14 Performance Evaluation


Content in this chapter is available from Organizational Behavior and the Organizational Justice Wikipedia page.

Figure 1: Performance meeting, in this photo the manager (right) delivers the man in the suit's (left) one-on-one performance evaluation (Credit: home thods/ flickr/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Figure 1: Performance meeting, in this photo the manager (right) delivers the man in the suit’s (left) one-on-one performance evaluation (Credit: home thods/ flickr/ Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


Two Performance Appraisal Interviews

Janet’s Performance Evaluation: “Janet, thanks for coming in. As you know, it’s that time of year again. I’ve been going over this performance appraisal form and have written in my evaluation. I’d like you to look it over and then sign it.”

Janet looked over her ratings, which were nearly all in the “satisfactory” range. Even the category of dependability was marked “satisfactory”; yet, it was Janet who came in on three different occasions to cover for workers in her group who were absent for one reason or another. Janet mentioned this issue to her boss, Ken.

“Well, Janet, you’re right and that’s exactly what I expect of my employees. You know this is your first year here and you can’t expect to reach the top in one jump. But I like your style and if you keep it up, who knows how far you’ll go.”

Twenty-four minutes after the interview began, Janet left, bewildered and disappointed. She had worked hard during her first year; in fact, she had gone the extra mile on a few occasions, and now she was more confused than ever about what was expected of her and what constituted good performance. “Maybe it just doesn’t pay to work hard.”

Ron’s Performance Evaluation: Two weeks before their scheduled interview, Mary asked Ron to review his goals and accomplishments for the last six months and to note any major changes in his job that had taken place during that period. In the meantime, Mary pulled out the file in which she had periodically recorded both positive and negative specific incidents over the last six months concerning Ron’s performance. She also reviewed the goals they had jointly set at the end of the last review and thought carefully about not only the possible goals for the next six months but longer-term development needs and goals that might be appropriate for Ron.

On the day of the interview, both Mary and Ron came well prepared to review the past six months as well as to think about and plan for the next performance period and beyond. The interview took nearly two hours. After candidly discussing Ron’s past performance and the extent to which both sides felt he had or had not accomplished the goals for that period, they began to focus on what should be accomplished in the future. The discussion caused both sides to make changes in their original evaluations and ideas about targets for the future. When it was over, Ron left more motivated than before and confident that even though he had areas in which he could improve, he had a bright future ahead of him if he continued to be motivated and work hard.


Performance Appraisal Systems

Performance appraisals are one of the most important and often one of the most mishandled aspects of management. Typically, we think of performance appraisals as involving a boss evaluating a subordinate. However, performance appraisals increasingly involve subordinates appraising bosses through a feedback process known as 360-degree feedback, where clients, colleagues, and supervisors all appraise the person being evaluated (Johnson, 2018).

Whether appraisals are done by subordinates, peers, customers, or superiors, the process itself is vital to the lifeblood of the organization. Performance appraisal systems provide a means of systematically evaluating employees across various performance dimensions to ensure that organizations are getting what they pay for. They provide valuable feedback to employees and managers, and they assist in identifying promotable people as well as problems. However, such appraisals are meaningless unless they are accompanied by an effective feedback system that ensures that the employee gets the right messages concerning performance.

Reward systems represent a powerful motivational force in organizations, but this is true only when the system is fair and tied to performance. Because a variety of approaches to appraising performance exists, managers should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each. In turn, an understanding of reward systems will help managers select the system best suited to the needs and goals of the organization.

A key management responsibility has always been to oversee and develop subordinates. In fact, it has been said that every manager is a human resource manager. Nowhere is this truer than with regard to evaluating and rewarding subordinates. Managers are consistently involved with employee training and development, monitoring employee performance, providing job-related feedback, and administering rewards.

In this chapter, we examine three interrelated aspects of the performance appraisal and reward process. As Figure 2 shows, this process moves from evaluating employee performance to providing adequate and constructive feedback to determining discretionary rewards. Where effort and performance are properly evaluated and rewarded, we would expect to see more stable and consistent job performance. On the other hand, where such performance is only evaluated intermittently or where the appraisal and review process is poorly done, we would generally see less consistent performance. We begin our discussion with a look at the nature of appraisals. We begin by examining three aspects of performance appraisal systems: (1) the uses of performance appraisals, (2) problems found in performance appraisals, and (3) methods for reducing errors in the appraisal system.

Figure 2 The Performance Appraisal and Reward Process (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Figure 2 The Performance Appraisal and Reward Process (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Uses of Performance Appraisals

In most work organizations, performance appraisals are used for a variety of reasons. These reasons range from improving employee productivity to developing the employees themselves. This diversity of uses is well documented in a study of why companies use performance appraisals. Traditionally, compensation and performance feedback have been the most prominent reasons organizations use performance appraisals.

