How We Moved 3300 Pieces of Cheese: Changing a 30 Year Old Performance Appraisal System with No Money in 10 Months

The City of Wichita’s performance appraisal system had been in use for more than three decades.  During that time, performance appraisals (PA) lost value to employees and supervisors, deteriorating into an annual exercise of rote paperwork and blown deadlines.

In 2009, Wichita’s new City Manager, Robert Layton, outlined his vision for a progressive, empowered, learning organization.  It quickly became apparent that the old PA system was hindering, not reinforcing accountability for all employees.  Also apparent was a lack of funds to buy outside expertise to design and implement a new system.

The City’s Human Resources Department is fortunate to have a staff with years of experience in personnel issues.  Each staff member is cross-trained with other HR colleagues, bringing common knowledge and fresh perspective to team projects.

In June 2009, a team of three HR staff - the Employee Relations Officer, Benefits Coordinator, and Job Classification Specialist-was assigned to draft a new PA system.  The schedule was tight.  The system was to be ready by November, in time for the annual appraisals of the City’s 500 exempt employees in December and the anniversary date appraisals of 2,800 non-exempt employees starting January 1, 2010. The following is how Wichita sought a performance appraisal system that should:

  •        Reflect the organization’s values
  •        Capture the unique aspects of each employees’ responsibilities
  •        Evaluate employees’ performance and behavior
  •        Document achievements and challenges
  •        Set performance expectations for the coming year
  •        Structure meaningful discussions between employee and supervisor throughout the year
  •        Be consistent with disciplinary actions


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