Does the Form Really Matter?

AuthorSaundra J. Reinke
Published date01 March 2003
Date01 March 2003
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18zJP3NN3xp789/input 10.1177/0734371X02250109
Reinke / OF PUBLIC
TION / March 2003
Does the Form Really Matter?
Leadership, Trust, and Acceptance of
the Performance Appraisal Process
Augusta State University
This article reports the findings of a study on the attitudes of county government
employees toward an existing performance appraisal system. Specifically, this
study explores the role of trust in shaping supervisor and employee acceptance of
the appraisal process. In addition, other, more traditional variables are explored,
such as the perceived relevance of the appraisal form, length and complexity of the
form, amount of training received on the appraisal system, and general level of
understanding of the appraisal system. Findings indicate that the level of trust
between the employee and supervisor is the most important predictor of accep-
tance of the appraisal system.

Keywords: performance appraisal; trust; leadership; ethics
P erformanceappraisaltraditionallyhastwomajorpurposes,broadlycon-
ceived as developmental and summative. Developmental approaches
focus on enhancing employee performance by identifying opportunities for
employee growth and marshalling organizational resources to support that
growth. Summative approaches are judgmental in nature and are explicitly
linked to extrinsic rewards such as promotions or pay (Daley, 1993; Moussavi
& Ashbaugh, 1995).
Whatever the purpose, Carson, Cardy, and Dobbins (1991) proposed
that performance appraisal makes three critical assumptions: Employees
actually differ in their contribution to the organization, the cause of this dif-
ference is due (at least in part) to individual performance, and supervisors
are actually able and willing to distinguish between performance attribut-
able to individual performance and to other sources. These assumptions
have been, and continue to be, challenged in the literature on performance
appraisal (Bowman, 1999; Cook, 1995; Martin & Bartol, 1998; Roberts,
1998). Despite the problems with these assumptions and performance
Review of Public Personnel Administration, Vol. 23, No. 1 March 2003 23-37
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X02250109
© 2003 Sage Publications

appraisal in general, the public sector seems destined to continue the prac-
tice (Golembiewski, 1995).
This research seeks to explore an overlooked fourth assumption. Perfor-
mance appraisal assumes that employees and supervisors accept the process
as legitimate. In this study, legitimacy is defined in terms of whether
employees believe the process adequately evaluates individual performance
and rewards good performance. If they do, the summative and develop-
mental purposes of appraisal will be fulfilled. Employees will respond to
information received in the appraisal process and alter their behavior to
receive promised rewards (promotion, pay, etc.). Supervisors, on the other
hand, will use the processes to identify employee needs for development
and fitness for promotion or additional pay. If employees and supervisors
do not accept the performance appraisal process as legitimate, then its pur-
poses are thwarted regardless of the quality of the instrument or the pro-
cesses supporting it (Dipboye & Pontbriand, 1981; Hedge & Teachout,
2000; Landy, Barnes, & Murphy, 1978; Lawler, 1967).
This study seeks to measure employee and supervisor acceptance of the
appraisal process and explore variables that may shape this acceptance. In
line with recent research conducted by Hedge and Teachout (2000) and
Gabris and Ihrke (2000), this study examines the role of leadership and
trust in influencing acceptance of the appraisal process. Unlike these other
studies, this research examined the role of a particular leadership approach,
servant leadership, and proposes that trust serves as a moderating variable
between leadership and employee attitudes toward the appraisal process.
In keeping with research in applied psychology and communication
(Dipboye & Pontbriand, 1981; Hovland, Janis, & Kelly, 1953; Landy et al.,
1978; Nathan, Mohrman, & Milliman, 1991; Zand, 1972), Bowman
(1999) concluded that the technique used in the appraisal process is not
particularly important. He suggested that we acknowledge the essentially
human nature of the appraisal process—a process shaped by human cogni-
tive processes and one, therefore, subject to bias.
Murphy and Cleveland (1991) argued that an obsession with validity
and reliability issues has led researchers away from examining other more
important issues in the performance appraisal process. They proposed that
“reaction criteria” (e.g., the perceived fairness or accuracy of the system)
limit the effectiveness of any appraisal system. Second, “practicality criteria”

include widely recognized issues of time commitment, cost, and political
acceptability. A third set of “decision process criteria” concerns the level of
acceptance of the system by organizational members and the system’s ability
to facilitate organizational decisions. Taken together, these three sets of cri-
teria significantly influence the success or failure of any performance
appraisal process.
In keeping with this argument, a new line of research has emerged
acknowledging the importance of employee and supervisor acceptance of
the performance appraisal process. In a nationwide survey of municipal
government personnel managers, Roberts and Pavlak (1996) found that
human resource (HR) professionals understand the importance of accep-
tance to the success of the appraisal process. In their study, 89% of respon-
dents recognized employee acceptance of the appraisal process was either
very important or essential, and 98% of respondents felt supervisor com-
mitment was very important or essential.
Lawler (1967) was the first to propose that attitudes about the fairness
and acceptability of the rating system are influenced not just by the rating
form but by both organizational and individual characteristics. Landy et al.
(1978) found the perceived accuracy and fairness of an appraisal were pre-
dicted by the frequency of appraisal, the supervisor’s knowledge of the
ratee’s duties and level of performance, and the amount of mutual goal set-
ting. Dipboye and Pontbriand (1981) found that employee opinions of the
appraisal system were shaped by the favorability of the appraisal, the
amount of two-way communication in the appraisal interview, and the per-
ceived job relevance of appraisal factors.
More recent research has introduced additional factors. For example,
training in the system has been linked with attitudes toward the appraisal
process (Martin & Bartol, 1998; Roberts, 1992; Roberts & Pavlak, 1996).
Participation, two-way communication, and goal setting have also been
found to be significant in predicting attitudes toward performance
appraisal (Bobko & Colella, 1994; Nathan et al., 1991; Roberts, 1992;
Roberts & Pavlak, 1996). Supervisors’ attitudes toward the appraisal system
are also influenced by practical issues, such as the ease of administration and
the length and complexity of the form (Longenecker & Fink, 1999; Rob-
erts, 1992). Similarly, employees expect to be rated on items actually related
to the work they do; hence, relevance is important (Gabris & Ihrke, 2000;
Roberts, 1992).
Although all of these factors may be important in...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT