Judgment, Evaluation, Feedback, etc. LO9987

Eric Bohlman (ebohlman@netcom.com)
Sun, 15 Sep 1996 22:01:29 -0700 (PDT)

Replying to LO9962 --

On Sat, 14 Sep 1996, John Constantine wrote:
> Too few companies allow for a bad hair day, but too many note that one has
> occurred today, as if it had meaning over the course of a whole year, or
> whether it had true meaning at all in the context of the system as a
> whole. Yet this is what occurs in too many performance appraisal
> situations. Flawed thinking (assumptions/conclusions) by management using
> inaccurate data, leading to anger and hostility, conflict and
> confrontation, not cooperation and contribution by the employees. This is
> the great challenge in too many organzations today, as Eric points out.

The assumption appears to be that freak circumstances that can cause
someone to perform above his/her norm temporarily are more common than
temporary conditions that can cause someone to perform below it. This
also occurs in education; if a student does better than the teacher
expects, the teacher often attributes it to cheating or to freak
circumstances. If, however, the student performs more poorly, even
temporarily, than the teacher expects, the teacher often revises his/her
expectations downward.

During the Depression, some scientists seriously put forward the notion
that there were "genes for mental retardation" that could somehow get
activated during adulthood and cause an adult's intelligence to plummet
below normal, and that this phenomenon was causing the unemployment seen
at the time (the American conservative view of unemployment has always
been that it's a condition in which the supply of qualified workers is
below the demand for them). For some reason, we have this bias that a
person's worst performance, actions, etc. is more "real" than his or her
best. I suspect that part of it has to do with the fact that this country
was founded by people who subscribed to a Calvinist theology, and part to
do with the fact that we're socialized to be competitors; we look at
winning as making others lose. Furthermore, most Americans favor
"meritocratic" policies like performance appraisals because they think
they're all going to come out on top. Many people simply do not accept
the notion that when you rank a group of people, 50% of them will fall
into the bottom half *regardless of the actual distribution of
performance*; they will assert that anyone who falls in the bottom half
either isn't working hard enough or lacks ability. When you tell them
that it's mathematically impossible for more than half the people to be in
the top half, they usually resort to macho posturing and name-calling.

Americans also have a habit of holding other people to exalted standards
of "normalcy." Many people would regard a bronze-medal performance in the
Olympics as a "failure"; these are people who couldn't win a bronze medal
in the Olympics if their lives depended on it (of course, a bronze medal
truly *is* a failure if you view the primary purpose of Olympic
competition as getting endorsements; somehow, though, I'd like to think
that man doesn't live by bread alone). We complain that there are too
many C students, and at the same time complain that the schools are giving
too many As and Bs. Very few Americans would agree that the typical
American worker has a good work ethic, yet they themselves would claim to
have a very high work ethic (in other words, the typical American worker
doesn't regard him/herself as a typical American worker). One often hears
"remember that one out of every ten doctors graduated in the bottom 10% of
his medical school class," which is akin to claiming that the economy is
in bad shape because there are only ten dimes to a dollar. Graduating in
the bottom 10% of a medical school class is an extraordinarily *high*
academic achievement!

We also assume that if someone tries some activity and doesn't get it
right the first time, they don't have the "right stuff" to ever get it
right. We sometimes forget that *every* one of us fell the first time we
tried to walk. We think of someone who flunked out of college as less
intelligent or responsible than someone who never even tried college. We
act as if we all read _The Little Engine that Couldn't_ when we were kids.
Too many of us have a vested interest in having other people "accept their
limitations." We've replaced "if at first you don't succeed, try again"
with "you're worthless if you don't succeed the first time." We believe
that winning comes from being a winner, and losing comes from being a
loser, rather than the other way around. We assume that most people are
either good at everything or good at nothing. We know only the extremes,
not the middle. When a teacher says that a student has an "average"
reading level, he or she means that the student has a very difficult time
reading, but doesn't meet that state's criteria for being considered
dyslexic. I've heard teachers complain that most of their students aren't
advanced for their ages.


Eric Bohlman <ebohlman@netcom.com>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>