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Negotiated performance appraisals

By Gregorio Billikopf

Next to employee discipline, performance appraisal interviews are probably the most dreaded management activity. Traditional performance appraisals put the supervisor in a position of being the expert on the employee’s performance. The worker often reacts with passive resistance or noticeable defensiveness. No wonder supervisors are often hesitant to deliver bad news to workers. It is easier to ignore it and hope it goes away.

You can make the task easier by putting more responsibility on the worker for the performance appraisal. While there are many ways to achieve this, here is an approach that has worked well for me. It is based on effective negotiation techniques. A farm manager can ask the employee being appraised to bring three lists to the performance appraisal interview: (1) areas where the employee performs well (what he contributes to the farming operation); (2) areas where the worker has shown recent improvement (perhaps over the last year); and (3) areas where the worker feels weak, or thinks his supervisor would like to see improvement. It is appropriate to give the employee time to think through these lists, and so you may want to give employees a couple of weeks to complete the assignment.

Because you as the supervisor will also fill out the three lists, employees are more likely to bring candid responses to the table. It is critical to announce your intention, to the employee, that you will also complete these lists. I like saying something like: "... and I will fill out these three lists also," and then repeat the purpose of each list again. "That is, (1) areas where you perform well and what you contribute to the organization from my perspective; (2) areas where you have shown recent improvement; and (3) weak areas where you still need to improve." The key point here is that employees will hear you say that there are performance areas you value in their work, and just as importantly, that the employee can still improve in other aspects of the job.

This latter point is particularly critical from a psychological perspective. It is human nature not to want to bring up our faults; but it is also human nature to prefer to point out our own shortcomings rather than having someone else do it. This process allows the subordinate to think in terms of both his own performance expectations and perceived supervisor expectations.

There is a fourth list, just as vital as the first three. While we will talk about this list later, it is important to include it as an assignment ahead of time so the employee has time to think about it and come prepared. The fourth list is the employee's response to the question: "What can I do differently, as your supervisor, so you can be more effective in your job?" If a supervisor is not truly willing to listen to what the employee may have to say here, the negotiated performance appraisal will not work as it should, and a more traditional performance appraisal would work better.

Although the appraisal process can take place between supervisor and employee alone, the use of a third party can greatly facilitate the success of the approach. The message is thus clearly sent to all involved that this process is important to the farm organization. The third party is there mostly to listen to each individual in a separate meeting (or pre-caucus), and help them brainstorm and prepare for the joint meeting. During the joint meeting, the third party can, using the negotiation process outlined in Chapter 13, help the stakeholders improve their working relationships and focus on needed changes rather than defending positions. This third party role can be played by your veterinarian, agricultural advisor, or interpersonal relations consultant.


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