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This book has more perspectives and detail about the problems with performance appraisals than you would have learned about in 20 years. As a result, the suggestion to abolish performance appraisals comes as no surprise (especially since that's the title) and the logic is appealing, as well. To get rid of performance appraisals will be difficult in most companies, because people will not be able to imagine what the alternatives can be. The book's rich detail about the problems, and then the many suggestions in it for how to develop replacements fill those gaps.
If you are like me and dislike performance appraisals, get this book to help you to migrate away from them.
Since I never liked performance appraisals, I abolished them years ago in our consulting firm. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the mechanisms that I had substituted for performance appraisals were consistent with the authors' recommendations.
I am a big believer in complexity science, and like to see organizations operating in more free form ways. You have to eliminate strait jackets like performance appraisals to get to that point.
The thrust of the alternative is to place the responsibility with each person in the company for their own development, but be sure that they get access to the resources and feedback they need to improve. This is also very revealing because people vary enormously in how interested they are in improving. If you put the ball in their court, you will learn a great deal about the future potential of the people in the organization. Some will try very little. Some will try a lot. Many will not follow through. But you will have opened a doorway through which the most motivated to improve can go as far as they want. That's terrific!
The only part of the book that I disagreed with is that the authors think that all performance measures are bad. In my experience and in my research, I find that performance measures that people set for themselves that they think are important are extremely valuable for focusing and stimulating performance. The authors seem to think that employees will always focus on goals that help their little area rather than the whole company. That occurs only when people don't understand how the whole business works. That's an education issue, not a performance measurement issue.
After you have read and begun to apply this book, I suggest that you also think about where else in your organization you have bureaucratic practices that stifle innovation, hurt morale, and slow down progress. Then, use this book as a model for how to undo those harms as well. In many companies, processes for controlling capital expenditures and authorizing new product development often have these effects. As a result, little experiments are inhibited that the company can afford to fail in by processes designed to keep from making big mistakes with billions.
Free up everyone to feel good about themselves, to become better, and to cooperate more freely to improve the organization!
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on November 22, 2000
This is an important and well written book. The authors, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, think it is time for organizations to begin treating employees like the adults that they are. There is too much patriarchal and paternalistic hand-holding, and way too much time spent monitoring, evaluating and judging individuals. The authors advocate dropping the ritual of performance appraisal as a vital step, in itself, and for the "undercurrent" that appraisal represents, towards freeing the human spirit in organizations. This undercurrent "hangs like a cloud, pervades the workplace atmosphere...." It is the "personnel policies, human resource practices, and most importantly, the organization's unseen culture (values and beliefs) about people. It sends messages that people are not interested in working or improving the organization, messages that people are children who need to be directed and controlled in an atmosphere much like a traditional school." This is powerful stuff.
Coens and Jenkins want us to get busy on working together towards improving processes and the system of delivering value to our customers, and give up the quest for finally pinpointing, once and for all, who the "1"s, "2"s, "3"s, etc. are in the organization. They want us to quit thinking that a person's value and performance can somehow be reduced to a number. They explain how this is a fallacy and illusion, given the impossibility of separating out the individual's contribution from the contribution of the system or environment that she works in, inherent measurement and judgment biases, and organizational politics. More importantly, such reductionism is degrading and demoralizing to the individual. And "we trivialize an individual's work, often involving heart and soul, from something unique and wonderful into a cold and sterile numerical rating that purportedly signifies the person's total contribution."
The approach the authors take is to first surface, then examine, and ultimately attack the assumptions underlying appraisal, and then to build alternatives from "newer, more hopeful assumptions." They are thorough and convincing in making the case to abolish performance appraisal.
W. Edwards Deming, who mentored Jenkins, was often asked, "But if we eliminate performance appraisal, then what will we replace it with?" He would reply, "Try leadership." Whereas Coens and Jenkins would surely support such a true and succinct response, they also offer specific guidelines and methodology for an organization to wean itself from the nonproductive and harmful anachronism of performance appraisal. For example, they describe how to effectively "debundle" management concerns, such as motivation, coaching, counseling, retention, discharge, goal setting, pay, promotion, and discipline, which are often packaged as part of the appraisal process.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who values dignity, respect, and trust in the workplace, and who believes that holding such values is crucial in striving for true organizational excellence.
