There is probably no other aspect of management which divides opinion as much as appraisals. For some, they are seen as a management chore, whereas, others see them as a management tool.
The vast majority of organisations have appraisal systems. These may go under a variety of names, such as, performance review, but for the purpose of this article appraisal, as the generic name, will be used.
Given the division of opinion on appraisals, it is important that you recognise the potential upsides and downsides of the process. Achieving the former, and avoiding the latter is clearly the aim.
Pitfalls of an Employee Appraisal
There are a number of common negatives to be avoided with appraisals. They are time-consuming. There is not just the appraisal session itself, but also the time preparing and following through. Given this is the case, it is beholden on managers to maximise the benefits (see below) that can be derived from the process.
Another area of gripe is that they are endlessly paper driven. Good appraisals put the person first and the paperwork second. An indirect pitfall of overly bureaucratic processes is that they lead to inconsistency from manager to manager. This is particularly the case when numerical scoring systems are used.
Sometimes appraisals are seen as being wholly and utterly backward looking. A review of performance is valuable, but only as a means for improving future performance.
Given that managers should be constantly looking at performance
there should be no surprises to the member of staff at the appraisal session. Any review should simply be a summation, good and otherwise, of previous discussions that have taken place.
Benefits of an Employee Appraisal
Benefits from appraisals should accrue at three levels, organisational, managerial, and individual.
For the organisation, if appraisals are conducted effectively, such benefits include both 'soft' and 'hard' elements. On the softer side, such processes demonstrate a commitment to people within the business. Another such benefit is the reinforcement, via appraisals, of the corporate aims and values.
On the harder, more tangible side, there is the opportunity for talent spotting and succession planning. Appraisals should identify the high performers who can then be nurtured and developed for future roles.
For managers, appraisals can be an opportunity to consider exactly what their expectations are for each individual member of staff, and to identify reasonable and realistic objectives as a result.
It is also an opportunity to cement relationships and to find out where staff need support, in order to enable them to do their job well. Above all else, it is a time where good information can be gathered from those in the front line, thus enabling the manager to make better decisions going forward.
For the individual member of staff this is an opportunity to discuss their job, to have a voice, so to speak. They can clarify expectations and objectives. They can raise issues, including possible career aspirations. Managers should see to make it easy for staff to not only raise issues, but also suggest solutions. A good question for managers to throw in the mix is, 'If we could do one thing differently here, what would it be?'
Structure of an Employee Appraisal
There are no hard and fast rules here but an appraisal should probably contain the following components. The introduction should be relaxed, setting the scene, putting them at their ease. Don't dive straight in. This should be followed by a brief job review. Over the period since the previous session (commonly annually or bi-annually) there may well have been a number of changes which have taken place. This is a chance to have a stock take.
Next is to summarise both achievements and any problems that need addressing. In both cases, this should be based on evidence, using specific incidents which have occurred. In the case of any problems, remember that it is for you to seek and suggest solutions for improvement.
It may now be appropriate to discuss any career aspirations. It is important to note here that it is perfectly okay for individuals not to want career progression. At the very least this part of the session can deal with potential future training and development opportunities.
Finally, the session should end with a clear statement of future objectives and of an agreed set of actions preferably set against a realistic timeframe.
Employee Appraisal Conduct
The appraisal session is often referred to as an interview. This is dangerous as it can lead to a wholly question and answer session bordering on an interrogation. The aim should be for the member of staff to have the greater share of the 'air time'. Certainly questioning technique (see effective communication
) will be used. Such questioning should be used to prompt and probe responses from the individual concerned. In effect, the aim is for this to be informal and conducted in a conducive ambience. It should be almost conversational and certainly be a dialogue rather than an interview per se.
Done well and professionally appraisals are of value to all concerned. Managers should strive to achieve these benefits, whilst avoiding the common pitfalls. See them as an opportunity, not an imposition.