Feedback to employees. Performance appraisals provide feedback to employees about quantity and quality of job performance. Without this information, employees have little knowledge of how well they are doing their jobs and how they might improve their work.

Self-development. Performance appraisals can also serve as an aid to employee self-development. Individuals learn about their strengths and weaknesses as seen by others and can initiate self-improvement programs (see discussion on behavioral self-management programs).

Reward systems. In addition, appraisals may form the bases of organizational reward systems—particularly merit-based compensation plans.

Personnel decisions. Performance appraisals serve personnel-related functions as well. In making personnel decisions, such as those relating to promotions, transfers, and terminations, they can be quite useful. Employers can make choices on the basis of information about individual talents and shortcomings. In addition, appraisal systems help management evaluate the effectiveness of its selection and placement functions. If newly hired employees generally perform poorly, managers should consider whether the right kind of people are being hired in the first place.

Training and development. Finally, appraisals can help managers identify areas in which employees lack critical skills for either immediate or future performance. In these situations, new or revised training programs can be established to further develop the company’s human resources.

It is apparent that performance appraisal systems serve a variety of functions in organizations. In light of the importance of these functions, it is imperative that the accuracy and fairness of the appraisal be paramount considerations in the evaluation of a system. Many performance appraisal systems exist. It is the manager’s job to select the technique or combination of techniques that best serves the particular needs (and constraints) of the organization. Before considering these various techniques, let us look at some of the more prominent problems and sources of error that are common to several of them.

Problems with Performance Appraisals

A number of problems can be identified that pose a threat to the value of appraisal techniques. Most of these problems deal with the related issues of the validity and reliability of the instruments or techniques themselves. Validity is the extent to which an instrument actually measures what it intends to measure, whereas reliability is the extent to which the instrument consistently yields the same results each time it is used. Ideally, a good performance appraisal system will exhibit high levels of both validity and reliability. If not, serious questions must be raised concerning the utility (and possibly the legality) of the system.

It is possible to identify several common sources of error in performance appraisal systems. These include: (1) central tendency error, (2) strictness or leniency error, (3) halo effect, (4) recency error, and (5) personal biases.

Central Tendency Error. It has often been found that supervisors rate most of their employees within a narrow range. Regardless of how people actually perform, the rater fails to distinguish significant differences among group members and lumps everyone together in an “average” category. This is called central tendency error and is shown in Figure 3. In short, the central tendency error is the failure to recognize either very good or very poor performers.

Figure 3 Examples of Strictness, Central Tendency, and Leniency Errors (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Figure 3 Examples of Strictness, Central Tendency, and Leniency Errors (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Strictness or Leniency Error. A related rating problem exists when a supervisor is overly strict or overly lenient in evaluations (see Figure 3). In college classrooms, we hear of professors who are “tough graders” or, conversely, “easy A’s.” Similar situations exist in the workplace, where some supervisors see most subordinates as not measuring up to their high standards, whereas other supervisors see most subordinates as deserving of a high rating. As with central tendency error, strictness error and leniency error fail to distinguish adequately between good and bad performers and instead relegate almost everyone to the same or related categories.

Halo Effect. The halo effect exists where a supervisor assigns the same rating to each factor being evaluated for an individual. For example, an employee rated above average on quantity of performance may also be rated above average on quality of performance, interpersonal competence, attendance, and promotion readiness. In other words, the supervisor cannot effectively differentiate between relatively discrete categories and instead gives a global rating.

These types of bias are based on our perceptions of others. The halo effect occurs when managers have an overly positive view of a particular employee. This can impact the objectivity of reviews, with managers consistently giving an employee high ratings and failing to recognize areas for improvement.

Whether positive or negative, we also have a natural tendency to confirm our preconceived beliefs about people in the way we interpret or recall performance, which is known as confirmatory bias.

For example, a manager may have a preconception that her male report is more assertive. This could cause her to recall instances more easily in which her report asserted his position during a meeting. On the other hand, she may perceive her female report to be less assertive, predisposing her to forget when the report suggested an effective strategy or was successful in a tough negotiation.

The halo effect is often a consequence of people having a similarity bias for certain types of people. We naturally tend to favor and trust people who are similar to us. Whether it’s people who also have a penchant for golf or people who remind us of a younger version of ourselves, favoritism that results from a similarity bias can give certain employees an unfair advantage over others. This can impact a team to the point that those employees may receive more coaching, better reviews and, as a result, more opportunities for advancement.

