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appraisals part 1

Senior management

Performance management starts at the top.
If senior managers are unable to grasp its basic principles and put some sort of strategy in place then their organisations are likely to suffer in the long term. Motivation will eventually drop.

The values of a company will determine the way it will behave in attempting to reach its goals.
Once a vision is translated into goals the organisation will break them down into departmental targets.
These required results will ultimately be achieved within a framework of desirable behaviours.

What an organisation says it is going to do via, say, a Mission Statement is very important.
The organisation must encourage this way of doing things by focusing its performance management.

When major changes are being implemented it is useful to make it clear what behaviours are equally undesirable.

Clearly, dubious behaviours that are, for example, illegal or immoral should not be tolerated in the pursuit of success.


The senior executives will be responsible for devising, implementing and reviewing company procedures and systems.
How these are rewarded will determine, rightly or wrongly, the focus for behaviour when trying to carry them out.

If an executive sets two key targets ‘A’ and ‘B’ which are equally weighted in terms of their importance to the organisation but weights the reward system towards ‘A’ the result will be a bias towards ‘A’ in terms of effort and behaviours.
Unwittingly, the organisation are saying that ‘A’ is really more important.

Performance management has a cascading effect.
If you ignore one level of the hierarchy in terms of performance management it can act as the ‘weak link in the chain’ and affect the desired result. If results are not what you might expect, firstly check that all people involved are being reinforced.

Clearly, a senior manager can’t be in every place reinforcing everyone in the organisation.
It is therefore imperative that reinforcement processes exist that reach all levels from the top down.

Via the hierarchical structure reinforcement will increase as you go down the chain. Those being reinforced are much more likely to reinforce in turn.

Management by walking about (MBWA)

It is not desirable for senior managers to appear in various departments on a ‘reinforcing rampage’.
This might appear to fly in the face of what many workers might say in terms of ‘never seeing senior managers’.
However, there is a very good reason for this.

If a manager appears without notice he may be presented with a situation that he or she believes requires a negative response.
For example, if the local manager had allowed individuals ‘time off’ (as a consequence) as part of his or her performance management it may appear to the senior manager that they were not working.
This could have embarrassing results leading to lower motivation.

In other words, the senior manager should be aware of what is happening in an area before going around helping to reinforce behaviours. The best way is to go around with the local manager who can point out good practices and lesser ones.
When reinforcing in this way, spend time with those performing well first which will send a message to those who are struggling.

All reward systems must be ratified by senior managers so that no nasty surprises are raised by anyone.

It has been shown that the best managers do spend more of their time in the work area as this will give much more opportunity for positive reinforcement.

Reward limitations

All reward systems should encourage individual performance but not create a scenario where internal competition is rife.
Hence, all reward systems should be based upon personal performance even when distribution is used via a formula.
The review of any system that is set up should be based upon data collected and not just the observation of some behaviours.


For many managers pressure and stress seem to go with the job.
If it gets out of hand it tends to lead to management by negative reinforcement, punishment and penalty (see Consequences – part 1).

Sometimes the situation can be drastic enough to justify the use of negative reinforcement.
Remember, that negative reinforcement can be used to initiate a desirable behaviour.
Once the required behaviour is being seen a programme of positive reinforcement will maintain the momentum.

Performance management post

There may be a temptation to appoint a position of Performance Manager.
This may have the effect of isolating the responsibility for performance management.
It’s about making sure that all recognise the importance of performance management and that it is passed down through all levels of managers and the workforce.
Having a specific position may undermine this leading to poor motivation.

Herrnstein’s hyperbola

In 1970, Dr. Richard Herrnstein, Professor of Psychology at Harvard put forward his ‘matching law’.

It can be represented by the formula above at the top of the page.

In simple terms we can look at two behaviours ‘A’ and ‘B’.
If 80% of the reinforcement is directed towards ‘A’ and 20% towards ‘B’ then a person will spend 80% of their time on ‘A’ and 20% of their time on ‘B’. This reflects personal motivations to do one or the other driven by the reinforcement.

This has been shown to apply to all behaviours.

In effect, every time you introduce new activities you will dilute the effort on existing projects.
This assumes that any new behaviours are being reinforced, if not the time spent on them will be low anyway.

The formula represents:

  • R = rate of approach of the target behaviour to the asymptote
  • K = asymptote (highest level for the target behaviour)
  • r = reinforcement for the target behaviour R
  • r(e) = reinforcement for all behaviours

An asymptote is:

A straight line that a curve approaches but never meets or crosses.
The curve is said to meet the asymptote at infinity.
For example, in the equation y = 1/x, y becomes infinitely small as x increases but never reaches zero.