Want to know what will make you a first-rate appraiser? Francesca Randle focuses in on the value of one-to-one reviews and the best ways to conduct them.
Performance appraisals can be a valuable part of an effective staff management process when planning for future career development and, in turn, can add to the successful development of the company as whole. When executed correctly, appraisals offer managers an opportunity to give positive feedback to employees, encouraging them to improve their daily performance while making employees aware of the company’s long-term aims.
Successful regular appraisals allow managers to become more acutely aware of their team’s personal skills and goals, enabling them to manage on a more bespoke level. Appraisals can also provide a formal, recorded, regular review of an individual’s performance, and a plan for future development. In short, performance and job appraisals are vital for managing the performance of people and organisations.
However, often neither the process nor the output of appraisals is as valuable or effective as it could be. The idea of appraisals is a good one: a chance to review, assess, de-brief and generally develop the skills and confidence of the person being appraised. Yet appraisals do not always yield positive results – often as a result of two main factors: firstly, appraisals tend to focus too heavily on procedures and not on people; and, secondly, the manager conducting the appraisal is often not experienced enough, trained in appraisals or close enough to the person being appraised for the appraisal to have any real value.
In truth, appraisals are often in danger of becoming ‘tick the box’ exercises that cause a great deal of anxiety. Worse still, once they’re completed, they are neglected and the information discussed and gained is often left and forgotten until the next scheduled appraisal.
Take the relevant example of the appraisal process adopted by many organisations for call centre agents. An agent is usually appraised on their work rate – for example, how many calls they take or make and how long they spend on each call. In fact, their performance is often governed by extraneous factors such as the call flow rate, the ease with which information is available, and the behaviour of other departments. Often their personal performance and skill development is overlooked and their future opportunities are based on a very false set of results.
A ‘conventional’ appraisal is not always an effective means of performance improvement, therefore, and is often perceived as destructive rather than constructive feedback: a judgement imposed by the hierarchy. Useful feedback, on the other hand, would be information that tells both the manager and the agent how well the systems and processes available to them are functioning and possibly even lead to suggested improvements.
Conducting a ‘forward-looking’ approach to performance appraisal
So, just what makes a good appraisal? Well, the focus of performance appraisals needs to shift away from evaluation and the strict appraisal of performance towards a more forward-planning approach. This should centre on improving performance and developing the appraised by means of a well-prepared, honest and open discussion.
However, the best-prepared and formatted appraisal in the world won’t really be effective if the person running the appraisal isn’t handling it professionally and with long-term interests involved. A truly valuable appraisal is actually an agreed summary of what has been happening since the last appraisal and what both the employee and the appraiser wish to be the case by the time of the next appraisal. If it is left to review twice a year, all the opportunities to support and guide the employee towards the wished-for improvement can be missed. People need to be engaged in the idea that managing people and being managed is constant.
With that in mind, informal one-to-one review discussions are likely to be one of the best formats for appraisal, during which time an employee’s work is discussed, reviewed and appraised by a manager using an agreed and understood framework.
A similar informal approach that is becoming increasingly popular in the corporate world is the 360-degree appraisal by which peers can appraise each other. Even customers and other stakeholders can be involved with this type of open framework.
The discussion at an appraisal interview should focus on: behaviours and outcomes; issues and problems; and constructive development to improve the appraised person’s motivation, growth and performance.
It is usual to talk about previously agreed objectives, and how well these have been met, and to explore and agree appropriate objectives for the next period, together with any development needs arising. But the interview should not include any discussion that involves personality or subjective criticisms.
In addition, the appraisal process requires thorough preparation on the part of both appraiser and appraisee. The appraiser needs to be aware of discriminatory legislation and should have the skill and tact to avoid offence or a drift in to personal attacks. The appraiser also needs to be sensitive to, and address, any doubts, fears or anxieties that the appraisee may have before the full appraisal discussion is broached.
- Have a clear picture of what is expected of them.
- Be able to discuss priorities.
- Gain a platform to remove confusion when overload occurs.
- Receive feedback on their performance.
- Be heard and respected.
- Be offered constructive guidance on attaining agreed goals.
- Receive help in constructing personal development plans and targets.
- Take ownership of their performance.
Appraisers should meanwhile use the appraisal discussion as an opportunity to:
- Learn at first hand the way the job holder works and performs.
- Get a better understanding of the job holder’s potential and needs.
- Motivate the job holder.
- Develop a consistent approach to guidance and encouragement.
- Tackle problems more effectively.
- Improve the communication process.
These targets can often best be achieved through informal, face-to-face discussions with the attitude that any questions can be asked and answered in a free and frank manner – although, in truth, all formats of appraisals can be effective if conducted properly.
To gain the most from an appraisal, the appraised should use the time to discuss their long-term goals within the company and how they feel about their current role. Appraisers should, for their part, take time to reassure the appraised that they are being considered within the company’s long-term plans and that their hard work has been noticed – at least that help is being offered for the areas in which they are not performing as well as they ought.
Why some people are against appraisals and how to follow them up
Appraisals are considered by some as a chore which has no use in the modern workplace. Often this view is held by senior managers or directors who are uncomfortable with undertaking appraisals, because they are unsure of how best to conduct them. It is likely they have had little or no training and their view of them being a waste of their time is often passed down through their team to the line managers – known as ‘negative cascaded attitudes’.
Because all the people in the team then generally ‘learn’ this view, appraisals become ineffective and really do become a waste of time. Worse still, in some companies, performance appraisals are seen as an excuse for a manager to run through all of an individual’s failings and errors and so are often anticipated with unease by the appraisee. To avoid this, appraisers should never use appraisals to discuss disciplinary matters.
To conclude, I’d like to suggest a few ideas on how to follow up on an appraisal.
During the appraisal, both the appraiser and appraisee should make notes of what has been discussed so they have something to refer back to during the period between appraisals.
Goals and targets will have been discussed and agreed upon, and these need to be stuck to in order to ensure the appraisal session has been worthwhile. Ideally, the appraiser should break the targets down in to manageable time periods – for example, short-term or one month goals/targets; medium-term or three to six month targets; and long-term or six to twelve month targets. They should then discuss these targets informally throughout the year with their team members to ensure they are on track and provide any help needed to make meeting their targets easier.
More than anything else, this will allow each team member to effectively plan and meet their targets, and feel much more positive about their next performance appraisal. Ultimately, too, it will help you to become known as a top-notch appraiser.
Francesca Randle is director at Cactus Search
Tel: +44 8702 866 904