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Performance appraisals rate poor marks.

Formal reviews pose more problems than they solve in the evaluation of a foundry labor force.

It's time once again to do employee performance appraisals. Is this a task you've been looking forward to or is this the business equivalent of going to the dentist?

Reassessing Needs and Tools

Most managers and supervisors agree that 90-95% of their work force is composed of good people doing good work. Only 5-10% are problem employees, and written appraisals are not needed to determine who is who.

Formal evaluations are usually only necessary in cases where people under-perform, so that if they don't improve, there will be objective evidence of performance to justify termination. Otherwise, formal performance appraisal systems only create more problems than they solve.

The majority of foundry managers and supervisors are not really equipped to do a proper performance appraisal, largely because no one has ever determined the right way to evaluate someone else's performance. Also, most managers lack training in psychology, group dynamics and personal interaction and don't care to become pop industrial psychologists. Finally, the tools used for the job of evaluation--performance appraisal forms--are mediocre at best.

The major group of people a foundry manager must appraise is foundry production workers, such as molders, melters and grinders. The majority of these people have been in their jobs a number of years and the manager knows them pretty well. It is clear who is fast, slow, clever or conscientious. The manager should be a counselor, assisting and teaching everyone, every day. Thereby, both manager and worker have a good understanding of what the evaluation of that person is. If this situation exists, there is no need for a formal six-month or annual appraisal.

Cutting Pay/Performance Ties

You might say, "Well, if I don't have a formal rating system, how do I know how big a raise to give the worker?"

The simple answer is that many human resource experts do not recommend using appraisals to gauge pay raises.

"Appraisals . . . attempt to accomplish the two objectives of providing a written justification for salary action and of motivating the employee to improve his performance. The two purposes are in conflict," write authors Herbert Meyer, Emanuel Kay and John French in an article for the Harvard Business Review.

After an employee has been on the job a year or two, appraisals become useless in determining pay rate. Average workers eventually reach a pay maximum because of regular adjustments given. The better worker just gets there faster. Once a molder reaches your pay maximum, you cannot afford to pay him more or your costs will no longer be competitive. At that point, the only raises he will get will be annual adjustments made to pay ranges and his performance will no longer affect his wages.

Rather than using performance appraisals to determine wages, reward performance through incentive pay--piecework, gainsharing or profit sharing.

A Question of Objectivity

If you have objective measurements of quantity and quality of work, you no longer need an appraisal every six months or a year. There are daily or weekly production reports showing molds made or castings finished. There are scrap and/or inspection reports stating how many good castings were poured. Those measures should be reviewed on a daily or weekly basis, accompanied by the coaching and encouragement for those who need to improve and the pat on the back for your star performers.

Without objective ways to measure quantity and quality of work, how do you rate performance? For example, most indirect workers such as laborers and forklift drivers have jobs that make it extremely difficult to measure quantity and quality. Under these circumstances, such ratings tend to be highly subjective and leave a supervisor open to cries of favoritism or worse.

The same problem applies to rating such characteristics as attitude, initiative and cooperation. Certainly, they are all important factors in evaluating an employee. But how does a manager rate those things objectively? There are no measurement tools or production reports to show how cooperative or how creative a worker has been. As a result, the ratings placed on these traits are purely subjective. If the supervisor likes me, I get high ratings. If he doesn't, I get low ratings. Talk about cries of discrimination and favoritism!

When rating factors are so subjective, the problem of the halo effect exists. This is the phenomenon in which a person's evaluation shows that he rated the same in all categories. Because a worker is always on time and doesn't argue with the supervisor, he will be rated highly in every category, including one like initiative. But it may have been years since he had a new idea or even figured out how to solve a problem.

On the other hand, an employee who always seems to be giving the boss a hard time may actually be making suggestions and entertaining new ideas. Yet, his ratings will be low all down the list because he's perceived as a pain in the neck.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The majority of appraisal forms used to rate hourly paid production workers are of the simple "check the box" type. Usually, they ask the manager to rate several items such as quantity, quality, attitude, cooperation and attendance. If the form designer took Psychology 101, he used an even number of ratings--four, for example--so that the rater cannot opt out by rating everyone down the middle. With four ratings like excellent, good, fair and poor, the rater is forced to place the worker either in the upper half or the lower half.

One major problem here stems from the 80/30 theory. This theory states that 80% of us feel that we perform in the top 30% of all workers. Therefore, if our boss rates us as only good or average, we feel slighted. Performance will suffer in light of this rating because we need to feel good about ourselves and our work, but the boss is telling us we're no good, or so we perceive.

Just as students led to believe by teachers that they learn slower will begin to perform only to that lower standard, so will workers given average reviews begin to see themselves as perennially average--the self-fulfilling prophecy. Wouldn't it be better for everyone involved if nobody was rated at all? If workers are to be rated, give them high marks so they will work harder to maintain that status.


How can I induce better performance if I don't let a worker know his shortcomings?

You can challenge your worker, rather than criticizing him. By using those daily or weekly production reports, a supervisor can take the opportunity to say, "This is where we stand now, and this is where we want to be at the time of the next report." By using the term we, the supervisor removes himself from the position of judge and makes himself part of a team.

By setting a goal for the coming production period, instead of reviewing the failings of past ones, the worker is allowed to feel that his performance to date has inspired the confidence of management. He will feel that they have now entrusted him with greater responsibility.

At that time, any changes that need to be made can be brought up within the context of discussing how to meet the new goals. A worker is far more likely to be defensive about his performance if all of a manager's criticisms are leveled in one sitting and on one appraisal form. All of us has a threshold for accepting criticism.

"Each individual seems to have a tolerance level for the amount of criticism he can take," said Meyer, Kay and French. "And, as this level is approached or passed, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to accept responsibility for the shortcomings pointed out."

Another problem with an infrequent, comprehensive performance appraisal is that any corrections made in the period immediately after the review may not last. A bad habit doesn't disappear just because we know it exists. And when your evaluation is another 10 months away, a lapse here and there won't really make much difference. The constant coaching and reinforcing of frequent work-planning and goal-setting meetings make the worker realize the need for constancy in improvement.

In situations where goal setting isn't feasible or a supervisor wants something on paper, a good management system to accomplish an organization's improved performance objectives involves simple memos. Supervisors should regularly write a brief memo to each employee summarizing their opinion of the worker's performance.

In the case of that 90-95% of good employees, let that summary be encouraging and approving. Only for the few should it be negative in any way.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:employee performance
Author:Ulbert, Charles
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Mar 1, 1994
Previous Article:Using SPC in the coreroom.
Next Article:New technology helps Northbend transform pattern/moldmaking.

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