The Advantages & Disadvantages of the Basic Checklist Method in Performance Appraisals

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Chances are everyone who has ever worked for someone else has memories of awkward performance reviews. Your manager was unprepared. You were caught off-guard by some of his comments. He was surprised you were surprised. Many different types of performance reviews have become standards designed to make reviews meaningful for both managers and employees. The basic checklist appraisal method is one of the most popular because everything you need is there in black and white. What could go wrong with a checklist, right?

Functions of Effective Performance Appraisals

Since they are so awkward, why are performance appraisals done? Many employees are convinced their purpose is to justify a paltry raise. If you're a manager, you know one reason for appraisals is to put inferior workers on notice for areas in need of improvement. While you hope they will improve, you are also setting the groundwork of proof in case you need to terminate their employment in the future.

Effective performance appraisals, however, can serve better purposes. They can be an excellent means for providing feedback for the employee about his performance of job tasks, and for the manager as to her effectiveness and how her employees perceive her management style. Reviews can separate skills an employee has now and skills still emerging, note areas where extra training would be helpful and set goals to accomplish by his next performance appraisal. The most effective evaluations are a checkpoint for both the manager and the employee, of where things stand now and where to go from here.

The Checklist Appraisal Method

The checklist appraisal method also goes by similar names, such as the behavioral checklist or checklist scale. The key word is "checklist" because the appraisal form is, literally, a checklist. Instead of an essay or descriptions or rating employees against one another, the checklist appraisal method consists of a series of statements, both positive and negative, that the evaluator answers "yes" or "no," checks if the employee exhibits that behavior or leaves it unchecked if she does not.

The checklist includes statements about workplace habits in general, and about the employee's specific job skills. For example, workplace habits for all employees could include:

  1. ____ Reports for work on time most days.
  2. ____ Exhibits a pleasant demeanor toward colleagues.
  3. ____ Stays at work until important tasks of the day are completed.
  4. ____ Tends to take criticisms personally.

You can see that the first three statements are positive attributes, while the fourth is negative.

Statements about skills and job tasks for a receptionist/secretary in a "yes" and "no" checklist could include:

  1. Displays a pleasant attitude as the first face a visitor sees.  _ Yes  _ No
     
  2. Is able to multitask between  greeting visitors and answering phones.  _ Yes   _ No
  3. Often overlooks errors when proofreading.  _Yes _ No
  4. Maintains track of co-workers' comings and goings.  _Yes  _ No

The appropriate checklists are prepared in advance and approved for each job title. The manager completes the checklist before the employee's performance appraisal meeting. When discussing performance with the employee, the manager goes through the checklist item-by-item. She may group some, such as saying, "I've noticed that you are very good at meeting deadlines and being on time." It's important that each question is addressed, however, and that emphasis isn't placed solely on the areas where the employee needs improvement.

Advantages of Checklist Appraisal Method

There are both pros and cons to the checklist appraisal method. Some have to do with the pros and cons of checklists in general.

Promotes objectivity: On the plus side, a checklist helps the manager to be objective. He can read each statement and honestly answer whether or not the employee's behavior fits that statement. Even if the employee is one of his best salespersons, a top producer with a good attitude, the manager can readily see that he's late every morning, so he leaves that statement unchecked.

Prevents memory lapses: People can naturally be forgetful, especially in stressful situations or when they feel rushed. With a different type of appraisal, the manager might have forgotten to mention the tardiness. Once an appraisal is concluded, it's difficult and unprofessional to say, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that your tardiness needs to stop." That negative comment will then be what the employee remembers.

Improves organization: Using a checklist helps even disorganized people stay on task. Following the checklist in order, you make sure you don't miss any details. Even interruptions can't ruin the process, because you just go right back to the checklist and pick up where you left off, easily found by the checkmarks.

Increases productivity: There's something almost fun about checking items off a list. You can see what you've accomplished, which motivates you to keep on going. Don't stop now; you have more to accomplish before the day's out! For tasks that don't have a tangible product to show for your efforts, you can look at the checklist for proof.

Disadvantages of Checklist Appraisal Method

No appraisal method is perfect. The checklist appraisal method does have some disadvantages:

Doesn't allow explanations: Since it is a checklist only, the checklist appraisal method doesn't allow for explanations. Sometimes answers are more complex than either/or, or yes/no. When too many answers are really "yes, except when...," the checklist may not be the ideal method to use.

Time-consuming/costly to prepare: Someone has to make the checklist to begin with. Doing it well, with a lot of thought, takes time; and that means it could cost the company money. Human Resources might be able to find a standard checklist to use, but it's likely some questions won't apply, and others are not addressed so that the company will need to customize it anyway.

Easy to overlook what isn't there: There's a tendency to equate the checklist to gold. Even subconsciously, a manager may feel that if it isn't on the checklist, it isn't important. But maybe some tasks that matter to your company and your department should be on the checklist for a performance appraisal. Nevertheless, if it's not on the checklist, it isn't brought up. Ideally, if something has been omitted from the checklist, you should add it but then ask HR to revise the checklist. If you start having additional pages for things not on the checklist, you're not using the checklist method as intended.

Other Methods of Performance Evaluation

There are many other types of performance evaluation methods:

Behaviorally anchored rating scale: BARS compares performance against numerical standards, such as sales volume or average daily output.

Critical incidents: The manager lists notable incidents, both positive and negative.

Essay: The manager answers questions in a few sentences or a short paragraph.

Forced ranking: This method ranks all employees of the same job title from best to worst.

Graphics rating scale: This method rates an employee on a scale for each behavior or action.

Management by objectives: MBO measures whether goals from the previous appraisal have been met.

Self Appraisal: The employee writes an essay or answers questions about what she believes her accomplishments are and where she can improve.

Work standards: This evaluation method establishes realistic goals and sets target dates.

There are pros and cons of performance appraisal rating systems of all types. After all, if there were one with no disadvantages, everyone would opt to use it. All are valid appraisal methods, and each has its fans. The checklist appraisal method is an excellent place to start because you just read each question, consider it carefully and mark it yes or no. If you feel you have more to say after completing the checklist, look further at the other methods. One of them might be more suited to your management style.

References

About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.