Individual Performance in history

Individual performance management is perhaps the level with the longest evolution in history, as it mirrors the level of  organisational maturity. As in early times organisations were loosely defined, the performance management focus was on the individuals performing tasks as part of a group.


In time, more complex approached emerged, mainly driven by the military, public administration and industrial companies (Brudan 2009). They all needed a system of monitoring the performance of numerous individuals to ensure a streamlined progression in the organisational hierarchy.


The chronological evolution of individual performance management in illustrated by a selection of citations in the table below:           



Event – Comments



The ancient Egyptians had to ‘encourage’ their workers to build the great pyramids – and, unwittingly, they utilized performance management systems to do so. Their system revolved around whipping those workers who did not perform as required, to achieve their goals. This worked effectively for them as evidenced by the splendid pyramids that they built.


Important to note: slavery in those times provided nominally free labour governed by expectations on both sides.


206BC -220AD

Performance appraisals can be traced back to the Han Dynasty

Wright (2002)


The precise origin of performance appraisals is not known but the practice dates back to the third century when the emperors of the Wei Dynasty (221-265AD) rated the performance of the official family members.

Banner & Cooke (1984); Coens & Jenkins (2000)


Fairness of raters was questioned since the third century by the Chinese philosopher Sin Yu who reportedly criticised a rater employed by the Wei Dynasty:“the Imperial Rater of Nine Grade seldom rates men according to their merits, but always according to his likes and dislikes”

Patten (1977) as cited in Banner & Cooke (1984)


A procedure to formally rate members of the Jesuit Society was established by Ignatius Loyola.

Whisler & Harper (1962)


In 1648, it is reported that the Dublin (Ireland) Evening Post evaluated legislators by using a rating scale based upon personal qualities.

Hackett (1928), Wiese & Buckley (1998).

18th century

In both Britain and America in the 18th-19th centuries there is evidence of early forms of performance appraisal and most Western armies did appraisals in the 19th century.

Furnham (2004).

late 18th century

Performance management theory and practice in the United States started with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. The earliest performance appraisal programs during the Industrial Revolution were relatively crude and simple. Workers were evaluated and paid primarily on the basis of quantity output -- the number of "pieces" they satisfactorily turned out. Frequently, management provided for bonuses and other tangible rewards to recognize employee contributions to the company.

Pratt (1991).


Performance appraisals in industry were most likely initiated by Robert Owen in the early 1800s. Owen monitored performance at his cotton mills in Scotland through the use of "silent monitors.” The monitors were coloured cubes of wood with different colours painted on each visible side. They were displayed above the workstation of each employee.  At day-end. The colour of the visible side of the cube was associated with a rating to indicate performance. At the end of the day, the block was turned so that a particular color, representing a grade (rating) of the employee’s performance, was facing the aisle for everyone to see. White indicated “excellent” yellow indicated good, blue was used to indicate “indifferent” while black indicate “bad”. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this practice had a facilitating influence on subsequent behavior.

George (1972), as cited in Banner & Cooke (1984); Wiese & Buckley (1998).


Performance appraisals were formally implemented in the United States military in 1813. This is generally looked upon as the start of formal performance appraisal in the United States. In contrast to “silent monitors” used by Owen, Army General Lewis Cass reported to the US War Department on individual ratings of officers using descriptions of each officer. He used phrases such as “a good natured man," “a knave despised by all", and so on in his descriptions of his officers. According to Banner et al., the military was in the forefront in developing performance appraisal techniques such as forced-choice, ranking and trait-rating scales.

Bellows & Estep (1954),.

Wiese & Buckley (1998).

 Lopez (1968) as cited in Banner & Cooke (1984);

1840s and 1850s 

In the 1840s and 1850s, the US Congress required efficiency ratings of clerks which contained information on competence, faithfulness and attention However, these reports were not used for selection, retention or promotion which continued to be at the discretion of the bureau head and Secretary of the department.

White (1954) as cited in Wiese & Buckley (1998).