Recency Error. Oftentimes evaluators focus on an employee’s most recent behavior in the evaluation process. This is known as the recency error. That is, in an annual evaluation, a supervisor may give undue emphasis to performance during the past months—or even weeks—and ignore performance levels prior to this. This practice, if known to employees, leads to a situation where employees may “float” for the initial months of the evaluation period and then overexert themselves in the last few months or weeks prior to evaluation. This practice leads to uneven performance and contributes to the attitude of “playing the game.”

Personal Biases. Finally, it is not uncommon to find situations in which supervisors allow their own personal biases to influence their appraisals. Such biases include like or dislike for someone, as well as racial and sexual biases. Personal biases can interfere with the fairness and accuracy of an evaluation and are illegal in many situations.

Reducing Errors in Performance Appraisals

A number of suggestions have been advanced recently to minimize the effects of various biases and errors on the performance appraisal process.4 When errors are reduced, more accurate information is available for personnel decisions and personal development. These methods for reducing error include

  • ensuring that each dimension or factor on a performance appraisal form represents a single job activity instead of a group of job activities.
  • avoiding terms such as average, because different evaluators define the term differently.
  • ensuring that raters observe subordinates on a regular basis throughout the evaluation period. It is even helpful if the rater takes notes for future reference.
  • keeping the number of persons evaluated by one rater to a reasonable number. When one person must evaluate many subordinates, it becomes difficult to discriminate. Rating fatigue increases with the number of people rated.
  • ensuring that the dimensions used are clearly stated, meaningful, and relevant to good job performance.
  • training raters so they can recognize various sources of error and understand the rationale underlying the evaluation process.

Using mechanisms like these, better employee ratings that can have greater meaning both for the individual employee and the organization will result.

Techniques of Performance Appraisal

Organizations use numerous methods to evaluate personnel. We will summarize several popular techniques. Although countless variations on these themes can be found, the basic methods presented provide a good summary of the commonly available techniques. Following this review, we will consider the various strengths and weaknesses of each technique. Six techniques are reviewed here: (1) graphic rating scales, (2) critical incident technique, (3) behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS), (4) behavioral observation scales, and (5) management by objectives.

Graphic Rating Scales

Certainly, the most popular method of evaluation used in organizations today is the graphic rating scale. One study found that 57 percent of the organizations surveyed used rating scales, and another study found the figure to be 65 percent. Although this method appears in many formats, the supervisor or rater is typically presented with a printed or online form that contains both the employee’s name and several evaluation dimensions (quantity of work, quality of work, knowledge of job, attendance). The rater is then asked to rate the employee by assigning a number or rating on each of the dimensions. An example of a graphic rating scale is shown in Table 1.

A Sample of a Typical Graphic Rating Scale
Name ________________Dept. ______________Date _______________
Quantity of work Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Volume of acceptable work under normal conditions
Quality of work Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Thoroughness, neatness, and accuracy of work
Knowledge of job Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Clear understanding of the facts or factors pertinent to the job
Personal qualities Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Personality, appearance, sociability, leadership, integrity
Cooperation Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Ability and willingness to work with associates, supervisors, and subordinates toward common goal
Dependability Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Conscientious, thorough, accurate, reliable with respect to attendance, lunch periods, reliefs, etc.
Initiative Outstanding Good Satisfactory Fair Unsatisfactory
Earnestness in seeking increased responsibilities Self-starting, unafraid to proceed alone

Table 1 (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

By using this method, if we assume that evaluator biases can be minimized, it is possible to compare employees objectively. It is also possible to examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of a single employee by comparing scores on the various dimensions.

However, one of the most serious drawbacks of this technique is its openness to central tendency, strictness, and leniency errors. It is possible to rate almost everyone in the middle of the scale or, conversely, at one end of the scale. In order to control for this, some companies have assigned required percentage distributions to the various scale points. Supervisors may be allowed to rate only 10 percent of their people outstanding and are required to rate 10 percent unsatisfactory, perhaps assigning 20 percent, 40 percent, and 20 percent to the remaining middle categories. By doing this, a distribution is forced within each department. However, this procedure may penalize a group of truly outstanding performers or reward a group of poor ones.

Critical Incident Technique

With the critical incident technique of performance appraisal, supervisors record incidents, or examples, of each subordinate’s behavior that led to either unusual success or unusual failure on some aspect of the job. These incidents are recorded in a daily or weekly log under predesignated categories (planning, decision-making, interpersonal relations, report writing). The final performance rating consists of a series of descriptive paragraphs or notes about various aspects of an employee’s performance (see Table 2).

