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History of the Performance Appraisal


In 1911, performance appraisal pioneer Frederick Winslow Taylor published two books: The Principles of Scientific Management and Shop Management. He would die a few years later, but these twin tomes stand as testament to his pioneering work in the areas of identifying, improving and, most crucially, modifying the flow of employee tasks and expectations.

Taylor was a big believer in the idea that if an employee was struggling with one set of duties, it could often serve the company better to re-assign that employee rather than simply fire him. He also helped cement the concept of work efficiency in the post-Victoria, industrialized factories of the world. Some of the companies where he bore great influence were Bethlehem Steel, Cramp’s Shipbuilding, and Midvale Steel.

Long Line of Pioneers

Building upon Taylor’s groundbreaking science of the workplace, many others have since put their stamp on the performance appraisal process. Too many to name, really. but one good example is Silicon Valley consultant Harold Fethe. Like a number of other performance appraisal scientists, he can point to one or more contributions that have been patented.

In Fethe’s case, he came up with something called Visual 360, a computer-driven graphical interface that allows for information to constantly be input and updated by all those connected to a particular employee, creating an ongoing and fully panoramic view of that employee’s performance. Also known as Sum Total, the software is a turn-key solution and a great example of how software innovation has completely revamped the dusty old forms of Taylor’s 19th century days.

Performance Appraisal Software, Appraised

Sum Total has grown to the point where it now claims that it is being used by more than 39 million workers across 2,400 different companies. Ironically, this performance appraisal tracking software gets regular performance appraisals of its own, in the form of consumer magazine reviews. For its latest, 2011 editions, the reviews have been glowing.



New York Times – Obituary: Frederick Winslow Taylor, March 22, 1915, Retrieved May 22, 2011 from – Harold Fethe: Consulting, Retrieved May 22, 2011 from – Sum Total Software, Retrieved May 22, 2011 from


Expert Opinion

“According to Denning, traditional appraisal ‘nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics’. Deming labeled performance appraisal a lottery, with individual ratings emanating largely from random factors outside individual control.”

John Shields, Managing Employee Performance and Reward: Concepts, Practices, and Strategies


“The history ofperformance appraisal is as old as human civilisation as the evaluation of performance has been in existence in either one form or the other.  The origin of the performance appraisal scheme can be attributed to the relationship between masters and servants or between employers and employees.”

Goel, Performance Appraisal and Compensation Management: A Modern Approach


Glossary of Terms

Performance Appraisal: The process by which a manager or consultant (1) examines and evaluates an employee’s work behavior by comparing it with preset standards, (2) documents the results of the comparison, and (3) uses the results to provide feedback to the employee to show where improvements are needed and why.

Graphical Interface: Computer interface that allows users to click and drag objects with a mouse instead of entering text at a command line.

Panoramic View: A full and wide view of something.

Turn Key Solution: A type of system that can be easily implemented into current business processes. A turnkey solution is immediately ready to use upon implementation and is designed to fulfill a certain process such as billing, website design, training or content management.

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