A key asset of any organisation is its people, so the monitoring of school staff needs to be undertaken with great care.
Most of us will accept that some degree of performance evaluation is needed and can bring many positives. But in so doing, there is a thin line between motivation and support on the one hand, and dysfunctional effects on the other.
Employee performance appraisals come in various forms but usually entail face-to-face meetings between the assessor and the assessed, often premised in discussions about the contents of a questionnaire or some other medium of assessment (formal observations of practice, in the case of teaching).
Managed appropriately, employee appraisals can be beneficial to all parties involved. An appraisal can provide targets and direction for furthering a colleague’s career. And as long as the process is not simply an exercise to review the past, but also projects into the future, it can help to visualise areas for improvement, as well as highlighting training and knowledge needs.
Potential adverse consequences of employee appraisals are also well known. Like any other performance-measurement system, the relevant metrics must be chosen carefully because once established, they rigidly define success and failure. Such rigidity and constraint can become a source of unhelpful frustration or fuel negative perceptions of bias, unfairness or favouritism.
Appraisal systems are also extremely time consuming. More importantly, there is scant evidence to suggest that formal appraisal systems drive improvements in people’s performance.
For these reasons, it is no great surprise that several organisations – including Accenture, General Electric, Microsoft and Gap – have claimed to have recently abolished annual staff appraisals. They haven’t abolished performance appraisal altogether, but most of these companies have replaced the annual cycle with a fluid approach that involves more frequent dialogue between managers and their less senior colleagues (such as at the end of each defined project).
A rigid annual performance-evaluation cycle has been replaced by a supposedly less onerous incremental process – one that spans the whole year and acts more as a supporting mechanism than a corporate surveillance tool.
Could we see the abolishment of traditional staff-performance appraisal in schools? Could a more frequent, incremental, less formalised and supportive approach be of benefit to schools and the development of staff? Some schools have tried and have had success (see “Taking the lead on learning”, 13 November).
We’re only too aware of the rather dismal picture in terms of staff recruitment and retention. It’s with this in mind that school leaders must aim to design and put into practice staff performance-evaluation tools that are viewed as being supportive and helpful, rather than some formal policing device. Negative opinion towards performance appraisal in schools will likely only exacerbate the present-day teacher exodus.
John Burns is professor of management and accountancy at the University of Exeter Business School
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