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on January 29, 2001
Abolishing Performance Appraisals makes a powerful case for removing this well intended yet ineffective ritual organizations have been requiring for decades. Indeed, Coens and Jenkins provide solid reason why appraisals have to go, to be replaced with quality feedback mechanisms including coaching and support structures that enable employees to maximize their own potential. No one reading this book would challenge its basic argument. My primary concern was in the prescription. They recommend you recruit a group of stakeholders as your design team, to explore the problem in your own organization, and to arrive at alternatives that align with your organization's mission. Considering that Coens and Jenkins affirm W. Edward Deming's claim that 94% of performance outcomes are attributable to the system, they are less robust in offering concrete guidelines on what "the system" should look like. This book is excellent in describing the history of the problem and highly persuasive in its message. It accomplishes that goal. If the reader is interested in exploring a system that is a clear alternative, that is simple in scope and provides a strong transition from the current mess, I recommend you pick up Catalytic Coaching - The End of the Performance Review by Gary Markle. Equally thought provoking on the issue, but a stronger set of steps on how to approach the problem.
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on December 7, 2000
What a wonderful gift Coens and Jenkins have given to us! As a Human Resource Director at a large, Midwest manufacturing facility, I see first hand the impact of performance appraisals on both the company and the individual. I have never felt comfortable with the appraisal process, but always feel responsible for assuring its proper implementation. Despite my best efforts, the process never works as it is intended. Numbers continue to get in the way of meaningful conversation, ratings are rarely accurate, people continue to feel bitter and betrayed, and managers, in general, are uneasy with the process. This book has done several things for me. First, it validates my discomfort with performance apraisals. Secondly, it explains why I feel the way I do and thirdly, it lays the foundation for the "new thinking" that's required for an organization to develop sound alternatives to performance appraisal. The authors draw effectively from the myriad of research by respected change agents such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Alfie Kohn, Peter Scholtes, Philp Crosby, Douglas McGregor and others. From the opening dedication ("To all the supervisors and managers who care about people and who have tried their best to make performance appraisals work") to the book's closing call to action by T.S. Eliot, (" make an end is to make a beginning") this book spoke to me. Coens and Jenkins have created a lasting and important contribution to the serious debate about the effectiveness of performance appraisals.
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on February 19, 2001
First, let me reveal a potential source of bias - I've been practicing employment law, primarily from the management side, for more than 27 years and I have known Tom Coens for almost 20 years. Having revealed my potential biases, let me say that I found this to be an insightful and provocative book. I found the chapter on 'Dispelling The Legal Myths and Dealing With Poor Performers' particularly helpful and I am recommending the book to Human Resources Directors and employment lawyers with whom I work. As Tom and Mary point out, a myth prevalent at companies around America is that performance appraisals are the bedrock of defense against employment lawsuits. While it is true that objective, carefully considered, employment appraisals can be helpful in the defense of lawsuits, such appraisals are often the exception rather than the rule. As Tom and Mary note, unfortunately the press of business, the "halo factor", politics, disinclination of managers to discuss criticism and sheer laziness often compromise the effectiveness of performance appraisals both for their primary purposes and for the secondary purpose of utilizing such documents in the defense of lawsuits. In fact, it is not unusual in my practice to have the following conversation with a client. Client: We can't take it any more. We need to fire Employee X ASAP. He has been performing below par for years, but the bar has been raised and we can't afford to carry him any more. Me: Let me guess, Employee X is in a protected category and has gotten "satisfactory to good" performance appraisals for the last several years because Manager Y did not want to step up to the plate and tell him the real problems with his performance. Client: How did you know? Tom and Mary effectively address this problem and, better yet, give practical solutions to documenting performance and discipline while providing alternatives to excessive reliance on the performance appraisal system. I highly recommend their book.
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on July 2, 2002
If you've ever received a traditional performance appraisal (PA), every word of this book will ring true! The sad part is, in a country as technically advanced as the US, this same process has been used in corporations since World War II. Can you name another technology still in use from that era?
As a Performance Management consultant I've reengineered appraisal systems based on employee and management needs, so the book's title put me off initially. Performance mesurement and feedback is critical in a high performing organization. But the authors' approach is right on target. Organizations should NOT stop measuring, but measure and feed back accurately within an adult-to-adult context. The data on how humans behave puts traditional PA systems to shame. What a waste of resources!
Performance Management systems can be reengineered at little direct cost and return REAL individual, group and organizational performance improvement. I've found that nearly all PA systems are compensation rather than performance focused, and actually keep employees from the accountability the organization seeks. What's worse, these systems are often the only source for employee feedback!
Coens and Jenkins capture and dispel all the well-meaning assumptions of traditional Performance Appraisals, while also providing solid PERFORMANCE-BASED alternatives. For example, and with no apologies to the lawyers, individual performance documentation is only needed when there is a serious performance problem, and that is quite rare. Positive performance data is available in other, more productive ways. Why burden the entire organization, demotivate employees, and waste valuable resources when treating adults as adults can actually improve BOTTOM LINE PERFORMNACE?
The book is not for everyone, but managers who have always felt sick about using their company's PA process will be delighted to know that they were right all along. People know how to do this, and company bureaucracy just gets in the way.
