The End of Performance Appraisal: A Practitioners’ Guide to Alternatives in Agile Organisations by Armin Trost… the end of a turbulent era.

For years as an employee or General Counsel, who sadly had no knowledge at all on human resources matters, was hard to argue and convince HR specialists that annual performance appraisals were, at times, simply not working for us, and on the contrary they were intoxicating our working environment, either in our department and/or at the entire organization; after all, HR people were the experts on the matter and I was merely a human resource. That feeling was common among colleagues and friends, it was evident that we all were sharing the same frustration regarding annual performance appraisals; we hated to be its victims as much as its perpetrators.

However, the good news is that we are not alone in this crusade and that at least someone is bringing light at the end of the tunnel. Prof. Dr. Armin Trost, an industrial and organizational German psychologist and a prominent author, speaker and consultant who focuses primarily on talent management, employer branding and the future of work, analyzes and provides clear arguments on the pros and cons of performance appraisals and what could be done in its place.

On his book “The End of Performance Appraisal: A Practitioners’ Guide to Alternatives in Agile Organisations”, Dr. Trost not only acknowledges “the naivety with which HR managers often approach real challenges” that are connected to annual performance appraisals and the damage that a wrongly settled performance appraisal may bring to the growth of healthy working relationships and employee development, but he also rightly shapes “alternative approaches in relation to the various benefits” that are intended to achieve through a performance appraisal system.

Even though, the book is intended to be a Human Resources “Practitioners’ Guide”, Dr. Trost, a university professor on human resources by vocation, displays his lecturing skills by successfully introducing either the novice reader as well as the well-seasoned HR expert into the concept, purposes and possible results of performance appraisals and helps them “to better understand the benefits and dynamics associated with annual performance appraisals” from a “neutral perspective”. With a very fresh and easy going writing voice, the author systematically evaluates the performance appraisal´s framework conditions, its possibilities and limits, and provides positive alternatives to its implementation, like allowing “the employee or his/her team sets goals for their own guidance” or implementing “social and collaborative approaches”.

As for the importance of the subject, while the author expressly states that “what makes this book special is the fact that it examines in detail the desired benefits of annual performance appraisals in relation to different contexts” and that “the most important reason to read this book lies in the changing working world”, the value of his work may not only rest on those facts, as neither on his structured examination of annual performance appraisals in agile and hierarchical working worlds, but also at the humanistic approach with which the author develops such considerations as it can be read through his numerous assertions.

For the writer “trust, autonomy and self regulation” play a fundamental roll on employee´s development, as well as in working teams and enterprises success. Furthermore, Dr. Trost places the employee as the sole commander of his own achievements, and remarks that in complex and unpredictable working environments, like the ones in which most of us live, only “the employees themselves are responsible for their development, just as they are for setting and achieving their goals”.

Special attention should be paid to two aspects of Dr. Trost work. First, the “No baby-sitting strategy” that results in working teams addressing and controlling the low performance of any of its members without the interference of the team leader or manager is indeed necessary and healthy; employees natural response to exercise pressure over an underperforming colleague should be understood and accepted. However, this strategy shall not be confused with allowing mobbing at the workplace, which is hardly the message of the author, whom according to his arguments is a true supporter of human development, team work and mutual respect and trust. On this regard, only two questions stay up in the air: how can managers effectively distinguish team’s self-regulation from mobbing? And how can the former be promoted without allowing the latter?

Secondly, some of the ratings systems that the author uses to compare different aspects of performance appraisals in agile and hierarchical worlds like “The annual performance appraisal and its prospects of success in a hierarchical and agile world” are “admittedly, not very detailed”, which is true, but this sort of shortcomings should not discourage the reader from its study by any mean, as the rationale behind those ratings is clearly and undoubtedly outlined in detail. On the contrary, the so admitted lacking of detail only reveals a polished analysis and the thought-provoking modesty and openness of the author.

Finally, one last relevant consequence shall be considered while reading Dr. Trost book. It is almost impossible for the reader to go throughout his written lectures without performing a self-reflection and assessment regarding his/her own performance as an employee and/or as manager in terms of responsibility, independence and trust, either he/she grant them to others or others deposit on him/her.

However, just in case that the enthusiastic reader had lost such opportunity of self-reflection while gladly reading the examples of Mick Jager as leader of the Rolling Stones and Sir George Martin as manager of the Beatles among others contained all along the book, Dr. Trost comes one more time to the rescue by suggesting everybody to answer two simple questions for himself/herself at the beginning of each year: “What do I want to be proud of in 12 months’ time?” and “What areas do I want to improve in over the next 12 months?”… Plain questions indeed, nevertheless strong enough as to become the beginning of the end of performance appraisal and the beginning of a new self development and human resources management era.