Late 19th century – early 20th century s

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, performance appraisals were used primarily by military and government organizations – due to their large size, hierarchical structure, geographic dispersal, and the necessity to promote the top performers to higher organizational levels. At this time, most private organizations used informal measures to evaluate individual performance and

make subsequent administrative decisions.


The Federal Civil Service of the United States began giving merit ratings, also known as efficiency ratings, in the late 1800s.

Wiese & Buckley (1998).




Graves, (1948); Lopez, (1968); Petrie, (1950) as cited in Wiese & Buckley (1998).


Taylor further stressed the importance of the individual worker by advocating the payment of individually based financial incentives to those workers who could increase their output as a result of the application of scientific management. This in turn required the measurement of the performance of individuals, especially their output.

Radnor & Barnes (2007)


Development of performance appraisals in United States industry began with early work in salesman selection by industrial psychologists at Carnegie-Mellon University, who used trait psychology to develop a man-to-man rating system. The army used this system during World War I to assess the officer performance. After the war, business leaders, impressed by the achievements of the army researchers, hired many of the men who had been associated with the work in man-to-man appraisals. Industry wanted to use the contributions of this new breed of psychologists.

Scott et al. (1941) as cited in Wiese & Buckley (1998).


The widespread use of performance appraisal techniques with blue-collar employees didn't start until after World War I. Appraisal systems for measuring managerial and professional employee performance weren't used extensively until about 1955.

Pratt (1991).


Prior to World War II, performance appraisal systems tended to exclude top management, generally used graphic-rating scales and had just one or two forms for all employees regardless of the job performed or skills necessary.

These systems appraised individuals on the basis of previously established performance dimensions, using a standard, numerical scoring system. They focused on past actions instead of future goals and were always conducted by the supervisor with little input from the employee.

Spriegel (1962).


Wiese & Buckley (1998).


Historically, performance appraisals have been used for administrative purposes, such as retention, discharge, promotion, and salary administration decisions.


However, in this early era, with weak human resource management departments and a lack of understanding of performance appraisal systems, administrative decisions were often made independently of, and even ran counter to, performance appraisals


In addition to, and perhaps because of, supervisors who did not take performance appraisals

seriously, the unions of this era advocated seniority-based decisions over performance-based decisions. Thus, a loose correlation between appraisal results and administrative decisions was permitted, which gave individual supervisors discretionary power in relation to human resource outcomes (e.g. promotions, salary increases).

DeVries et al. (1981); Murphy & Cleveland (1995) ; Patten (1977)


Whisler & Harper  (1962). 



Wiese & Buckley (1998).


By the early 1950s, 61% of organizations regularly used performance appraisals, compared with only 15% immediately after World War II.


By the 1950s in America and the 1960s in Europe, around a 50% to 75% of bigger companies had some performance appraisals process.

Spriegel (1962),,

Wiese & Buckley (1998).


Furnham (2004).


Emergence of Performance Appraisals based on Management by Objectives. Employees should be appraised on the basis of short-term goals, jointly set by the employee and the manager, rather than traits.


A shift in the purpose of performance appraisal system towards employee development and feedback.

McGregor (1957)


Fedor (1991) as cited by Wiese & Buckley (1998).


In the US, passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1966 and 1970 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines for Regulation of Selection procedures created a need for improvement in organizational appraisal practices. These legal considerations exerted strong pressure on organizations to formalize, validate, and organize appraisal systems

Murphy & Cleveland, (1995).


In the 1970s in America and the 1980s/1990s in Britain it was government legislation concerning such things as equal opportunity, civil rights, etc. which compelled organisations to adopt some sort of system. Performance management systems (PMS) are a powerful tool for change. They were used in the 1980s and 1990s to try to bring about change in public sector culture and ethos.


Indeed, as survey results show:

• public sector organisations are more likely to have PMS than private sector organisations

• larger organisations are more likely to have them than smaller organisations

• middle managers are more likely to be formally appraised than senior mangers

• human resources professionals are drivers of these systems in organisations.

In general, then, performance appraisal appears to be nearly universal, and the apparent

importance of performance appraisal as a tool for managing human resources has increased.

Furnham (2004).









Murphy & Cleveland (1995).


