Topic 8: Supervision and performance appraisal

The roles and responsibilities of supervisors
Developing effective supervision skills
What are 'performance management' and 'performance appraisal'?
Why appraise performance?
The practice of performance appraisal

Virtually all organisations are hierarchical. They consist of a series of levels of management, each of which is responsible to the one above it, and responsible for the one below it. Unless you occupy a junior position in an organisation you will be responsible for the supervision of a group of people whom we will refer to as 'your staff'.

What are your responsibilities as a supervisor? Obviously, the primary one is making sure that your staff gets work done in an effective, efficient and timely manner; which in turn means that you are responsible for how your staff behave and perform at work. Effective supervisors make the effort to get to know their staff, to understand their goals and views, to assist them to develop their skills and career prospects, to safeguard their health and safety and to provide guidance and leadership. Provision of leadership—in particular by displaying exemplary conduct at work—is an essential responsibility of supervisors.

In industrialised countries the 'foreman' approach to supervision—walking around giving orders to subordinates—is being replaced by a more interactive approach. Getting work done is seen more as a co-operative effort, with staff discussing what is to be done, what the priorities are, who should do the work and how it should be done.

Supervisors require at least three kinds of skills:
* technical job-related skills, so that they understand the kind of work their staff is doing and can offer advice when required.
* organisational and conceptual skills, which enable them to visualise outcomes and establish priorities
* interpersonal/people management skills

When employees perform poorly, they should seek feedback from managers. In return, managers should give constructive feedback to employees, so that they can improve their performance. However, this kind of meaningful exchange about employee performance is often precluded by managers themselves. Some managers have an overly supportive style and feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback. Other managers are intolerant of failure and react harshly to feedback- seeking from poor performers. This causes employees to stop asking for feedback or even to avoid discussing performance with their managers entirely. Moss and Sanchez (2004:22)

The ability to delegate effectively is not easy, especially for people who are new to management—but if delegating skills are not developed, the supervisor will become overloaded and the staff discontented. Delegation is part of staff empowerment. An effective supervisor spends a large proportion of his/her time supervising. Their main objective is to ensure that their staff is fully occupied and working efficiently.

Ainsworth et al. (2002: 31) have identified the main components of performance
1. Performance planning—setting and agreeing on goals and targets
2. Regular performance review and discussion—reviewing progress against goals and targets
3. Performance evaluation—measuring and evaluating performance against goals and targets and identifying and verifying gaps in performance
4. Corrective and adaptive action—developing strategies to close performance gaps.

The main functions which effective performance appraisal serves are: the administrative function; the performance enhancement function; and the employee development function. Numerous administrative decisions in organisations are—or should be—based on systematic data about employee performance. Also of relevance here is the issue of legal liability.

The performance appraisal should identify the skills, knowledge and capability of the employee. It should identify who is working effectively and taking responsibility and who is having difficulty with their job. By using this information, jobs and responsibilities can be adjusted so that the capabilities of each employee are being used most effectively.

The final function of appraisal is to assist employees to develop their potential by identifying strengths and weaknesses in their work and by assessing needs for training and development.

One of the problems of performance appraisal is that it has several objectives, and in order to meet one objective you may hamper the achievement of another. One solution is to separate the performance appraisals, having one to identify the way the employee can improve, and a separate one—preferably at a different time, and conducted in a different manner—to allocate rewards.

In practice, most employees are appraised by their immediate supervisors, but it is important to remember that appraisal can take a number of other forms. Employees can be appraised by their immediate supervisor, by themselves ('self-appraisal'), by peers, by subordinates or by people outside the employee's work area or even outside the organisation (for example, customers).

A common criticism of performance appraisal is that while in theory it is used to generate objective data about employee performance, in practice it is subject to major error and is far from objective. It takes a degree of expertise to conduct an objective and meaningful appraisal. Unfortunately, few supervisors are given training in this.

The same kind of appraisal cannot be used for all people and all cultures. There are often factors which make a system that works with one group inappropriate for another. For example, direct criticism results in 'loss of face' in some Asian cultures and can cause demoralisation. In such instances, alternative ways have to be found to communicate the information about poor performance. Also, in collectivist cultures, the very idea of individuals being held responsible for results is unusual—so team or group appraisals may be more suitable for these environments.


From: Information Management Journal, March/April 2002, 36(2): 60–64.

Recognize and accept the Law of Comparative Advantage

The Law of Comparative Advantage dictates that people should spend their time where they realize the greatest benefits from their efforts. The best lawyer in town may also be the fastest typist, but the fee for an hour of legal work is greater than for an hour of a typist's time. Suppose the lawyer could get as much legal work as desired. It would be in the lawyer's best interest to spend an hour doing legal work rather than typing briefs because the substantive and financial benefits would be greater.

Managers should identify those tasks which they are best qualified to perform and then rank them according to importance and benefit. All other things being equal, it is in everyone's best interest for managers to do only those tasks of highest importance and to delegate the rest to others.

In preparing to delegate, remember the following guidelines:

* Authority can be delegated; responsibility cannot
* Not all tasks are appropriate for delegation
* Whenever possible, delegate tasks on the project's "critical path" to others

Armstrong, M. (2003) A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice, 9th edn, Kogan Page, London: 485–495.

Objectives should be 'SMART', i.e.:
S = Specific/stretching—clear, unambiguous, straightforward, understandable and challenging.
M = Measurable—quantity, quality, time, money.
A = Achievable—challenging but within the reach of a competent and committed person.
R = Relevant—relevant to the objectives of the organization so that the goal of the individual is aligned to corporate goals.
T = Time framed—to be completed within an agreed time scale.

The following are guidelines for defining individual performance measures:
* Measures should relate to results, not efforts.
* The results must be within the job holder's control.
* Measures should be objective and observable.
* Data must be available for measurement.
* Existing measures should be used or adapted wherever possible.

Measures can be classified under the following headings: finance—income, economic value added, shareholder value, added value, rates of
return, costs; output—units produced or processed, throughput, new accounts; impact—attainment of a standard (quality, level of service etc), changes in behaviour (internal and external customers), completion of work/project, level of take-up of a service, innovation; reaction—judgement by others, colleagues, internal and external customers; time—speed of response or turnaround, achievements compared with timetables,
amount of backlog, time to market, delivery times.

The concept of the balanced scorecard was originally developed by Kaplan and Norton (1992). They took the view that 'what you measure is what you get', and they emphasize that 'no single measure can provide a clear performance target or focus attention on the critical areas of the business. Their
scorecard requires managers to answer four basic questions, which means looking at the business from four related perspectives:

* how do customers see us? (customer perspective);
* what must we excel at? (internal perspective);
* can we continue to improve and create value? (innovation and learning perspective);
* how do we look at shareholders? (financial perspective).

The issues that may arise in the course of managing performance throughout the year are:
* updating objectives and work plans;
* continuous learning;
* dealing with performance problems.

The five basic steps required to handle performance problems are:
1. Identify and agree the problem.
2. Establish the reason(s) for the shortfall.
3. Decide and agree on the action required.
4. Resource the action.
5. Monitor and provide feedback.