An Example of Critical Incident Evaluation
Source: Adapted from R. Daft and R. Steers, Organizations: A Micro/Macro Approach (Glenview, III.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1986), p. 129.
The following performance areas are designed to assist you in preparing this appraisal and in discussing an individual’s performance with her. It is suggested that areas of performance that you feel are significantly good or poor be documented below with specific examples or actions. The points listed are suggested as typical and are by no means all-inclusive. Examples related to these points may be viewed from either a positive or negative standpoint.

  1. Performance on Technology of the Job
    1. Safety Effectiveness—possible considerations:
      1. sets an excellent safety example for others in the department by words and action
      2. trains people well in safety areas
      3. gains the cooperation and participation of people in safety
      4. insists that safety be designed into procedure and processes
      5. is instrumental in initiating departmental safety program
      6. accepts safety as a fundamental job responsibility
      Item Related Examples
    2. Job Knowledge—Technical and/or Specialized—possible considerations:
      1. shows exceptional knowledge in methods, materials, and techniques; applies in a resourceful and practical manner
      2. stays abreast of development(s) in field and applies to job
      3. “keeps up” on latest material in her special field
      4. participates in professional or technical organizations pertinent to her activities
      Item Related Examples
  2. Performance on Human Relations
    1. Ability to Communicate—possible considerations:
      1. gives logical, clear-cut, understandable instructions on complex problems
      2. uses clear and direct language in written and oral reporting
      3. organizes presentations in logical order and in order of importance
      4. provides supervisor and subordinates with pertinent and adequate information
      5. tailors communications approach to group or individual
      6. keeps informed on how subordinates think and feel about things
      Item Related Examples
    2. Results Achieved through Others—possible considerations:
      1. develops enthusiasm in others that gets the job done
      2. has respect and confidence of others
      3. recognizes and credits skills of others
      4. coordinates well with other involved groups to get the job done
      Item Related Examples

Table 2 (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

The critical incident method provides useful information for appraisal interviews, and managers and subordinates can discuss specific incidents. Good qualitative information is generated. However, because little quantitative data emerge, it is difficult to use this technique for promotion or salary decisions. The qualitative output here has led some companies to combine the critical incident technique with one of the quantitative techniques, such as the rating scale, to provide different kinds of feedback to the employees.

Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales

An appraisal system that has received increasing attention in recent years is the behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS). This system requires considerable work prior to evaluation but, if the work is carefully done, can lead to highly accurate ratings with high inter-rater reliability. Specifically, the BARS technique begins by selecting a job that can be described in observable behaviors. Managers and personnel specialists then identify these behaviors as they relate to superior or inferior performance.

An example of this is shown in Figure 4, where the BARS technique has been applied to the job of college professor. As shown, as one moves from extremely poor performance to extremely good performance, the performance descriptions, or behavioral anchors, increase. Oftentimes, six to ten scales are used to describe performance on the job. Figure 4 evaluates the professor’s organizational skills. Other scales could relate to the professor’s teaching effectiveness, knowledge of the material, availability to students, and fairness in grading. Once these scales are determined, the evaluator has only to check the category that describes what she observes on the job, and the employee’s rating is simultaneously determined. The BARS technique has several purported advantages. In particular, many of the sources of error discussed earlier (central tendency, leniency, halo) should be significantly reduced because raters are considering verbal descriptions of specific behaviors instead of general categories of behaviors, such as those used in graphic rating scales. In addition, the technique focuses on job-related behaviors and ignores less relevant issues such as the subordinate’s personality, race, or gender. This technique should also lead to employees being less defensive during performance appraisals, because the focus of the discussion would be actual measured behaviors, not the person. Finally, BARS can aid in employee training and development by identifying those domains needing most attention.



Figure 4 A Behaviorally Anchored Scale for Rating College Professors Source:Reprinted by permission of H. John Bernardin. (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Figure 4 A Behaviorally Anchored Scale for Rating College Professors Source:Reprinted by permission of H. John Bernardin. (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

On the negative side, as noted above, considerable time and effort in designing the forms are required before the actual rating. Because a separate BARS is required for each distinct job, it is only cost-efficient for common jobs. Finally, because the technique relies on observable behaviors, it may have little applicability for such jobs in such areas as research science (and sometimes management), where much of the work is mental and relevant observable behaviors are difficult to obtain.

Behavioral Observation Scales

The behavioral observation scale (BOS) is similar to BARS in that both focus on identifying observable behaviors as they relate to performance. It is, however, less demanding of the evaluator. Typically, the evaluator is asked to rate each behavior on a scale from 1 to 5 to indicate the frequency with which the employee exhibits the behavior. Evaluation of an employee’s performance on a particular dimension is derived by summing the frequency ratings for the behaviors in each dimension.

