Friday, 9 August 2013

Don't mention the "A" word...

Why when people mention “appraisals” is there an instinctive reaction of “oh no”.  Appraisals carry a sense of dread for many, whether you are the appraisee or appraiser.  Yet when asked about the benefits of an “effective appraisal”, we are normally in broad agreement; they can be motivating, purposeful, offer positive and constructive feedback, provide an opportunity to review someone’s role and contribution and look at how this may change in the future.  Yet according to a recent World at Work study, 58% of HR leaders gave their appraisal process a “C” grade or worse.  Few other business processes would be allowed to continue to perform so poorly.

So what is going wrong and what do we need to get it right?

Traditional appraisal processes focus on an annual cycle (sometimes with six monthly reviews) and assume an individual is supervised by the same line manager over the period.  The process is often heavily weighted to filling out forms, with pages of narrative and ratings.  The focus is on completing the process; HR monitors whether the forms have been completed and although it is acknowledged the content is often poor, the main objective is to get them done.  It can feel like taking a spoonful of cod liver oil – you are told this should be good for you but you don’t enjoy it and are not completely convinced by the so called positive benefits.

It is useful to recognise how much traditional working structures and practices have changed over the last 20 years.  Employees are working more flexibly, both in their hours of work and location.  They often work in teams which are formed, dissolved and reformed to meet the changing needs of business.  Their work may be linked to specific projects ie the timeframe for measuring their contribution is not annually but much more frequently.  Employees want feedback from a wider range of people; colleagues (whether senior, junior or peers), stakeholders, customers and perhaps suppliers.  They want the feedback in real-time; not several months down the line.  In every other aspect businesses are speeding up their processes, using technology to allow real-time and remote communications but not in appraisals.

If businesses could get their appraisal or performance management processes to work effectively then this would significantly increase their competitiveness in an economy where it is vital to maintain a competitive edge.  So what is stopping us?

For many businesses it’s the worry about trying to change a process which everyone knows is not working properly and the fear that therefore a new process will be damned before it starts. No one wants to take on that poisoned chalice.  So how about trialling some new ideas, perhaps running a pilot with a few interested individuals?  There is no risk – it gives the volunteers the opportunity to be involved in a key business project and to influence the direction for engaging with and developing people.  Most people want more feedback; particularly if it is relevant, timely and will help them be even more effective.  We like to know we’re doing well.

The first step is to establish what good looks like in terms of expected behaviours and performance.   Why is this individual employed – what are the critical elements of their role which are fundamental to the business meeting its objectives? 

Then start to think about using encouraging peer feedback.  When people work together in a trusting and supportive environment this should flow naturally.  People look for feedback all the time – much of the success of Facebook and LinkedIn is the ease with which we can very quickly provide positive feedback to our friends and colleagues (and the fact we “like” to do this).  We all want to be appreciated and recognised for our efforts.  If something doesn’t go to plan, we want to understand why without feeling as though we have done something “wrong”.  Clearly talking to one another face to face is the most effective form of feedback and this is particular relevant if the discussion is focused on changing behaviour but that should not block the speed and relevance of positive technology based feedback.

The answer to motivating your people is through a real time, people centred performance review process.  If this is something you would like to explore or discuss further, please give us a ring (01794 329290) or email

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