correct ratings to their appraisees but spread incorrect rumors about the ratings. Rumors can be especially harmful when honest performance appraisal ratings remain secretly stored. Few would have access to the actual information. Compounding the problem is that most employees do not see the ratings of their peers. Therefore, it is more difficult to figure out if their ratings are fair.

Performance appraisal timing

An appraiser can delay a performance appraisal review. Delays might cloak lies because the appraisee might not remember all of his/her performance from the past year. This makes it more difficult for an employee to argue a case. Similarly, the objectivity of ratings may vary with the timing of ratings. For instance, if a manager rates one employee on Christmas eve, is it likely that this person will receive an early Christmas gift of high ratings?

How to reduce the "lying"

The following list provides ways that might reduce the chance that the lies and misrepresentation will occur:

* Management support and policy - Management can encourage ethical behavior by clearly communicating organizational policies on the performance appraisal. Also, managers can post a code of ethics and discuss it with all raters and those who will be rated. An organizational climate should exist that demonstrates management's support for an accurate performance evaluation system.

* Thorough job analysis - Performance appraisers must have a complete understanding of the subordinates' jobs, job requirements and job standards. This information is collected, analyzed and reported through the job analysis process. Effective job analysis is basic to effective appraisal systems. Only after a thorough job analysis process, can managers perform fair and effective performance ratings.

The choice of performance appraisal measures can significantly influence employee ratings. For example, a corporate trainer might historically have superior teaching ratings because he or she gives an easy course or enjoyable course. The performance appraisal form might not contain questions concerning rigor of the lessons or job applicability of training.

* Clear directions - When distributing job analysis questionnaires and performance appraisal forms to employees, managers should explain all the purposes and instructions. Managers should inform employees that their answers can influence pay and their careers.

* Adequate time and timeliness - Appraisers should be given adequate time to complete performance appraisal forms. Rush jobs are often incomplete jobs. In addition, encourage managers to consider their performance appraisal responsibilities as ongoing. Managers should regularly observe the performances of employees, coach them and informally evaluate them. Reducing time between observation and appraisal will lead to more effective performance management. Excessive delays could make the appraisers forget the appraisee's performance.

* Multiple raters - The immediate supervisor conducts most performance appraisals. The use of more than one rater can reduce a particular manager's influence. Managers are less likely to be vindictive or arbitrary if they know they are accountable to others. Also, a few rating perspectives might well outweigh one untrue rating. Peers, subordinates and clients also may rate an employee, expanding the breadth of information considered in an appraisal.

* Documentation and Evidence - Managers can collect performance data and provide evidence of ratings based on written documentation such as diaries and critical incidents.

* Organizational Review - Companies should have job analysis data and job descriptions reviewed by managers and employees. Supervisors and human resource managers should approve the completed performance appraisals. The signature at the bottom of the appraisal should not come automatically.

* Information and employee involvement - Employers should let employees become involved in the development, update and review of their performance appraisal with their supervisors. It would be harder for a supervisor to lie about his/her subordinate's ratings if the subordinate participated in developing the ratings. Also, encourage employees to maintain notes about their performance. Consider requesting employees to make self-assessments of their performance.

* Clarify grievance procedures - Employees should be given a chance to appeal incorrect ratings. Lack of appeals may allow inequities and unfairness to continue in the company. If employees have the opportunity to voice concerns, they are more likely to accept the performance appraisal system.

* Train those responsible for performance appraisal - Training also might be an avenue to instill ethical values on the appraisers and to emphasize the importance of accurate and fair ratings. Training might help performance evaluators be aware of the importance of their task. Some organizations provide performance appraisal training to non supervisory employees. Such training helps employees understand the process.

* Rate the performance appraiser - Managers do what they get rewarded for. So evaluate managers in part on their efforts and success in conducting performance appraisals. This will encourage managers to dedicate more time and effort to the performance appraisal process.


Executing all the activities listed might be difficult given political, social and economic realities. The personnel department might not have the money or desire to provide a fair and effective performance appraisal system. Money for employee training and adequate time for managers to do performance appraisals might be scarce. Management, at least, should try some lie-reducing activities.

Performance appraisal is a subjective process that is subject to deception in each step in its procedure. Lies can affect performance appraisal ratings by reducing the amount of information collected from job analysis, including incorrect or inadequate information in job descriptions, developing an inadequate performance appraisal instrument, and providing ambiguous performance ratings. To reduce lies in performance appraisals, organizations should encourage top management support for the process, communicate performance appraisal policy, improve the integrity of job analysis and job descriptions, train raters and reward effective appraisers, increase employee involvement in the process, and develop more effective performance appraisal instruments and procedures.

If the recommendations provided for reducing the lying are infeasible for your organization, you should consider discontinuing the performance appraisal process. In many organizations, the history, climate and resource commitment required for an effective appraisal system are not present. In these cases, an organization may be better off without an appraisal system than maintaining a lame one. Do not insist on having a "bad, immoral and reprehensible" performance appraisal system - one that encourages lies.

Gundars E. Kaupins, Ph. D. is an Associate Professor of Management at Boise State University. He has taught and researched in compensation management. Mark A. Johnson, Ph. D. is an Assistant Professor of Personnel/Human Resource Management at Idaho State University. He has developed and implemented organizational performance appraisal systems and conducted performance appraiser training.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kaupins, Gundars E.; Johnson, Mark A.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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