Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where Did Performance Appraisals Come From?

With all the fuss these days about how our performance appraisal system is broken I started wondering --- where did it all start?  Who started us on the path to what we have today?

Not really important because, after all, it's history.  So who really cares?  We need to concentrate on "fixing" it, not on history.  But those questions stayed in my mind.  So I started researching it.

What I came up with was surprising.

The practice of appraisal is a very ancient "art".  In historical terms, it's been around since before 220AD, and I guess it could claim being the world's second oldest profession!

There is, says Dulewicz,  "... a basic human tendency to make judgments about those one is working with, as well as about oneself."  He taught that appraisal was both inevitable and universal.    People have tended to judge the work performance of others since the beginning of time.

Some might say that the use of performance appraisals began in the early 20th century.  They say it can be traced to Taylor's pioneering Time and Motion studies.  But this is not very helpful, because it can also be argued that almost everything in the field of human resources management started with him.   So we will start a little farther back in time.

Here is the history.   I haven't included all of it, but you can follow the link if you want to see everything.   Although it's a mess today, see if you think we have progressed any over time.


The practice of performance appraisal dates back to the third century when the emperors of the Wei Dynasty (221-265AD) rated the performance of the official family members.

Fairness of raters was questioned.   A rater employed by the Wei Dynasty said: "The Imperial Rater seldom rates men according to their merits, but always according to his likes and dislikes"


A procedure to formally rate members of the Jesuit Society was established by Ignatius Loyola.

Late 18th century:             

Performance management theory and practice in the United States started with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. Workers were evaluated and paid primarily on the basis of quantity output -- the number of "pieces" they satisfactorily turned out


Performance appraisals were initiated by Robert Owen in the early 1800s. Owen monitored performance at his cotton mills in Scotland through the use of monitors. The monitors were cubes of wood with different colors painted on each side and displayed above the workstation of each employee.  The color of the visible side of the cube was associated with a rating to indicate performance. At the end of the day, the block was turned so that a particular color, representing a rating of the employee's performance, was facing the aisle for everyone to see.


Frederick Taylor stressed the importance of the individual worker by advocating the payment of individually based financial incentives to those workers who could increase their output as a result of the application of scientific management.


The widespread use of performance appraisal techniques with blue-collar employees didn't start until after World War I. Appraisal systems for measuring managerial and professional employee performance weren't used extensively until about 1955.


Emergence of performance appraisals based on Management by Objectives. Employees were appraised on the basis of achieving short-term goals, jointly set by the employee and the manager, rather than personality traits.  There was also a shift in the purpose of performance appraisal system towards employee development and feedback.


In the US, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1966 and 1970 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines for Regulation of Selection procedures created a need for improvement in company appraisal practices. These legal considerations exerted strong pressure on companies to formalize, validate, and organize appraisal systems.


Strategic performance management systems cut across company levels, linking strategic, operational and individual performance management. Individual performance management starts to be aligned to corporate strategies, to create a clear line of sight.

So, what's the trend for the future?    Well Bersin says that an old trend, the coaching and development model of performance management, is becoming increasingly popular.   They predict that in the future, appraisals will be less focused on past performance and more focused on career development and developing skills for the future.

If this is true, as talent becomes increasingly scarce, companies will have to go the extra mile to retain critical employees.  This will involve the need for training management on effective coaching and developing techniques as well as training on providing performance feedback.

What do you think the future holds?

Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has over 20 years' experience in International Human Resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career.    Her true love is working with local national issues.  Jacque has the following certifications:  CCP, GPHR, HCS and SWP as well as a B.S. and M.S in Psychology and an MBA.    She belongs to SHRM, Human Capital Institute and World at Work.   Jacque has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications.  She lives in Dallas and has 3 four-legged children and one Chinese daughter (it's a long story).

Thanks to Jacque Vilet / Comensation Café


1 comment:

Ashish Shandilya said...

We are very  thankful to you posting this great experience.