For example, in Table 3 we can see an example of a form to evaluate a manager’s ability to overcome resistance to change. The rater simply has to circle the appropriate numbers describing observed behaviors and get a summary rating by adding the results. The BOS technique is easier to construct than the BARS and makes the evaluator’s job somewhat simpler. Even so, this is a relatively new technique that is only now receiving some support in industry.

Example of a Behavioral Observation Scale for Managers: Overcoming Resistance to Change
Almost Never Almost Always
Source: Adapted from K. Wexley and G. Latham, Increasing Productivity Through Performance Appraisal, 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.
1. Describes the details of the change to subordinates 1 2 3 4 5
2. Explains why the change is necessary 1 2 3 4 5
3. Discusses how the change will affect the employee 1 2 3 4 5
4. Listens to the employee’s concerns 1 2 3 4 5
5. Asks the employee for help in making the change work 1 2 3 4 5
6. If necessary, specifies the date for a follow-up meeting to respond to employee’s concerns 1 2 3 4 5
Total: 6–10 11–15 16–20 21–25 26–30
Below adequate Adequate Full Excellent Superior

Table 3 (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Management by Objectives

A popular technique for evaluating employees who are involved in jobs that have clear quantitative output is management by objectives (MBO). Although the concept of MBO encompasses much more than just the appraisal process (incorporating an organization-wide motivation, performance, and control system), we will focus here on its narrower application to evaluating employee performance. MBO is closely related to the goal-setting theory of motivation.

Under MBO, individual employees work with their supervisor to establish goals and objectives for which they will be responsible during the coming year. These goals are stated in clear language and relate to tasks that are within the domain of the employee. An example of these goals for a sales representative is shown in Table 4. Following a specified period of time, the employee’s performance is compared to the preset goals to determine the extent to which the goals have been met or exceeded.

MBO Evaluation Report for Sales Representative
Goals Categories Goal Actual Performance Variance
1. Number of sales calls 40 38 95%
2. Number of new customers contacted 10 10 100%
3. Number of customer complaints 5 10 50%
4. Sales of product #1 10,000 units 11,000 units 110%
5. Sales of product #2 15,000 units 14,000 units 93%
6. Sales of product #3 25,000 units 30,000 units 120%

Table 4 (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Several advantages of MBO have been observed. These include the ability to do better planning; improved motivation, because of knowledge of results; fairer evaluations, done on the basis of results rather than personality; improved commitment through participation; and improved supervisory skills in such areas as listening, counseling, and evaluating. On the negative side, however, MBO has been criticized because it emphasizes quantitative goals at the expense of qualitative goals and often creates too much paperwork. It is difficult to compare performance levels among employees because most are responsible for different goals. Sometimes the implementation of MBO goals are autocratic and therefore ineffective or even counterproductive. As discussed in the study of motivation, goals must be accepted to be effective. Finally, in order to be successful, MBO implementation must have constant attention and support from top management; MBO does not run itself. In the absence of this support, the technique loses legitimacy and often falls into disrepair.


Tesla’s Performance Review

 At Tesla, the automotive giant, the standards are set extremely high for their employees. In 2017, Tesla conducted its annual performance reviews as it does each year. Due to the review process, the company sees both voluntary and involuntary departures. During the review process, the managers discuss “results that were achieved, as well as how those results were achieved” with their employees. Tesla also has a performance recognition and compensation program that includes equity rewards as well as promotions in some cases, along with the constructive feedback.

The departure of employees during the review period is not unique to Tesla; however, in 2017 there was a large exodus of approximately 700 employees following their employee reviews. Elon Musk, who recently has stepped down from the role of chairman and has been under scrutiny for his behavior, saw the media coverage of this news as “ridiculous.”

“You have two boxes of equal ability, and one’s much smaller, the big guy’s going to crush the little guy, obviously,” states Musk. “So, the little guy better have a heck of a lot more skill or he’s going to get clobbered. So that is why our standards are high . . . if they’re not high, we will die.”

Overall, approximately 17 percent of their employees were promoted, almost half in manufacturing. As Tesla continues to grow and develop new vehicles, it is consistently pushing the boundaries and pushing its employees to new limits. Performance reviews are of the highest importance for Tesla’s business to succeed; the company needs the best people with the best skills. It is constantly growing and attempting to “suck the labor pool dry” to fill positions at many of its locations and factories.


