How to… have a productive appraisal

All is not well on the performance management front if the findings of a recent CIPD survey are to be believed.

In research conducted amongst 2,500 employees, 30 per cent felt their employer’s appraisal process was unfair, with less than 40 per cent considering it fair. Thirty-two percent felt progression within their organisation was unachievable, with one in five saying their managers failed to explain objectives and expectations effectively.

Getting it right is vital for employers, particularly in a climate where the economy is improving and the jobs market is hotting up. If people feel their talents are not being recognised and there’s no chance their aspirations will be met, they will start looking for pastures new.
So what can organisations do to make sure their performance management is a more positive and productive process.

Make it clear and consistent

Too often, performance management processes are not clearly communicated or consistently applied. No-one quite knows when they are supposed to have an appraisal, how often or what’s meant to happen as a result. Practice can vary widely from department to department, with some managers seeing performance management as a priority and others regarding it as an irritating distraction. If processes are not clear and people see themselves being treated differently to their peers in other parts of the business, they will feel appraisals are unfair. HR systems with embedded performance management can do much to help streamline appraisal processes and ensure consistency. Managers will receive prompts when appraisals are due, for example, and will have a central place to keep a record of what’s been discussed and agreed.

Be prepared

How often have you gone into an appraisal when it’s clear the manager has given it no thought beforehand and has pulled the form out of a dusty drawer seconds before you walked into the room? Preparation – on both sides – is the key to an effective appraisal conversation. Managers need to think about what achievements they want to acknowledge and what development needs they want to discuss. Individuals need to go into the meeting prepared to talk about their aspirations, which parts of their job they’d like to develop and where they see their career heading. Without this kind of preparation, appraisals become a box-ticking exercise where everyone is left feeling vaguely dissatisfied and nothing changes as a result.

Remember it’s a two-way conversation

Appraisals should be a dialogue not a diatribe. Make sure your managers are not stuck in the mindset of an appraisal being the opportunity to point out what people are doing wrong. If an appraisal is to leave the individual feeling motivated and energised, it needs to be an open, honest conversation about what’s going well, how you can build on it and what might need to change. Remember too that conversations about performance shouldn’t be a one-off annual event. Make sure you supplement the formal appraisal with regular informal check-ins so people know how they’re doing and how they might need to adjust their priorities as the business situation changes.

Take action on what’s been agreed

Make sure that any action or development agreed during an appraisal does actually happen. There’s nothing more demotivating for an employee than picking up the appraisal form to see that the course or secondment they’d been promised a year ago still hasn’t happened. Trust will be eroded and they will feel as if the encouragement you have given them about their developing their career is nothing more than empty words. Performance Management software systems can help to ensure that what’s been agreed actually happens by providing a central place where information can be stored and made accessible to both the manager and employee – making it less likely things will get overlooked.

Don’t push difficult issues under the carpet

Of course you want appraisal conversations to focus on the positive. But if there is a real problem with someone’s performance there’s no point ignoring it in the hope it will go away. No one enjoys a difficult performance conversation, but it’s important to tackle issues without delay. Be up-front about your concerns and give the individual an opportunity to put their side of the story. Sometimes what appears to be a performance issue can turn out to be a personal problem or an issue with a bullying colleague for example. Involve the individual concerned in coming up with a solution – they are much more likely to buy into an agreed plan of action if they have been part of it. If issues persist – or the employee rejects feedback – it’s absolutely critical that managers know that they need to record the conversation and agreed activities and escalate their concerns to HR or senior managers.

You may be interested in reading our guide to why you should be putting employee career development at the top of your people management agenda.

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  1. Thanks for sharing these tips to improve the performance appraisal process, Erika. Those stats from the CIPD survey are startling.

    I recently interviewed a leadership expert and he highlighted three “essential” processes that can waste a company’s resources — one of them is the performance appraisal process. In other words, just as you said, there’s a lot of room for improvement here, and it deserves serious attention.

    To add to the tips you outlined here, the expert I spoke to, Scott Edinger, emphasized the importance of coaching to follow the appraisal. After all, the ultimate goal of performance appraisals is performance improvement!

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