Traditional trait appraisal

Managers have been evaluated against standards of personal traits and work characteristics for many years. Typical trait rating evaluation system may list ten to fifteen personal characteristics, such as ability to get along with people, leadership, analytical competence, industry, judgment, and initiative. The list may also include such work related characteristics as job knowledge, ability to carry through on assignments, production or cost results, or success in seeing that plans and instructions are carried out. However, at least until recent years, personal traits have far outnumbered work-related characteristics. On the basis of these standards, the rater appraises sub-ordinates, rating them from unacceptable.

Weakness of Trait appraisal:

Managers resist doing this type of evaluation or tend to go through the paper work without knowing exactly how to rate. Even in firms that have made earnest attempts to “sell” such programs, to indoctrinate managers, and to train them in the meaning of traits so that they can improve their appraisal ability, few managers can or will evaluate properly.

One practical problem of the trait approach to appraisal is that because trait evaluation cannot be objective, serious and fair minded managers do not wish to utilize their obviously subjective judgment on a matter as important as performance. And employees who received less than the top rating almost invariably feel that they have been dealt with unfairly.

Another problem is that the basic assumption of trait appraisals is open to question. The connection between performance and possession of specific traits is doubtful. What is evaluated tends to be outside of — separated from — a manager’s actual operation. Trait appraisal substitutes someone’s opinion of an individual for what that individual really does.

Many managers look upon trait rating as only a paperwork exercise that must be done because someone has ordered it. When people have this attitude, they go through the paperwork and tend to make rating as painless (for the subordinate and themselves) as possible. Consequently, they tend not to be very discriminating. It is interesting, but hardly surprising, that a study of rating of US Navy officers several years ago came up with an arithmetical paradox: Of all the officers rated over a period of time, some 98.5% were outstanding or excellent, and only 1% were average!

Trait criteria are at best nebulous. Raters are dealing with a blunt tool, and subordinates are likely to be vague about what qualities they are being rated on. In the hands of most practitioners, it is a crude device, and since raters are painfully aware of this, they are reluctant to use it in manner that would damage the careers of their subordinates. One of the principal purposes of appraisal is to provide a basis upon which to discuss performance and to plan for improvement. But trait evaluations provide few tangible things to discuss, little on which participants can agree as fact, and therefore little mutual understanding of what is required to obtain improvement.

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