Have you noticed how appraisal schemes are ‘reinvented’ in organisations every three or four years? What does this tell us? That managers are not doing appraisals properly? That the appraisal system is not working for whatever reason?

The annual performance appraisal makes a ‘convenient’ assumption – that people can be held accountable for their own performance. Leaving aside the problem of whether their targets or work standards were set with any understanding of capability, to assume that an individual can be held accountable for his or her own performance negates all that we know about organisations.

Performance is governed primarily by the system. Even in ‘lone-operator’ jobs, like selling, the differences between individuals will be due more to differences in method than individual differences. It is management’s job to help people learn from differences in method, not ‘cast differences in concrete’ by labelling or rewarding people differently. Differences must be established as ‘real’ and not simply differences which are caused by common cause variation.

Managers are taught to appraise people by giving them ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ – how many people sit through the appraisal waiting for the bad news? In so many cases appraisals perform a derisory function – they are de-motivational.

There is no doubt that managers should talk with their people all the time about performance – how we know how we are doing, what we are learning and so on. There is no doubt that people want to know where they stand, how they can develop and what options they have for their future. But to attempt to meet these needs with a yearly ‘closed door, you-me’ session is invariably counter-productive.

Appraisals are one of Deming’s deadly diseases.