PRB Articles

Giving GPS A Different Spin

One of the most important obligations of a manager is to determine how well agency staff members actually do their jobs. Decisions about continued employment are hanging in the balance, not to mention the agency’s ongoing existence, which is dependent to a great degree on staff performance. Accurate and fair appraisal is critical to everyone’s personal and organizational future.

A Closer Look

Organizations that operate at a high level of performance possess the following characteristics, as noted in J. H. Bernardin’s Human resource management: An experimental approach:

· Valid hiring and promotion criteria

· Promotion from within the agency

· Extensive staff training and development

· Pay above the market rate

· Broad-based incentive plans

· Formal and “360-degree” appraisals

· Linking appraisals to merit

Bernardin defines performance appraisal as “the record of outcomes produced on specified job functions or activities during a specified time period” (p. 173). This is compiled by examining work samples and comparisons to benchmark achievements, or is related to project completion criteria. The outcomes of the appraisals help structure the documentation of future performance, set compensation, establish new performance benchmarks, and guide employee supervision.

A valid and reliable appraisal system takes into account quantity of work, quality, timeliness and cost-effectiveness, as well as employees’ need for supervision and interpersonal impact. Also, it must guard against bias--whether deliberate or unintentional. Fair appraisals must include more than one perspective, and utilize several different evaluators.

Switching Gears

One of the most useful, recently popular tools in transportation is the Global Positioning System (GPS). As a component of the larger Geographic Information Systems (GIS) revolution, GPS aids both individuals and agencies in “locating” themselves and associated assets within their environments through the use of multiple “references.” In the case of the global GPS, the references consist of a network of satellites orbiting high above the Earth. But the same principle can be applied to staff appraisals--a Guaranteed Performance Scrutiny.

Figure 1 depicts three appraisal scenarios, featuring from one to three appraisers, or criteria. As more sources or perspectives are added, validity and reliability become more focused, and biases are balanced between and among the appraisers or criteria. The point at which enough viewpoints have been considered to produce a complete picture is a matter of resources (time, money, etc.), but with 80 percent of agency costs invested in personnel, adequate support for accurate appraisals should be a priority.

Given the impact of personnel decisions on agency success, increasing the number of perspectives through “GPS” enhances the possibility of “locating” the truth, and reduces the chance of costly errors in judgment.

Work cited:

Bernardin, J. H. Human resource management: An experiential approach. (4th ed.) Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2007.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at

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