An “expert witness” perspective on performance appraisal in universities and colleges

Publication Date01 Feb 2002
AuthorJohn Simmons
subjectMatterHR & organizational behaviour
Employee Relations,
Vol. 24 No. 1, 2002, pp. 86-100.
#MCB UP Limited, 0142-5455
DOI 10.1108/01425450210416942
Received August 2001
Revised October 2001
Accepted October 2001
An ``expert witness'' perspective
on performance appraisal in
universities and colleges
John Simmons
Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University,
Liverpool, UK
Keywords Performance appraisal, Performance management, Universities, Academic staff
Abstract Effective performance management of professionals in knowledge based
organisations has particular significance, but is an under researched area in the literature.
Universities and colleges are knowledge based organisations especially dependent on the expertise,
commitment and innovation of their staff. The paper analyses performance appraisal systems in
universities and colleges with particular emphasis on staff perspectives and expectations. A brief
history of performance appraisal in HE and FE is provided and related to issues of power,
accountability and control. Academic staff from two business schools, together with a national
sample of those teaching performance appraisal within CIPD professional programmes, were
constituted as an ``expert witness'' group and their views sought on performance appraisal in
their institutions. These data are used to develop a philosophy of performance appraisal for
academic institutions, to assess the acceptability of particular performance criteria to academic
staff, and to highlight the importance of staff involvement in appraisal system design.
What form should performance appraisal take in knowledge based
organisations? Can there be an appropriate accommodation between the dual,
and potentially opposing, aims of performance appraisal for control and
development in this context? How should universities and colleges as
archetypal knowledge based organisations identify performance management
philosophies, policies and practice which motivate academic staff to give of
their best? Can performance appraisal systems channel the efforts of employees
in an organisationally relevant way while recognising staff concerns for
continuing professional development and academic freedom? What can be
learnt from the unhappy experience of attempts to introduce new performance
management practices into the secondary school sector? In answering these
topical and challenging questions this paper sets out a new philosophy of
performance management for universities and colleges that has implications
for a wide range of knowledge based organisations.
First the paper summarises the history of performance appraisal in the UK
higher and further education sectors, and gives particular focus to the
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The author acknowledges the co-operation of the two institutions which agreed to the research
being undertaken and especially the respondents there who provided information through
interviews and questionnaires; ``expert witness''sources at CIPD professional education centres
nationally; and particular thanks are due to the author's colleague Paul Iles ± Professor of
Human Resource Development ± for his advice and guidance. The final responsibility for the
content of the paper is of course the author's.

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