The pathology of performance appraisals--insights from supreme court rulings.

AuthorJoseph, Jerome


Performance management, like other management practices espouses that control is necessary to enable subordinates to achieve their potential, and that without such control, production would be sub-optimal or abysmally low (Willmott, 1984). Performance management is instrumental in generating competition among employees, and this sense of competition can degenerate into allegations of manipulation, lack of transparency and denial of voice. Issues of denial of voice are seen in the case of Arvind Kumar Saxena versus Brij Raj Kishore Ranga and others (Supreme Court, 2005 September 28) where the post of Superintending Mining Engineer in the Rajasthan Civil Services was to be filled through an assessment of merit of the candidates. The procedure for filling the posts was the assessment of Annual Performance Appraisal reports, and candidates had to have a rating of 'very good' in at least five of the seven previous appraisal reports in order to be considered for promotion. The contention of an aspirant Arun Kumar Kothari was that he had the requisite rating of 'very good' in five out of the seven previous appraisals, and yet he had been overlooked.

He was also not given an adequate opportunity by the appellate tribunal to present his case, while another aspirant Brij Raj Kishore Ranga had been given such an opportunity. The Supreme Court (ibid: 3) attempted to provide voice to Arun Kumar Kothari in its judgement--"We direct that if Arun Kumar Kothari, the rival candidate, is desirous of filing, and files, a counter affidavit in Appeal No. 283/97, within such period as permitted by the Tribunal, the Tribunal shall consider such affidavit after giving opportunity of filing a rejoinder affidavit to Brij Raj Kishore Ranga. Arun Kumar Kothari shall be afforded an adequate opportunity of making submissions with regard to the contentions urged in Ranga's Appeal No. 283/ 97, and thereafter the appeal shall be decided in accordance with law, as expeditiously as possible...". In another case though, the Supreme Court (2005 November 22) ruled that adverse remarks need not necessarily be communicated to employees if stages such as counseling and guidance had not led to an improvement in desired performance. In another case, the Supreme Court (2007 February 12) has allowed the lowering of performance ratings given by a reporting officer by a reviewing officer without communication to an employee, if the performance ratings is only one of the elements among many other procedural requirements to make promotion decisions.

Performance management initiates a politics of stigma, fear and competitive tensions where individuals begin to see each other as 'rival candidates' in the context of limited opportunities for career progression. In this sense, performance management is a composite of the practices of management through which unequal and asymmetrical relationships are instituted and reproduced within the enactment of the processes of organizing (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1986). The everyday reality of performance management can be seen as part of a technology that induces divisiveness and displacements in social relationships in a hierarchically structured career progression (Gordon, 1980).

Performance Management as Subjugation

A Supreme Court (2010 January 12) decision pertaining to the termination of an employee working as a senior manager in a firm allows us to understand several possible meanings of the performance management practice and discourse. H Omkarappa was given an offer to be appointed as Executive Director (Marketing) by M/s Hindustan Photo Films Manufacturing Company in June 1998. He accepted the offer and joined in September 1998. As per the terms of the appointment, Omkarappa would be under probation for a period of one year, and if his performance during this period was found to be satisfactory, his appointment would be confirmed, else his probation would be extended or his services would be terminated. At the end of a year's service, the company did not find Omkarappa's performance to be satisfactory and indicated to him that it was extending his probation by three months. His performance was to be reviewed on October 5, 1999 and he was expected to show concrete results pertaining to improvement in his performance. Meanwhile Omkarappa wrote to the company on September 20, 1999 pointing out that his performance during the year of probation had been excellent and there had been no adverse remarks in his service records. In response, a detailed performance and assessment report had been prepared on November 25, 1999 and placed before the Board of Directors on November 27, 1999. Following the resolution of the board, Omkarappa's services were terminated on November 29, 1999. Omkarappa's appeal was on the ground that the termination was of a stigmatic and punitive nature and therefore an opportunity should have been given to him to defend his actions before the termination was affected. Since a proper process of inquiry was not followed, and since he had not been given an opportunity to defend himself, the termination was not sustainable in law. The company's argument was that the decision was not a punitive or stigmatic one and that deficiencies pertaining to his performance had been pointed out to him. It is interesting to note that the letters pertaining to communication of performance deficiencies as cited in the Supreme Court judgement are dated September 20, 1999, November 4, 1999 and November 8, 1999, all of which are within a couple of months within the termination of Omkarappa. Therefore, the communications pertaining to performance deficiencies may have been the enactment of an attempt to ensure the termination of Omkarappa rather than with any intentions of developmental interventions on the part of higher management. The Supreme Court, by setting aside the Madras High Court judgement in this regard refused to see the termination of Omkarappa as of a punitive or stigmatic nature and therefore ruled in favour of the company. It stated that there was no need for an enquiry to be conducted or for Omkarappa to be heard before his termination was effected, as this was an instance of performance deficiency. Further, the court took cognizance of a letter written by Omkarappa just a fortnight before his termination, and described it as being rude and...

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