Comparison of Appraisal Techniques

It is important to consider which appraisal technique or set of techniques may be most appropriate for a given situation. Although there is no simple answer to this question, we can consider the various strengths and weaknesses of each technique. This is done in Table 6. It is important to keep in mind that the appropriateness of a particular appraisal technique is in part a function of the purpose for the appraisal. For example, if the purpose of the appraisal is to identify high potential executives, then assessment centers are more appropriate than rating scales.

Major Strengths and Weaknesses of Appraisal Techniques
Rating Scales Critical Incidents BARS BOS MBO Assessment Centers
Meaningful dimensions Sometimes Sometimes Usually Usually Usually Usually
Amount of time required Low Medium High Medium High High
Development costs Low Low High Medium Medium High
Potential for rating errors High Medium Low Low Low Low
Acceptability to subordinates Low Medium High High High High
Acceptability to superiors Low Medium High High High High
Usefulness for allocating rewards Poor Fair Good Good Good Fair
Usefulness for employee counseling Poor Fair Good Good Good Good
Usefulness for identifying promotion potential Poor Fair Fair Fair Fair Good

Table 6 (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

As would be expected, the easiest and least expensive techniques are also the least accurate. They are also the least useful for purposes of personnel decisions and employee development. Once again, it appears that managers and organizations get what they pay for. If performance appraisals represent an important aspect of organizational life, clearly the more sophisticated—and more time-consuming—techniques are preferable. If, on the other hand, it is necessary to evaluate employees quickly and with few resources, techniques such as the graphic rating scale may be more appropriate. Managers must make cost-benefit decisions about the price (in time and money) they are willing to pay for a quality performance appraisal system.



As previously noted, feedback represents a critical variable in determining the success or failure of the goal-setting process. The same applies to the performance appraisal process. Without effective knowledge of results, the motivational impact of the appraisal process is lost. To better understand how feedback in work settings affects employee behavior, consider the model shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Effects of Feedback on Job Performance (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Figure 5 Effects of Feedback on Job Performance (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Feedback comes from many sources, including the task at hand, the supervisor, coworkers, and oneself. This input is then cognitively evaluated by the employee, who considers such factors as the perceived accuracy of the feedback (e.g., does the employee consider the information to be correct?); the credibility of the source of the feedback (e.g., does the employee trust the supervisor’s opinion?); the employee’s opinion concerning the fairness of the evaluation-process; the extent to which the feedback met the employee’s expectations (e.g., does the employee think she could have done better?); and the reasonableness of the performance standards.

If one or more of these evaluations prove negative (for example, the employee believes she is being unfairly evaluated), the credibility of the feedback is dismissed, and the employee may increase her resistance to task effort. On the other hand, where the feedback is accepted, it reinforces the employee’s direction, effort on the task, and persistence on the task. Thus, although feedback is essential, it is the nature and quality of the feedback that ultimately determines employee response.


Reward Systems in Organizations

After a company has designed and implemented a systematic performance appraisal system and provided adequate feedback to employees, the next step is to consider how to tie available corporate rewards to the outcomes of the appraisal. Behavioral research consistently demonstrates that performance levels are highest when rewards are contingent upon performance. Thus, in this section, we will examine five aspects of reward systems in organizations: (1) functions served by reward systems, (2) bases for reward distribution, (3) intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards, (4) the relationship between money and motivation and, finally, (5) pay secrecy.

Functions of Reward Systems

Reward systems in organizations are used for a variety of reasons. It is generally agreed that reward systems influence the following:

  • Job effort and performance. Following expectancy theory, employees’ effort and performance would be expected to increase when they felt that rewards were contingent upon good performance. Hence, reward systems serve a very basic motivational function.
  • Attendance and retention. Reward systems have also been shown to influence an employee’s decision to come to work or to remain with the organization. This was discussed in the previous chapter.
  • Employee commitment to the organization. It has been found that reward systems in no small way influence employee commitment to the organization, primarily through the exchange process. That is, employees develop ties with organizations when they perceive that the organization is interested in their welfare and willing to protect their interests. This exchange process is shown in Figure 6 To the extent that employee needs and goals are met by the company, we would expect commitment to increase.
  • Job satisfaction. Job satisfaction has also been shown to be related to rewards, as discussed in the previous chapter. Edward E. Lawler, a well-known researcher on employee compensation, has identified four conclusions concerning the relationship between rewards and satisfaction: (1) satisfaction with a reward is a function of both how much is received and how much the individual feels should have been received; (2) satisfaction is influenced by comparisons with what happens to others, especially one’s coworkers; (3) people differ with respect to the rewards they value; and (4) some rewards are satisfying because they lead to other rewards.
  • Occupational and organizational choice. Finally, the selection of an occupation by an individual, as well as the decision to join a particular organization within that occupation, are influenced by the rewards that are thought to be available in the occupation or organization. To prove this, simply look at the classified section of your local newspaper and notice how many jobs highlight beginning salaries.


