How do I go about convincing my boss (assuming her approval is needed) that one of my people deserves a particularly positive or negative review?
Begin laying the groundwork well in advance of the time when you actually show your boss the completed appraisal you have written on the individual and ask her to approve it.
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There's an old piece of advice that recommends getting "all your ducks in a line" before taking action. That's good advice in this situation.
When you first start thinking about Herman's performance in preparation for the appraisal you're going to have to write, and you realize that his performance is well outside the fully successful area (either in a positive or negative direction), you're going to have to prepare your boss for an exceptional performance review.
Let's assume that Herman's performance has been less than adequate. You've had a couple of informal conversations with him about the need to improve, but you haven't said anything to your boss since you had hoped the issue could be resolved without having to bring it to the attention of higher management.
But your efforts to get Herman to change haven't succeeded. In spite of your conversations with him, his performance is still marginal and performance appraisal time is rolling around. You need to prepare your boss for what will be a significantly bad performance appraisal that she will have to approve.
You might mention in the course of a routine conversation with your boss that you're about to start work on writing the performance appraisals for people in your department and that one of them Herman'sdoesn't look like it's going to be too good. If your boss asks you questions about why you feel that way, bring up some of the information that justifies the low appraisal rating. Tell your boss about the conversations you have had with Herman and the lack of results.
Your boss may feel that rating anyone's performance at the low end of the rating scale is a negative reflection on her managerial skills and may be resistant to approving a less-than-satisfactory rating. In this case you'll need to have all your supporting documents ready when the time comes. It may be that your boss is concerned about the fairness of someone's getting a black mark on a performance appraisal that will permanently reside in his personnel file. In this case you'll need to point out the unfairness to good performers of giving a satisfactory rating to someone who hasn't earned it.
It may also be that your boss is reluctant to approve a particularly high performance appraisal rating. The cause may be that the boss doesn't want to highlight the performance of a star and increase the possibility of that person's being promoted out of the unit. It may be that the boss is hesitant because high ratings produce high merit increases and she doesn't want the salary budget to get out of kilter.
Whatever the reason, you have a sales job to do. Lay the groundwork well in advance of the time your boss reads the review and has to sign it. Just as the standard advice recommends that the individual get no surprises in the course of a performance appraisal discussion (more on that later), so your boss should never get any surprises when she's asked to approve an appraisal you have written.
If the appraiser's boss approves the appraisal before the employee sees it, hasn't the door been closed on the possibility of any changes?
It's true: Once an appraiser has written a performance appraisal and has achieved his boss's blessing, the appraiser is unlikely to be willing to change the appraisal, even if the employee is able to present solid evidence and persuasive arguments about why the appraisal narrative and rating, even though approved, is inaccurate.
Employees may also be reluctant to expend much energy discussing an appraisal with which they disagree, since it has already been seen and signed off on by the boss, the boss's boss, other bosses, and personnel too. "You can't fight City Hall," they say to themselves. "It's better to grin and bear it."
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The alternative is to have the appraising manager carry out the entire performance appraisal procedure, including writing the narrative and discussing it with the subordinate before submitting it to his boss and personnel for review and filing. This approach will probably only work in organizations where the performance appraisal grade is only one factor in making the compensation change decision, where a high degree of trust exists throughout the organization, and where supervisors, managers, and human resources specialists at all levels are sophisticated and experienced.
The benefits of this approach include empowering lower level managers to act in a highly sensitive area of the organization's operation, increasing the probability that the ultimate appraisal document will reflect a genuine understanding (if not complete agreement) between rater and ratee, and a far greater likelihood of open discussions about performance and the areas where change and development are needed. The risks, however, are real: If an upper manager disagrees with the appraisal that a junior has assigned to a subordinate's performance, that junior manager will be in the uncomfortable position of having to go back to the employee and confess that he couldn't get the appraisal past his boss. Conversely, upper-level managers may be reluctant to recommend obvious and necessary changes in the form since it has already been reviewed with the individual.