Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Assessing personal qualities in reviews - a good thing?

In my former life I worked for IBM (I'm supposed to go back eventually, so I probably shouldn't use the past tense here....). We have the sort of labour-intensive, rigorous review system beloved by giant corporations. I thought I had seen everything I was ever likely to see in terms of review criteria.

Then I got to India. My organisation is a small NGO. They showed me their previous attempt at a performance evaluation system. I checked my diary, when was April 1st again? Some of the categories I didn't even really understand, let alone comprehend how a score of 1-10 could be applied to them ("transparency" anyone? How about "money mis-management"? - You only steal from the cookie jar - 3; you're using company funds to drain your moat - 10). Others were down-right bizarre - "Reads newspapers"!!!

Even better, there were none that actually applied to someone having done a good job. They were all personal qualities. Timeliness, good manners, respectfulness. Turn up to work, be a good person, don't offend anyone, get a good review!

Cynicism aside, I was intrigued. I spoke to my organisation's founders. They expressed the view that their employees were not "professionals" and so they felt it was unfair to assess them against those kind of attributes. They felt the attributes they used instead were ones where people could succeed and that this was more important.

It's an interesting idea - fit the evaluation to the skills of your employees. Of course, it completely misses the point of performance evaluation - to help the employee to develop. That has to be the number one priority. To help identify the things they are doing well and build on those, whilst identifying areas for improvements and discussing strategies for progressing them.

We've ended up compromising on the final evaluation. There is a lot more focus on development needs and actually assessing performance (I don't subscribe to the idea that NGOs can't be performance-focussed), while we have retained some of the personal attribute assessments. I personally hope to show them that these items should simply become part of a person's overall review, not specifically detailed as areas for assessment, but we'll see how it goes.

I think it's an interesting idea though - how much should personal qualities be included in reviews. Can you possibly leave them out? Is this just an attempt to quantify what those personal qualities are? Interested to know peoples thoughts - get involved....