Over the 20 years I have worked in recruitment it has always surprised me how many professionals approach me for career advice directly after their annual appraisal. An appraisal should ideally be a positive experience for both employer and employee where objectives are reviewed and aspirations are discussed, however, it appears that on far too many occasions employers use an appraisal as an excuse to dump poor feedback on their employee (often feedback that has been saved up rather than discussed on an ongoing basis) and the appraisal often becomes very one sided leaving the employee defensive and demotivated. I guess my first thought on appraisals is that although there should be an honest review of performance, this should be two-way and if regular reviews have taken place during the year, there should not really be any shocks. It should also be a forum to discuss the future and set agreed objectives for the year ahead.
Appraisals should assess performance against set objectives and guide employees as to the way their futures will develop. When appraisals are managed well, employees will generally progress consistently and achieve more. If like me, you are a believer that people make a business successful it can be argued that well managed appraisals can play a major part in the success of a business.
Appraisals can come in many different formats. Three of the most common are below:
- Annual Reviews – These are the most common form of appraisal. Again these exist in differing formats, but effectively they give a forum for a manager and employee to sit down together and discuss how the employee has performed. Appraisals in this format could use scoring systems against set criteria, others could be more of a narrative looking at the biggest achievements that have happened, reviewing objectives from previous reviews and reviewing development areas. The more popular appraisal will normally look at behaviours as well as results. For example, in a sales environment you may be the biggest revenue maker, but you may not always stick to a company’s values – in this appraisal both would be looked at and give a balanced grade based on all criteria, not just on outputs.
- 360 Degree Reviews – Handled in the right way these appraisals can be very effective. It basically allows an employee’s manager, colleagues and subordinates to answer a number of questions regarding the employee and then the results are collated together. This method can give balanced feedback to the employee and the feedback is usually really useful in highlighting development areas. A number of people I work with have come from larger organisations where they have been appraised in this manner and found it very helpful in identifying practical ways they could improve in their roles.
- Self-Evaluation – This is where the employee is asked to honestly appraise themselves. If entered in the true spirit is can be really useful and lead to helpful dialogue between employee and manager. It normally leads to excellent objective setting to.
Whichever of these methods is used, the best are normally where SMART objectives are agreed, so that both the manager and the employee understand what needs to be achieved, how it will be measured and the timescales in which the objectives should be hit. It would also spell out clearly what responsibility the manager and others have over helping the employee with their objectives and development.
Outside of the annual appraisal I truly believe that should be a continual review in the form of feedback, reviews or one-to-ones. These can be less formal than an annual appraisal and often lead to both idea sharing which can help the manager and employee and influence coaching sessions.
There are many pros to appraisals if they are carried out in the right way:
- It allows feedback to be shared which can lead to the worker’s performance improving, but also the manager to understand ways that they can support
- It can align the employee with the companies’ values and objectives
- It should identify the training needs of the employee
- It gives the employee a forum in which to formally tell the business the direction they want their career to move and how they feel about the business
- It can be linked to promotion, bonus’ and pay rises (although you do need to be mindful that this can lead to an expectation that pay rises would be discussed each time)
- It allows a forum for open, honest dialogue
- It should lead to an employee feeling that they are being invested in and are valued by the organisation, this should lead to a motivated employee
However, there can also be cons if not handled correctly:
- A rushed appraisal will not leave an employee feeling valued and can lead to them de-motivated and less efficient
- Less experienced managers can often review staff based on personal characteristics rather than performance and achievements
- Appraisals can be one-sided dominated by the manager. This will not allow the appraised member of staff to feel that their opinions matter or that they have a voice
- Pre-conceived opinions from the appraiser can mean that the employee is not properly appraised, but instead judged without proper evidence
- Scoring in appraisals can leave people demotivated if they feel it is less than they deserved
Overall I feel that Appraisals are an important tool for businesses to adopt, but they need to be consistent and not be rushed. It is important for the employer to enter an appraisal with an open mind, not pre-conceived opinions and that they allow the employee the opportunity to talk about the things they have done well and where they need help. You do need to make sure that objectives are SMART and that time is set aside to regularly review these and normally the payback from the employee will be huge.
Written by Lucy-Emma Heath-Turrall, Business Manager & Senior Interim HR