Bala S., Senior VP for Global Re-engineering at Genpact, the business process outsourcing (BPO) major, would be piqued each time he was asked to appraise his team. The US-based Bala would turn into a procrastinator and make a lot of noise about how the appraisal system was distracting him from his primary work.
His annoyance would intensify when he actually got down to working on appraisals both as a boss and as an appraisee. Reason? Bala would lose direction while going through the online system. For a team that worked on multiple projects, performance evaluation was supposed to be done on fixed goals. "It was a system that worked in a straight, silo-based line. We work as global cross-functional teams that drive projects. I wanted flexibility in the system to be able to give project-based feedback," he says. Besides, since Genpact teams worked on client sites, Bala also wanted an open-architecture, speedy, multilanguage system that could be accessed from anywhere.
Your Employer has Performed Well on Appraisals if...
It's hardly surprising then that the appraisal system, instead of addressing management of performance in the organisation, ends up being a system for determining end-of- the-year rating of employees for the purpose of distributing increments and bonuses.
For its part, Genpact has managed to change its system dramatically. "Earlier, we used to talk of general, universal competencies; now it's about specific competencies of teams and individuals," says Piyush Mehta, Global Head (HR), Genpact. Beyond the online module, Genpact continues the earlier system of an annual discussion between appraisee and his supervisor and then another discussion along with the supervisor's boss.
It's at the level of functional head or supervisor feedback that employees and companies face a bigger challenge. "At all times, an honest, transparent discussion is important. The supervisor needs to make sure that feedback is given continuously, but not everybody does a terrific job of it," Mehta admits.
HR experts point to a big flaw of appraisals—lack of preparedness on the part of appraiser. "It's not a comforting thought to know that your boss may be clueless on how to appraise you. Worse, his evaluation may be subjective and biased," says Dhruv Prakash, MD (India), Leadership and Talent Consulting (LTC), Korn/Ferry International.
Little surprise then when PepsiCo India decided to go in for a humongous overhaul of its entire approach to appraisals three years ago, it started by conducting workshops for its managers and teaching them how to write appraisals and give feedback. "To strengthen the process, we conduct confidential surveys through the year that feed into and validate some of the feedback that we have in the appraisals," says Pavan Bhatia, VP (HR), PepsiCo India.
At these workshops, managers are explained what the various parameters stand for. Often, the quality of managers varies and the appraisals done by them have to be calibrated to rule out either personal bias towards a style of operation or the quality of manager. For instance, a manager at centre A could be more exacting in his appraisal than his counterpart in centre B. Or, a manager in a certain place could be simply better than his counterpart in another centre, say, in a non-metro.
"Hence, we conduct a calibration workshop where we reach a consensus on how the scores are to be understood to rule out such differences," says Bhatia. This system has now been adopted by PepsiCo businesses across 200 countries.
Auto major Maruti Suzuki India, too, has rolled out a new online performance appraisal system this year after testing it for three years. While the system retains the standard midyear review followed by the final review, the company has introduced multiple check points to appraise its non-blue-collar workforce instead of one or two persons deciding the fate of an employee.
The objective of the new system at Maruti is to make the appraisal process scientific and transparent. "It's process-driven and not judgement-driven. In an individual's case, it can become one-dimensional and biased, leading to discontentment," says S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer for Administration (HR, Finance & IT), Maruti Suzuki India.
After deciding on the KRAs or key result areas in April, the company puts in place a mid-term feedback process—from department head to employee and from employee to department head. "It's an important way of letting the employee know where he stands and what he can do to better his performance." By all accounts, such feedback comes in handy in handling expectations after the appraisals. "The idea is not to surprise the employee at the end of his appraisal," he says.
Korn/Ferry's Prakash, however, has a bone to pick with the idea that one or two appraisals in a year is enough. "There is no way that such infrequent discussions—especially when held at a time when reward distribution is the overriding concern— can result in raising levels of performance," he says.
He advocates a more frequent interaction between a boss and his team member on setting goals, reviewing progress or outcomes. "If you can have business meetings and reviews on a monthly basis, why can't these also give indications and feedback on performance?" he asks.
This will ensure a seamless communication, lessen the possibility of friction and also ensure that an individual knows how his work is linked with the business growth. A case in point is multi-business manufacturing entity SRF's employee evaluation christened "Development Dialogue". At the beginning of the financial year, projects are planned at the business leadership level based on business requirements for the year for all its five businesses. Then these projects are broken into activities for teams and subsequently, activities for individuals. The online process ensures that an individual can clearly see at all times how his activity impacts the business and vice versa.
Moreover, the key areas assigned to an employee are in play all through the year. At the time of appraisal, all that an appraiser needs to do is give evidence for his observations and ratings. Says Suresh Tripathi, SRF's President for HR: "Communication helps. The year-long process of feedback takes care of anxieties and gives a fair sense of communication."
What if an employee gets a bad review? While organisations like Genpact are still open to a re-review, most organisations cannot address this issue post-facto. Even when organisations justify an appraisal, the employee will continue to be dissatisfied. The feeling can be assuaged, but not fully eliminated.
The way out for both organisations and individuals is to be proactive and not reactive and it's one of the biggest challenges for the organisations. "We would like to improve our system of feedback. The natural tendency is to avoid negative feedback," says Tripathi.
If your appraisal has given you a nasty surprise, all you can do is agree to disagree. But, for the next time around, irrespective of whether or not a rigorous performance appraisal system is in place, you must compulsorily check with your boss on your performance frequently. You will be helping your boss arrive at an informed decision on you.
— Additional reporting by Shamni Pande