No business has extra people or money. I've effectively used these same principles for years. Thank you, Tom and Mary, for documenting a process for 21st century Performance Management.
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on May 16, 2001
Perhaps no other workplace topic is so hotly debated, so universally loathed, so burdened with anxiety than that annual ritual known as the job performance evaluation. More than one supervisor has said it would be easier to write one's own obituary than tackle the yearly job review.
The book, "Abolishing Performance Appraisals," has a simple way of addressing this task. Don't do them in the first place!
The authors argue that performance appraisals are not working in ways they are intended to - to reward, motivate and improve work forces. Instead, such performance reviews demoralize employees and frustrate supervisors. The primary problem, the authors state, is that using one process for so many complex activities (although filled with good intentions) is idealistic as well as dispiriting. And, they continue, no amount of tweaking can solve the problem. The only true solution is to put appraisals to rest.
Human Resources professionals will find this book most useful in determining how they can lead the charge in breaking away from tradition and moving closer to become a more progressive company. However, it is this challenge that will make the reader's head hurt.
The book is well written and thoughtfully done. It is divided into three parts with the first two addressing why appraisals fail and examining the core reasons behind performance reviews. These first eight chapters depict clearly that appraisals are flawed with destructive, though unintended effects. All of author's arguments make sense - common sense - to an extent where one finds itself pledging never to conduct a performance appraisal again.
It is the third part of the book that provides the reader with headaches. Although there is a sixteen-step process for making the transition from traditional performance appraisals to alternatives, there is no solution. As early as the Preface, the authors give ample warning about the endpoint by stating over and over again that there is no one model that answers all the questions they have identified. They state each company must find its own solution. In addition, they bring to reality that there is no shortcut. In fact, their recommended method usually takes two years to implement encompassing much effort, time, and cost.
The concepts of this book, in a nutshell, are: getting to the underlying assumption of why performance appraisals are used and create a new way of thinking to change current strategies and systems; encouraging supervisors to provide honest feedback and communication to employees by maintaining daily, two-way communication; empowering employees to be responsible for themselves - for their careers, for receiving feedback, and holding themselves accountable for the work to be done; giving leaders the freedom to choose for themselves the most effective ways o f working with people; moving away from and individual performance company to a organizational improvement company; and creating a culture where the company provide all of its people the tools, training, resources, and environment to do all these things mentioned.
The difficulty an HR professional will face in their industry is winning over top management to support these initiatives. Usually, management holds fast to traditions. Firms with proactive leaders may find some resistance at first but should be able to garner support easily.
This book encourages you to be a witness to the performance appraisal funeral. Join other progressive companies that understand the "critical importance of working from new thinking." You won't be disappointed.
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on October 5, 2005
I seached out this book when I was tasked to be part of creation of a review process for my smallish company. "Abolishing Performance Appraisals" operated as a great resource during the process.

Especially helpful were the case studies, which pointed out how real companies were creating alternatives to clunky performance appraisals.
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on February 12, 2001
Dear Prospective Readers,
I would like to give ABOLISHING PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins my highest recommendation.
For years I have been convinced that appraising the contribution of individuals is a highly destructive organizational enterprise. I have come to this conclusion through my own experience and through the persuasive writings of Peter Scholtes (The Leader's Handbook) and W. Edwards Deming (The New Economics) and other authors.
Coens and Jenkins have written a thoroughly researched and documented text that provides a wealth of information on why performance appraisal should be eliminated, and what instead should be done to perform the functions it allegedly achieves.
Pages 306 and 307 provide an excellent summary of principles that can be used to improve organizational performance, coach employees, provide feedback, determine compensation, make promotion decisions, develop employees, help poor performers, and provide appropriate legal documentation in the event of a lawsuit.
Figure 10.1 on page 286 provides an excellent summary of the process necessary for an organization to free itself from the grip of individual appraisal and refocus its attention on improving system performance. It is appropriately called a "Sixteen-Step Program to Recovery from Appraisal".
Coems and Jenkins have made an extremenly valuable contribution to those organizations that seek to create humane work places.
Laurenece J. Quick, Ph.D Associate Professor of Management Aurora University Aurora, IL.
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on October 31, 2000
Coens and Jenkins evaluate each and every "assumption" we use in defense of performance appraisals, and help us to see clearly that what we get from appraisals is not what we are hoping for. They don't try to sell quick replacements, but offer ways to accomplish what we really want out of appraisals through developing brand new assumptions in the workplace -- such as trusting employees, and focusing on improving systems and processes to improve organizational performance.
A resource that will enlighten all well-meaning managers and employees who think we have to have the annual performance appraisal, but are always disappointed in the results!!
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