Are Personnel Performance Assessments Valuable?

According to Jones and Bearly (Jones, 1996), performance assessment is the measurement of performance related variables and does not provide evaluation information; the transfer of behavior evaluation information is provided by feedback.

Now feedback is an interesting concept in that it applies to many fields of study. According to Webster’s (Anonymous, 2000), feedback is defined as “the return to the input of a part of the output of a machine, system, or process.” Webster’s goes on to use the following example: “… for producing changes…that improve performance or… that provide self-corrective action.”). While this definition applies to fields as diverse as electrical engineering and biology, it also applies to social science fields and to performance appraisals in particular.

For example, in an article by Adrian Furnham (Furnham, 2001), Mr. Furnham describes the use of dials, meters, and auditory signals as a way to provide feedback from an aircraft to an aircraft flight deck. He relates this to performance appraisal by saying that even though some human resource managers claim that what is most important in job performance cannot be measured, this is a profoundly incorrect position. He supports this argument by defining the 360-degree feedback process of evaluation and by illustrating its comprehensive nature, which is much like the aircraft example.

Other researchers bolster this viewpoint. For example, London states that feedback not only sustains effective performance, it also reduces ineffective performance (Mani, 2000). He also suggests that feedback can be used as a tool for changing self-perceptions.

Furthermore, in a study of government workers, Roberts and Reed (Roberts, 1996) found that feedback through the use of performance counseling sessions was effective but only when conducted by raters that used appraisal styles that emphasized participation and goal setting.

This need for a participatory style was echoed by a survey conducted by The Nierenberg Group (Cales, 2000) that found that less than half of the employees surveyed felt that their employers knew how to motivate them even though they knew the performance standards well.

The Process

Given the need for performance measurement, exactly how should the assessment process work? In an article by HRFocus (Anonymous, 2001), the steps in an effective feedback system were identified as:

  1. Clearly define the objectives
  2. Clearly define the roles and expectations of the participant, manager, and coach
  3. Verify that the competency model and instrumentation are researched, reliable, and valid
  4. All collateral materials are easy to use
  5. Results are clarified in the process
  6. Feedback is linked to participant’s development and tools

We can add that the evaluator must include the participant in the development process whereby they feel they have input and control over their development efforts.

The conclusion is that without feedback, the outputs of the process will not be controlled. It would be much like flying the aircraft without instruments. However, it is also noted that feedback alone is not adequate; the appraiser must facilitate a participative style so that the person evaluated feels part of the process and thereby properly motivated.


Anonymous. (2001). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary [On-line]. Available at:

Anonymous. (April 2001). Look for more 360(degree) feedback in performance reviews in 2001. [On-line]. HRFocus. Abstract from: ProQuest.

Cales, Maritza. (March 2000). Performance feedback ineffective [On-line]. Management Review. Abstract from: ProQuest.

Furnham, Adrian. (April 16, 2001). Feedback by Degrees: Accurate performance appraisals are much more than a useful development tool. [Online]. Financial Times, 10. Abstract from: ProQuest.

Jones, John E. & Bearley, William L. (1996). 360(degree) feedback: Strategies, tactics, and techniques for developing leaders. Amherst: MA: HRD Press.

Mani, Bonnie. (2000). Job feedback: Giving, seeking, and using feedback for performance improvement [On-line]. [Review of the book Job feedback: Giving, seeking, and using feedback for performance improvement. Abstract from: ProQuest.

Roberts, Gary E. & Reed, Tammy. (1996). Performance appraisal participation, goal setting and feedback: The influence of supervisory style [On-line]. Review of Public Personnel Administration. Abstract from: ProQuest.


Training Needs Assessment

According to various pundits, there are several steps involved with the design of training programs. However, one of the foremost is the needs assessment.

Needs assessment includes scanning and recognizing areas of human performance that do not meet identified performance objectives, which are determined by company strategic plans and mission. Typically, this is caused by organizational environmental changes such as global economics, changes in technology, employee attrition, recruitment, and regulatory changes.

The process by which needs assessment occurs is described in three phases. First, the ‘pressure point’ is observed by needs scanning. This pressure point is the discontinuity between what is desired in performance and what is being observed, and can be identified by observing changes in output quality, quantity, or other quantifiable and pertinent variables.

The second phase is the determination of the context (who needs training) and in what area(s). Typically, context involves an organizational analysis in order to determine the problem and the resources available to provide a correction. For example, if the quality of a specific output is low, then an organizational analysis will determine if it is significant given the company’s strategy, and whether available resources should be committed for a training intervention.

