I am more than open to the argument that most performance appraisal systems are mean, misguided, and do not improve performance.  Many are designed to be punitive rather than part of a coaching process.  Supervisors hate doing them because they are time consuming and they are ill-trained to provide developmental feedback.  Employees despise them because, well, who wants to hear that they are not perfect?  And don’t get me started on forced rankings, everyone being rated as acceptable to avoid conflict, and other potential problems with the process.

Ideally, HR participates in designing a process that truly reflects a person’s performance.  Managers are trained to share the information, good and not so good, in a way that is honest and promotes improvement and appropriate rewards.  The organization has the resources and opportunities available to those who are willing to put in the effort to add more value to the organization.  As a quick aside, the people who take the time to take these steps are already your top performers.

Yet, there comes a time where you need to demonstrate that a person is not pulling his or her weight and needs to be let go.  This may be to show (either to you or to them) that everything had been done to improve performance.  Or, to demonstrate that performance had been documented in the event of a legal case.

For the latter, here’s another example.  It contains the typical tortured logic of California labor law.  The company claims that the plaintiff was fired for poor performance.  She says it was because she was pregnant.  As the company documented that the action would have been taken regardless of the pregnancy, an initial verdict was overturned, which saved the company a lot of money.  This only happened because they were willing to track poor performance.  However, since the court also found that the timing reflected bias, the plaintiff could recover legal fees, but not collect damages.  Something tells me this will affect how lawyers argue these kinds of cases (and calculate damages/fees in the future).

The point isn’t whether this kind of baby-splitting (sorry for the pun) will ever make it to your state.  Rather, if a company is sued for wrongful termination, it will be asked to justify the action.  I do not believe that HR’s primary role should be compliance.  It is not a value-added activity and it gets in the way of productive activities.  However, performance evaluation is an opportunity for us to bring measurement, concepts of successful change, and an eye towards improvement to a compliance activity.

For more information on employee engagement, performance, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or warren@allaboutperformance.biz.