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					A CNN headline screams, "Performance Review May Have Sparked NASA
Shooting." In Houston, the local police were trying to determine a motive for why a
NASA contractor fatally shot his boss and took another employee hostage before
killing himself at the Johnson Space Center. It seems that his boss sent him an email
performance review that was critical of his performance. Performance review by
email? NASA has said that it will review security procedures. I could not help but add
in my mind, "what about performance appraisal procedures?" Shouldn't those be
reviewed as well? It seems like a classic case of ignoring the underlying issue. If it
proves out that the performance appraisal was the key, tightening security only gives
the next person who wants to smuggle in a handgun a slightly greater challenge to
overcome—rather than addressing the root cause.
 Not too long ago, on an employee survey in which attitudinal responses could be
matched up to people's performance appraisal ratings, we saw that the largest gap
between the highest rated performers and the lowest rated performers was "feeling
valued by the organization." Receiving a poor performance appraisal did not affect
people's intention to stay or leave, their feelings about the appraisal in helping them
improve their performance, or a host of other potential actions. The one thing it did
affect in this organization was the self-report by poor performers that they did not feel
valued. So if the goal of this performance appraisal system was to make a certain
group of employees feel less valued by the organization, it was working. If the goal
was something else, it was not.
 In one manufacturing organization with a union, the goal (not officially stated) of the
performance appraisal system was simply to document poor performance. 'Write 'em
up,' was a commonly used expression—the thinking being that the organization
needed to build a case in order to withstand the inevitable challenge from the union
should it need to dismiss a person.
 Meanwhile, at the Russian News Service, which controls a number of radio
broadcast stations in Russia, good news is becoming official policy. The New York
Times reported that the managers of the news service had implemented a policy, in
which at least 50 percent of the news coverage on or about Russia must be positive.
These apparent Kremlin allies also stated that opposition leaders could not be
mentioned, and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy. "When we talk of
death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive," said one editor at the
station. "If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive."
 I don't know about you, but I truly do believe in the benefits that a free press brings
to society; this kind of manipulation makes my skin crawl. In one fell swoop, the
Russian News Service has made itself irrelevant and will now begin a decline into
oblivion unless it changes course. By putting out 50 percent positive feedback as a
"rule," its credibility in accurately portraying the news is zero, and the Russians—as
they have done before—will turn toward external sources of news to find out what is
really happening. Are people so fragile that they can "snap" upon hearing bad
performance appraisal news? Are they so easily manipulated that if you feed them a
diet of pabulum that they will fall in line with official "policy," actually believing that
all is well due to a steady diet of good news? Of course, the reality is likely to be
where it usually resides—somewhere in the middle.
 I was at a meeting where the facilitator put on a demonstration for the 100 or so
people in the room. He told everyone to get up, walk around the room and randomly
stop and describe to someone an issue you would like improve upon. We were then
required to listen to the advice the person had to offer. Issues were things like
"listening more," or "not rushing to judgment" or "making more time for family." The
person, with whom you described your issue to, was supposed to offer one thing that
you could try to improve in that area—preferably something that had worked for them.
Two rules: you could not interrupt your advisor, you had to just listen; second, at the
end, all you were allowed to say to the person giving you advice was, "Thank you."
At the end of the 20 to 30 minutes, we all returned to our seats and were probed about
what we thought about this performance improvement session. The results were
generally very positive. What did we like about this performance appraisal session? It
was non-judgmental, it was non-threatening and it was done by someone who did not
have an ulterior motive or an axe to grind with you. Therefore, we could listen with an
open mind and maybe get something out of the conversation. Maybe.
 How many of us could say that our performance appraisal systems, which were
designed to help improve the performance of the organization, are non-judgmental,
non-threatening and done in a truly unbiased fashion. Anyone? It would seem that the
systems we have put in place to improve performance are designed in such a fashion
as to make that noble goal fairly unlikely. Can it be that performance appraisal and
organizational improvement are incompatible? Anyone care to try building one again?
 In my research on employee surveys, I have yet to see a performance appraisal
system that is well rated by the employees living under that system. Let's assume that
the vast majority of people come to work wanting to do a good job. I think that is a
safe assumption by the way. Therefore, if we were to create a positive working culture
in the organization through tried and true principles, and people want to do a good job
anyway, maybe we should scrap our performance appraisal systems and develop
"organizational improvement systems."
 Consequently, our conversations will be around what the individual can do to help
contribute to organizational goals and what skills and abilities they need to develop to
help make that happen. What about the five percent of the population that is not doing
a good job and need to be eased out of the organization? I believe that their
performance issues should not be addressed through the organizational improvement
system, but should be addressed by a separate performance management system—a
system that would be irrelevant to 95 percent of the workforce.
 What about organizations that tie performance appraisal to merit increase? How
would this happen if there is no appraisal of someone's performance? How could we
differentiate top performers who will get four to five percent increases from average
performers who will get three percent? Do we really need performance appraisal
systems to differentiate a one to two percentage point difference in salary increases?
Seems kind of silly, doesn't it? We should be able to find a different path.
 Organizations take a hit from an employee attitude standpoint when they are seen as
not doing enough to correct poor employee performance. And in fact, they take even
more of a hit when the organization is a unionized environment. In other words,
people who are doing a good job and working hard want the others who are around
them to be working hard and doing a good job as well. However, designing
performance appraisal systems that are needed for five percent of the population, yet
are onerous to 95 percent seems to be a monumental misjudgement.
 If our goal is to create superb working environments and implement strong HR
Management, where people can fulfil their potential and organizations can excel at
delivering products and services to their customers, we need to roll up our sleeves and
get to work. We have a lot of redesigning to do.
 Andrea Watkins and Jeffery M Saltzman, M.A write articles about how Kenexa uses
employee surveys to measure employee opinions and customer satisfaction levels.
Kenexa works with top HR Management and a team of consultants, psychologists,
researchers and client service professionals to design and manage performance
management surveys for some of the largest and most respected companies in the
world. The end result is an increase in productivity, accountability and performance.