Performance Appraisal – tips for increasing effectiveness
Many of us have experienced the appraisal meeting which will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Typically, this involves some (or at worst, all) of the following aspects:
- Repeat rescheduling of the meeting, suggesting that it is not a priority.
- Lecturing or being talked to for a couple of hours, without listening to what you have to say.
- Constant interruptions such as mobile phone calls, people coming in the room to ‘have a quick word’, answering a few e-mails on the blackberry during the meeting whilst apologising half-heartedly to you for doing so.
- Too formal (i.e. an appraisal should not be akin to a disciplinary hearing) or too informal (i.e. feet on the desk and slouching)
- Eye on the clock, fidgeting and a clear desire to finish as quickly as possible.
- Meandering meeting with no apparent focus, structure or outcome.
- War and peace documentation to complete for the meeting which appears to have no relation to the job or the organisation (probably because it was borrowed from another organisation which has completely different numbers of employees, objectives and culture), or nothing at all to base the meeting on.
- Concentrating only on the last few weeks as this is easier to remember.
- Surprise feedback (good or bad) about events which took place 10 months ago.
- General feedback without examples.
- No opportunity to provide feedback to your manager or a bad reaction when upward feedback is sought and actually provided.
All in all, good examples of how not to conduct an appraisal meeting. Accordingly, we never want to experience such an encounter again ourselves or to inflict this type of torture on our own employees. However, we all have appraisal baggage of this type. How then can we structure and conduct appraisals more effectively?
- First, it is helpful to move towards viewing appraisal meetings as part of wider performance management, communication and feedback processes and not as one annual meeting held in isolation.
- Consider the ‘no surprises’ aim of good performance management. Can you ensure regular and meaningful discussions take place to highlight issues and encourage improved performance or to give timely feedback and praise where this is deserved to motivate and retain good employees?
- Consider the paperwork. Does this relate to the role being performed and the objectives of your business? Are its objectives measurable? Does it encourage performance in the areas which matter now, not ten years ago? Does the language and methodology reflect the culture of the organisation? The paperwork should enable not hinder the process.
- Appraisal meetings should be a business priority and thus diarised in good time. Unless exceptional circumstances arise, these should not be rescheduled, shortened or interrupted by anyone or any technology. I once had an appraisal meeting interrupted by the CEO, as the business had an emergency overseas and my manager was needed by the media for an urgent statement. This was truly exceptional – I understood and indeed helped her to prepare. However, most other business requirements can usually wait an hour and a half.
- Time should be spent preparing for the appraisal by both the appraiser and the employee being assessed (to allow some self-assessment).
- Meetings should be conducted professionally and structured appropriately.
- Good notes should be taken and the meeting notes agreed thereafter. Consider also a counter-signatory to ensure fair treatment.
- Are you going to seek feedback on your manager’s styles or your business methods? If so, how will this be treated? Asking for upward or indeed 360 degree feedback is to be applauded but only if involved parties can both give and receive feedback constructively. Asking for and then ignoring, fighting or denying feedback provided by employees can demotivate, disengage and discourage any further feedback being provided.
- Have your managers been trained to conduct effective appraisals and are you monitoring their effectiveness?
- In addition, consider performance appraisal in relation to any potential disciplinary issues or redundancy situations which could arise. Although issues should be addressed as they arise and not wait for the next appraisal meeting, appraisal paperwork should be consistent with your stance on a particular issue. This will be a useful tool both internally to deal with processes such as redundancy but can also be reviewed during potential employment disputes which can emerge.
Finally, if the existing appraisal scheme is gathering dust and you are met with looks of disdain when the word appraisal is mentioned, then it is probably time to review and refresh what is being operated.