Upward Evaluation Systems: A Critical Investigation of Upward Evaluation Systems Using the Wayne County Probate Court Supervisory Evaluation Program as a Case Study
Falcone, Mary A.
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Performance appraisals have been considered an effective management tool for many years by the private sector. It is therefore not surprising that the government sector has embraced the concept. Wayne County instituted an appraisal system for all levels of employees in 1989. The appraisal process takes place on essentially two levels: supervisors evaluate the employees who work directly beneath them; and, the employees evaluate their direct supervisors. Because nearly all employees and supervisors belong to a collective bargaining unit (although they don't necessarily belong to the same collective bargaining unit), getting the evaluation program from the concept stage to the implementation phase required far more input from legal counsel that would be required for such a program in the private sector. For example, the evaluation program itself could not violate any of the several underlying collective bargaining agreements already in place; it could not violate any state or federal employment discrimination laws; it could not violate any so called "whistle-blower" laws; and, it had to be worded in such a way that all employees were capable of grasping the meaning of each question asked, regardless of their educational level. The rigidity of the structure that was required for the implementation of such a program did not lend itself to probing questions designed to elicit insightful answers. The other major obstacle to frank evaluations can characterized as an unexpected backlash resulting fron1 the upward evaluation process: Each department votes in advance of the evaluation forms being passed out whether they want the supervisor to see their responses, or whether the department wishes their responses to remain anonymous. If the department votes for anonymity, then the supervisor is not shown the actual responses, but they are shown a summary of the responses. Court Personnel and upper management feel that this approach is successful due to its fairness, confidentiality, and the opportunity subordinates have to give their supervisors feedback and criticism. However, subordinates have not been satisfied with the supervisory evaluation and do not consider it very effective. Many employees feel that the evaluation program is "useless" and a "waste of their time." At the same time, other employees are intimidated by the upward evaluation process because they do not feel they are "good at evaluating." It is therefore difficult to pinpoint the source of the employees' dissatisfaction, i.e., it could result from the design of the system; the manner in which the system is used; and/or the conditions of the work place.
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