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Is well known that any appraisal process is biased. Measuring one's characteristics (and specially, comparing them) is far from a objective and clear science. Still, measuring one's performance will be required at some point. I'm taking into account that measuring one's performance and forgetting about the project performance is not good.

So, thinking of personal appraisals / promotions / salary adjustments, there are some skills / abilities that (I believe) are straightly measurable, like certifications. One has or has not a certification. It's binary.

I know that a certification doesn't prove much about a person. But at least, comparing two people (say A and B), where A has a certification 'X' and B without certifications, is clear that A at least spent some time to testify his knowledge. It is possible that B's knowledge in 'X' is greater than A, and thus wouldn't be hard to both having certification 'X', in the end.

Having said that, here goes the question:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of linking the certifications one has to his appraisal? Obviously, thinking of certifications within the knowledge area his working for. A Linux certification values (almost) nothing for a pure-windows project. An inner question here is if is fair to promoting A instead of B because A has proven he has knowledge in 'X'.

Edit: Let's assume the company will pay any certification exam to whoever wants to submit to it.

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I think your appraisals, the metrics that go into them, need to be linked to promoting the work behavior desired and demoting / extinguishing work behavior not desired. If it was found that the average performance of a certified practitioner out performs the average performance of a non certified practitioner, then maybe you can include it in the appraisals but with a weak weight. However, if that is not substantiated above and beyond anecdotal observations, which are useless, then exclude the certification from your appraisal.

Now promotion or money can be a bit different. It goes to salesability. Certificates sell. Buying organizations rely on them for comfort, trust, and some perception of reduced risk in predicting that practitioner's future performance, notwithstanding there is nothing behind it. So, if A took the time to study and get it and is now more marketable than B is, then the organization benefits for the certificate and so too should A. Whether it comes down as a salary differential or a bonus or something else, I don't think that really matters.

  • If I could, I'd +1 twice. First, for assessing what we currently have and then (if applicable) make a rule for this. Second, for raising the salesability of a person with certifications. – Tiago Cardoso Jun 9 '12 at 18:35
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There's no advantage to including them.

As has been discussed numerous times, certifications are not an indicator of proficiency or competence (and I sit on the boards of two certifying organizations).

Certificates verify a minimum level of knowledge (minimum as relative to passing the exam), but do nothing as far as indicating how that knowledge can/would be applied.

The other problem with including certifications (of any type) is, where do you stop? In your scenario, one must then also include college degrees, continuing education, etc.

The performance appraisal is just that - an appraisal of 'performance'. It's to review how well the employee is performing the duties of the position against the required (and documented) duties.

The only situation where the certification should ever be included is if the certification is a requirement of the position. For example, there are a number of job openings that require a PMP or "the ability to attain one within 6 mos. of hire" or something to that effect. In that situation, since it's a requirement of hiring, then it could be included. But otherwise, no.

  • Hi Trevor, I've updated my question adding not only the appraisal itself, but also other employee's aspects like salary adjustments and promotions. – Tiago Cardoso Jun 8 '12 at 15:08
  • Tiago, it still shouldn't be a factor. The appraisal is about 'performance' of specified job duties, not collecting certifications. In your example, Emp B may have the same requisite knowledge & performance, but not the $500 for the cert. Is it fair to penalize in a review for that? To take it further - what if both are certified? Do you then compare exam scores, or time needed to complete the exam? As I said, the performance review/appraisal should be based on just that - the performance of the duties of the position. – Trevor K. Nelson Jun 8 '12 at 18:03
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I have written a blog post about my views on certifications. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/MuBVI2 but I will give an overview of my feelings. The short version is, it depends.

If you are going to include them on performance reviews, it should not be to prove some level of knowledge mastery. Many certifications simply prove that you are able to study some set of material and pass a test. My post discusses the importance of certifications to some organizations because of the benefits that they gain from them, i.e. Microsoft Partner Competency leves. If you created a development plan for an employee and asked that he take and pass a certain number of exams for the organization, then yes you should include them as meeting, or not, as development goals.