In determining the person in need of training, it must be concluded whether it is knowledge, skill, or attitude that is the root cause of the pressure point or problem. Using a quality example, once a specific employee has been identified as the cause of the problem, the cause could be:

  1. Lack of knowledge – perhaps the employee is using a new piece of equipment and does not fully understand how to operate it properly.
  2. Lack of skill – perhaps the employee is using a new piece of equipment and fully understands how to operate it properly, but has little experience and has not mastered its capabilities.
  3. Attitude issues — perhaps the employee does not understand the importance of their performance in overall quality impact on quality and viability.

Employee readiness is another key aspect of the needs assessment phase. If employees are not receptive to learning or do not have the ability to learn the necessary skills, knowledge, or attitudes, then training will likely not be very effective. Some key characteristics of employee learning readiness include:

  1. Characteristics of the person – does the person in question want to learn? Do they have the ability and skill to learn? This requires cognitive ability, reading ability, self-efficacy (belief in success), and awareness of their needs, goals, and career interests.
  2. Inputs – are the necessary resources, directives, and learning adjuncts available to the employee in order for them to learn? Is there a place where learning can be initiated without distraction? Are learning materials available?
  3. Outputs – are standards available by which learning success can be measured?
  4. Consequences – learning requires effort, which requires incentives for success. Are there any positive incentives that will entice the employee to learn? Do they understand what is in it for them?
  5. Feedback – are performance measurement systems in place by which training effectiveness can be measured against given standard (an output, as previously mentioned)?

Finally, this second assessment phase includes a task analysis in order to determine the key subject of the training effort.  For example, is the low quality a result of poor training in how to use quality assessment tools, or is it how to properly operate machinery?

The final phase of assessment is the outcome. Typical assessment outcomes include:

  1. Who needs to be trained
  2. What trainees need to learn
  3. Types of training to be used
  4. Initial frequency of training
  5. Use of alternative HR options (such as job rotation)

What Does it Mean to be an HRD Strategist?

What does it mean to be a strategist? How does one apply strategy to human resource development (HRD) management? First, let’s discuss what strategy is and how it differs from other type of management activities. Then we’ll discuss how we can actively pursue full integration of strategy into HRD management activities.

According to Thompson and Strickland, strategy can be defined as “the ‘game plan’ management has for positioning the company in its chosen market arena, competing successfully, pleasing customers, and achieving good business performance” (Thompson and Strickland, 1998,  p. 12).

Other authors are a little more specific in describing strategic HRD functions as needs assessment, planning and analysis, and evaluation, or that considering the right factors at the right time is paramount to being a good strategist.

So, then, what does it mean to be an HRD strategist?

For most folks it means thinking of the bigger picture. All too often we are caught up in the process of everyday minutia and forget the big picture. Or as was conveyed in a Stephen Covey illustration, we need not to be so concerned with how sharp the machetes are and how well we are blazing the trail, as much as how sure we are in the right jungle in the first place (Covey, 1989).

In addition to having the big picture vision, we need to be sure that the tactical, everyday activities of the company match the vision. For example, an organization that develops strategy through corporate staff meetings and then does not make any effort to change the corporate culture in order to insure the rank-and-file are in synch with the new strategy, is only kidding itself about its success. In order for the strategic vision to be implemented, everyone in the organization must be aware of and have some buy-in in the new vision.

Another facet of being a strategist is to always consider the competition in our everyday activities. For example, when thinking about adding or expanding the HRIS system, one question should be with respect to what the competition is doing. If the competition has the latest and greatest HRIS package and is fully using its abilities, then this immediately puts the company at a disadvantage.

In terms of training, the same is true. If the competition is implementing successful new training programs and we are not, this can create a strategic disadvantage for our company. This is where Noonan’s (1994) ideas of assessment, planning, analysis, and evaluation come into play.

By assessing the current training environment against the corporate strategy we determine if there are any gaps that need to be filled. Perhaps, as we mentioned earlier, new corporate strategies have been developed. This would be opportune time to assess the need for new training based on the new strategic plan.

Planning/analysis further implements the corporate strategy by having in place a ready response to any rifts between strategy and actual performance.  Basically, we are deciding what to do about the various problems and issue discovered during assessment.

And finally, HRD strategists will evaluate the success of the implemented training to ensure it achieved its goal.

So, to summarize, we can say that as an HRD training manager we can improve our strategic ability by:

  1. Getting the big picture – understand how your piece of the world (training, in this case) is part of the overall strategic vision of the organization.
  2. Consider the competition – try to discover how our department ranks within the industry, and specifically with direct competitors
  3. Assessing the current environment – how does the current training plan support the current strategic plan
  4. Planning/analyzing the problem – if there are discrepancies between the current training plan and the current strategic plan, how can they be resolved?
  5. Evaluating the outcomes – how successful was the training in closing the gap between the current strategic plan and knowledge, skills, and attitudes


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Fireside.

Noonan, J. V. (1994). Elevators: How to move training up from the basement. Wheaton, Il: Twain Publishers.

Thompson, A. A., Strickland, A. J. (1998). Crafting and implementing strategy (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.