Figure 6 The Exchange Process Between Employee and Organization (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)
Figure 6 The Exchange Process Between Employee and Organization (Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Reward systems in organizations have far-reaching consequences for both individual satisfaction and organizational effectiveness. Unfortunately, there are many instances where reward systems have been distorted to punish good performance or inhibit creativity. Consider, for example, the Greyhound Bus Company driver who was suspended for 10 days without pay for breaking a company rule against using a CB radio on his bus. The bus driver had used the radio to alert police that his bus, with 32 passengers on board, was being hijacked by an armed man. The police arrested the hijacker, and the bus driver was suspended for breaking company rules. Such incidents hardly encourage employees to focus their efforts on responsible performance.

Bases for Reward Distribution

A common reality in many contemporary work organizations is the inequity that exists in the distribution of available rewards. One often sees little correlation between those who perform well and those who receive the greatest rewards. At the extreme, it is hard to understand how a company could pay its president $10 to $20 million per year (as many large corporations do) while it pays its secretaries and clerks less than $20,000. Each works approximately 40 hours per week, and both are important for organizational performance. Is it really possible that the president is 1,000 times more important than the secretary, as the salary differential suggests?

How do organizations decide on the distribution of available rewards? These are questions of justice in organizations. Justice or fairness refers refers to the idea that an action or decision is morally right, which may be defined according to ethics, religion, fairness, equity, or law. People are naturally attentive to the justice of events and situations in their everyday lives, across a variety of contexts. There are three basic forms of organizational justice: distributive, procedural, and interactional. Distributive justice is conceptualized as the fairness associated with decision outcomes and distribution of resources. The outcomes or resources distributed may be tangible (e.g., pay) or intangible (e.g., praise). Perceptions of distributive justice can be fostered when outcomes are perceived to be equally applied. Distributive justice may involve one or more of three different rationales for how resources are distributed: equity, equality and need. Equity focuses more on rewarding employees based on their contribution, and thus can be can be viewed as capitalist justice: the ratio of one’s inputs to one’s outcomes. Equality on the other hand provides each employee with the same compensation. Finally, need is providing a benefit based on one’s personal requirement. Procedural justiceis defined as the fairness of the processes that lead to outcomes. When individuals feel that they have a voice in the process or that the process involves characteristics such as consistency, accuracy, ethicality, and lack of bias then procedural justice is enhanced. Procedural justice is the appropriateness of the allocation process. It includes six main points which are consistency, lack of bias, accuracy, representation of all concerned, correction and ethics. Procedural justice seems to be essential to maintaining institutional legitimacy. What is more interesting is that procedural justice affects what workers believe about the organization as a whole. Interactional justice refers to the treatment that an individual receives as decisions are made and can be promoted by providing explanations for decisions and delivering the news with sensitivity and respect. Interactional justice focuses on who gets attention and when. It includes interpersonal relationships and access to information. All three forms of justice are perceptual, that is they are tied to what people think and feel is happening around them. Thus, justice is one important tool leaders have to motivate the members of their groups.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards

The variety of rewards that employees can receive in exchange for their contributions of time and effort can be classified as either extrinsic or intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are external to the work itself. They are administered externally—that is, by someone else (usually management). Examples of extrinsic rewards include wages and salary, fringe benefits, promotions, and recognition and praise from others.

On the other hand,intrinsic rewards represent those rewards that are related directly to performing the job. In this sense, they are often described as “self-administered” rewards, because engaging in the task itself leads to their receipt. Examples of intrinsic rewards include feelings of task accomplishment, autonomy, and personal growth and development that come from the job.