  • Very interesting the approach of 'icing on the cake'! – Tiago Cardoso Jun 11 '12 at 14:45
  • @TiagoCardoso I have seen too many cases of people with certifications and no actual real world experience to back it up. – jgardner04 Jun 11 '12 at 15:07
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There are 2 major theories about credentials: human capital theory and signaling theory. Under HCT, certifications, degrees and licenses show that you have accumulated a credible amount of knowledge, and demonstrated it to a third party. Under signalling theory, certifications and licenses are signals to show to others that you are different. One interesting comparison of the differences of HCT and ST is The Career Consequences of Failing versus Forgetting.

While many in IT have a disdain for degrees, certifications and licenses, not everyone else in the business world feels the same way. One interesting dissertation (your local university library might be able to get for you) is titled "Hiring and Inequality in Elite Professional Service Firms". This dissertation interested me in that it was a sociological survey of some top consulting companies and it measured how they actually selected candidates in contrast to how they said they selected candidates. The mismatch could only be explained in terms of signals and not in terms of human capital. You may know just as much as another person, but the one of you that passes some hurdle signals to prospective employers that the hurdle passer is the better candidate. This is because hiring a person is trying to predict future behavior/success with limited information, and many people use signals as heuristics.

That being said, the way you phrased your question, you are looking at certifications from the viewpoint of the streetlight effect:

The fundamental error here is summed up in an old joke scientists love to tell. Late at night, a police officer finds a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he’s looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he’s sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the befuddled officer asks. Because the light’s better here, explains the drunk man.

Source

If you do collect this data, I suspect that you will find it useless for project appraisals. If you manage to find a statistically significant correlation with project success/failures, then you have the material to write a number of academic journal papers.

For a decent text on metrics used in software, I recommend you read Software Metrics. I've used this in a university course on metrics, and it has a number of recommendations on what you probably should be measuring instead.

Let's assume the company will pay any certification exam to whoever wants to submit to it.

In the company I currently work at, passing Microsoft and Oracle certifications gets you $500 (per test) plus the cost of the test and study materials. Even with such a large bonus, I am the only developer taking advantage of the program. Our company is a "partner" with both Oracle and Microsoft, so it is in the company's financial interest to have employees pass the certification. When I've asked the other devs why they didn't feel like earning an easy $5k/year, they stated a number of reasons from "I don't have time to study" to "$500 isn't enough". The resistance to certification is not something that you will be able to overcome merely by throwing money at the problem.

  • 1
    Thoughtful answer, Tangurena. These links are invaluable. One thing I noticed though is that the book you mentioned seems to be slightly outdated (from '96). Are the metrics / insights presented on it still valid? – Tiago Cardoso Jun 13 '12 at 1:08
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is fair to promoting A instead of B because A has proven he has knowledge in 'X'.

Proven by a certificate - no, it is not fair. Proven by his work - yes.

Having said that, on one hand there is a risk, that people will get the certificates because they know that they may get a promotion. I guess, people are different, so on the other hand, one may get a certificate to "force" himself to learn something.

If you link the certificates with the evaluation process, you should know what one's motivation was of getting them.

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    Hi Zbi, that's one of the problems of having this approach in place: it's a deadlock, as one can have a certification to be promoted whilst one can be promoted for having a certification. Based on it, I'm looking for a understanding of pros and cons of having the certification bind to appraisal / promotion / salary adjustments. Thanks! – Tiago Cardoso Jun 8 '12 at 11:34
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A relation between an evaluation process and the appraisals is complex, especially in an agile environment (for example article and some other article). So, I will not go any deeper on that subject without knowing what is your "setup".

Surveys show what workers usually want:

  • To earn adequately (to market value of their position)
  • To have tools and autonomy needed to reach goals
  • To progress (and know how to progress)
  • To have clear and transparent rules
  • To receive regular feedback
  • To be under fair and just judgement

So, I believe any rule is fair as long as it is transparent, known upfront, reachable and fairly judged. One can have multiple levels of expertise with progression related to:

  • Time / Experience
  • Knowledge / Skills
  • Achievements
  • Relation to other workers (reviewing work, coaching)
  • Engagement

Achieving the lower levels of expertise may provide a compensation, also in form of support in trainings, certificates, while higher levels of expertise may require such certificates. Of course, such requirement doesn't mean it's the only criteria of an appraisal...

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In some situations, there is clear benefit to the business to have more people with certifications. For example, the Microsoft Partner program offers additional "rewards" when your organization has a certain number of Microsoft Certified Professionals. In that case, mentioning certification progress in reviews and linking appraisals would be acceptable - it is behavior you want to reward.

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