Innovative use is now being made in some organizations of a self-appraisal system, especially for managers and higher-level professionals. Advocates of the self-appraisal approach say it has these advantages: (1) It motivates the incumbent to take more responsibility for his own performance and growth; (2) Appraisal can be performed as often as believed necessary throughout the year because it can be initiated by the person being assessed; (3) It can be clearly focused on job behavior, avoiding confusion with other issues such as compensation, promotion, lateral transfer, or training; and (4) Performance ambiguity is decreased, creating the potential for more timely and specifically-focused job behavioral changes.

Pratt (1991).


The introduction and growth of strategic performance management systems such as the Balanced Scorecard that cut across organisational levels, linking strategic, operational and individual performance management in organisations. Individual performance management systems start to be aligned to corporate strategies, to create a clear line of sight. Individual objectives and performance measures are based on and continuously aligned with the organisational ones, to enable clear accountability at individual level towards the achievement of organisational goals.

Brudan (2009)



  • Brudan, A. (2009), Integrated Performance Management: Linking Strategic, Operational and Individual Performance, available at (accessed 12 August 2010)
  • Banner, D.K., & Cooke, R.A. (1984), Ethical dilemmas in performance appraisal, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 3, 327-333.
  • Coens,T., & Jenkins, M. (2000), Abolishing performance appraisals: why they backfire and what to do instead, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.
  • DeVries, D.L., Morrison, A.M., Shullman, S.L. and Gerlach, M.L. (1981), Performance Appraisal On The Line, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC.
  • Fedor, D.B. (1991), Recipient respounses to performance feedback: a proposed model and its implications, Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Vol. 9 (annually), pp. 73-120.
  • Furnham, A. (2004), Performance management systems, European Business Journal, Vol. 16, Nr. 2, 83-94.
  • George, C. S., Jr., The History of Management Thought, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972.
  • Graves, W.B. (1948), Efficiency rating systems: their history, organization and functioning, Hearings, Efficiency Rating System for Federal Employees, 80th Congress, 2nd Session, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
  • Hackett, J.D. (1928), Rating legislators, Personnel, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 130-1.
  • Lopez, F.M. (1968), Evaluating Employee Performance, Public Personnel Association, Chicago, IL.
  • McGregor, D. (1962), An uneasy look at performance appraisal, In T.L. Whisler & S.F. Harper (Eds.), Performance appraisal: Research and practice. New York:Holt: Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
  • Murphy, K.R. and Cleveland, J.N. (1995), Understanding Performance Appraisal: Social, Organizational and Goal-Based Perspectives, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Patten, T.H., Jr (1977), Pay: Employee Compensation and Incentive Plans, , p. 352 Free Press, London.
  • Petrie, F.A. (1950), Is there something new in efficiency rating?, Personnel Administrator, Vol.13, pp. 24.
  • Pratt, Henry J. (1991), Principles of Effective Performance Management, ARMA Records Management Quarterly, 25(1), 28.  Retrieved November 3, 2007, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 770088).
  • Radnor Z.J., Barnes D. (2007), Historical analysis of performance measurement and management in operations management, International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 56, No. 5/6, 384-396. 
  • Scott, W.D., Clothier, R.C. and Spriegel, W.R. (1941), Personnel Management, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
  • Spriegel, W.R. (1962), Company practices in appraisal of managerial performance, Personnel, Vol. 39, pp. 77.
  • Vallance, S. (1999), Performance Appraisal in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines: A Cultural Perspective. Australian Journal of Public Administration 58(4): 78-95.
  • Whisler, T. L., & Harper, S.F. (Eds), (1962), Performance Appraisal: Research and Practice, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • White, L.D. (1954), The Jacksonians, The Macmillan Co., New York, NY.
  • Wiese, D.S. & Buckley, M.R. (1998),The evolution of the performance appraisal process, Journal of Management History, Vol. 4 No. 3, 233-249.
  • Wright, R. P. (2002), Perceptual dimensions of performance management systems in the eyes of different sample categories, International Journal of Management, 19, 184-193.

Individual : Profile and evolution


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