In the literature on employee motivation, there is considerable controversy concerning the possible interrelationship of these two kinds of reward. It has been argued (with some research support) that extrinsic rewards tend to drive out the positive effects of some intrinsic rewards and can lead to unethical behavior. Consider, for example, the child next door who begs you to let her help you wash your car. For a young child, this task can carry considerable excitement (and intrinsic motivation). Now, consider what happens on a Saturday afternoon when you need your car washed but the child has other options. What do you do? You offer to pay her this time to help wash your car. What do you think will happen the next time you ask the neighbor to help you wash the car for free? In other words, when extrinsic rewards such as pay are tied closely to performance (called performance-reward contingency), intrinsic motivation—the desire to do a task because you enjoy it—can decrease.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that because extrinsic rewards are administered by sources external to the individual, their effectiveness rests on accurate and fair monitoring, evaluating, and administration. Implementation can be expensive, and the timing of performance and rewards may not always be close. For example, you may perform well on a task, but unless there is a way for that to be noticed, evaluated, recorded, and rewarded within a reasonable time frame, an extrinsic reward may not have a significant impact. Intrinsic rewards are a function of self-monitoring, evaluation, and administration; consequently, these rewards often are less costly and more effectively administered. For example, even if no one else notices or rewards you for superior performance on a task, you can still reward yourself with a mental pat on the back for a job well done or a sense of satisfaction for overcoming a challenge. The implications of this finding will become apparent when exploring efforts to enrich employees’ jobs.

Money and Motivation: A Closer Look

A recurring debate among managers focuses on the issue of whether money is a primary motivator. Some argue that most behavior in organizational settings is motivated by money (or at least monetary factors), whereas others argue that money is only one of many factors that motivate performance. Whichever group is correct, we must recognize that money can have important motivational consequences for many people in many situations. In fact, money serves several important functions in work settings. These include serving as (1) a goal or incentive, (2) a source of satisfaction, (3) an instrument for gaining other desired outcomes, (4) a standard of comparison for determining relative standing or worth, and (5) a conditional reinforcer where its receipt is contingent upon a certain level of performance. Even so, experience tells us that the effectiveness of pay as a motivator varies considerably. Sometimes there seems to be an almost direct relationship between pay and effort, whereas at other times no such relationship is found. Why? Lawler suggests that certain conditions must be present in order for pay to act as a strong motivator:

  • Trust levels between managers and subordinates must be high.
  • Individual performance must be able to be accurately measured.
  • Pay rewards to high performers must be substantially higher than those to poor performers.
  • Few, if any, negative consequences for good performance must be perceived.

Under these conditions, a climate or culture is created in which employees have reason to believe that significant performance-reward contingencies truly exist. Given this perception (and assuming the reward is valued), we would expect performance to be increased.

Individual and Group Incentive Plans

We now turn to an examination of various employee incentive programs used by organizations. First, we consider the relative merits of individuals versus group incentive programs. Next, we focus on several relatively new approaches to motivation and compensation. Finally, we suggest several guidelines for effective incentive systems.

Individual versus Group Incentives

Companies usually have choices among various compensation plans and must make decisions about which is most effective for its situation. Incentive systems in organizations are usually divided into two categories on the basis of whether the unit of analysis—and the recipient of the reward—is the individual or a group. Among individual incentive plans, several approaches can be identified, including merit-based compensation (commonly known as merit compensation), piece-rate incentive programs (where people are paid according to the quantity of output), bonus systems of various sorts, and commissions. In each case, rewards are tied fairly directly to the performance level of the individual.

Although individual incentive systems often lead to improved performance, some reservations have been noted. In particular, these programs may at times lead to employees competing with one another, with undesirable results. For instance, department store salespeople on commission may fight over customers, thereby chasing the customers away. After all, customers don’t care who they deal with, only that the service is good. Second, these plans typically are resisted by unions, which prefer compensation to be based on seniority or job classification. Third, where quality control systems are lax, individual incentives such as piece rates may lead employees to maximize units of output while sacrificing quality. And, finally, in order for these programs to be successful, an atmosphere of trust and cooperation is necessary.

In order to overcome some of these shortcomings, many companies have turned to group or organizational incentive plans. Group incentive programs base at least some of an employee’s rewards on group or organization performance. Hence, employees are encouraged to cooperate with one another and with the corporation so that all employees can benefit. Programs such as profit-sharing or gain-sharing plans (discussed below) are designed to tie the employees’ future rewards and prosperity to that of the company and reduce the age-old antagonism between the two. The results are often dramatic.


Chapter Review Questions

  1. Identify the various functions of performance appraisals. How are appraisals used in most work organizations?
  2. What are some problems associated with performance appraisals?
  3. Define validity and reliability. Why are these two concepts important from a managerial standpoint?
  4. How can errors in appraisals be reduced?
  5. Critically evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the various techniques of performance appraisal.
  6. Discuss the role of feedback in employee performance.
  7. What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards?
  8. Identify the major bases of reward distribution.
  9. How does money influence employee motivation?
  10. Discuss the relative merits of individual and group incentive programs.
  11. Describe the benefits and drawbacks of several of the new approaches to reward systems. Which ones do you feel would be most effective in work organizations?


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Problem Solving in Teams and Groups Copyright © 2021 by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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