Friday, 4 September 2009

Performance Appraisal in the Church of England

The Church of England has an unfortunate habit of uncritically adopting yesterday's management practices.

In some cases they are completely discredited and in the process of being abandoned. Sadly this is not yet so for the monster that is Performance Appraisal: it is is far too well entrenched in both private and public sector to be hunted from the field just yet, but it is still a very bad idea and the church has now enthusiastically incorporated it into clerical life under the name "Ministerial Review".

Fr David Clues offers an excellent critique in a post on his blog Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Fr Clues perhaps does not realise how right he is. I could go on at length, but everything that needs to be said has already been said eloquently by John Seddon in his book Freedom from Command and Control, pp.122-123. (Seddon is the only author on the subject of "management" worth reading. He is a maverick, but his views are based on solid evidence and his methods get real results. Perhaps I should rephrase that: he is seen as a maverick because his views are based on evidence and get real results. This is highly eccentric in the field of management, where the mainstream authors are little better than charlatans.)

Thus speaks Seddon:

I began to wonder about appraisal quite early in my career. I noticed it was something that was revamped and relaunched from time to time - a tell-tale sign of problems. If I asked what the issue was, people would tell me managers were not doing their workers' appraisals. It occurred to me that perhaps managers didn't like doing them. Perhaps they saw them as of no value. Sometimes I was told that the reason managers were not fulfilling their duty to develop people was a lack of know-how. So the answer was more appraisal training for managers. I continued to harbour my doubts.

We see other remedies. Self-appraisal. Let the subordinate drive the process - that might get them to do it. Change the forms, include 360-degree feedback. But what we rarely see is questioning of the very value of the exercise. The truth is that appraisal leaves people bitter, bruised, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some severely depressed. Talk to teachers who have been through an inspection. Without prompting, many describe the feeling of emptiness when it is all over. So much work goes into preparing for inspection and the inspection process itself. The inspector has a specification to which he works, and any disagreements about variations from the norm as defined by the specification will lead to a more difficult relationship. Talk to people in organisations who have been through appraisal. They tell you how they waited for the 'bad news'. It is psychological torture. In the perennially reinvented courses on how to do an appraisal, managers are told how to deliver bad news - there will always be bad news, since the whole idea is to hold the individual accountable. Some organisations compound the problem by insisting employees are ranked in a normal distribution - you can't have all 'A's; you have to have proportions of each group, including, therefore, some losers. The emotional pain caused by appraisals is incredible, particularly when money is tied to the rating. For substantial periods everyone's emotional energy is consumed by something that is flawed and counterproductive.

I was asked to write an article exposing the problems with performance appraisal for a Sunday newspaper. I submitted my first draft and the editor suggested I should provide balance by talking about what to do instead. My response was that you don't need to find an alternative to doing a bad thing - you should just stop it. He said: 'Ring your friends in Japan and find out what they do.' So I did. I asked: 'What do you do about performance appraisal?' The reply was: 'What is that?' I explained. Japanese people tend to be too polite to laugh.

Seddon and his Japanese friends of course are quite right, the editor quite wrong, but as the economist, Thomas Sowell, points out “No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: 'But what would you replace it with?' When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with?”

The Church of England, in predictably ovine fashion, has drunk the management Kool Aid. The daft thing is that there never was any need to. If it is absurd not to know what to "replace" the fire with, it is even more absurd deliberately to set your own house on fire, just because that's what everyone else has already done to theirs. This is exactly what the church has done with Ministerial Review.

Lord, have mercy.

1 comment:

  1. I am minded of an event during a series of seminars at a hospital in East Anglia.

    Those conducting it had had a request to include "management counselling" in the syllabus.

    So the nurses were asked what "management counselling" might mean.

    The reply from the hospital's "pain relief sister" was brief:

    Iknow what management counselling is. You go to the manager's office and he telles you what to do."

    Surely, despite all the present chicanery of management theory and practice today, it has been thus since Adam and Eve were dismissed from Eden?