How to… conduct an appraisal

Many
employees view their annual appraisal with a mixture of ambivalence and
cynicism. One reason for this is that the appraiser can abuse the exercise by
using it to highlight an employee’s performance failings and as a forum for
criticism. Fortunately, the shift from appraisal as a retrospective assessment
of performance towards a forward-looking, joint discussion about development
means managers and employees have an opportunity to transform the annual ritual
into a meaningful and profitable experience.

Personnel
Today’s recent report, UK Line Managers, Are they good enough?, in conjunction
with Richmond Events and Computers In Personnel, reveals 68 per cent of line
managers handle their organisations’ performance management, compared to 32 per
cent of HR professionals.

Worryingly,
performance management is highlighted by the HR respondents as one of line
managers’ problem areas. HR’s role is not only to create the template for an
organisation’s appraisals and implement appropriate feedback systems, but also
to lead by example. HR should, therefore, be the most expertly appraised
department in the company.

Preparation
is everything

Appraisals
often fail as a result of lack of preparation on the part of the appraiser.
It’s unrealistic to expect the appraisee to take the exercise seriously if you
haven’t even bothered to go through their appraisal from last year, so make
that your starting point. Familiarise yourself with their employment history.
If you are well prepared you could improve communication, put your relationship
with the employee on a better footing and make them feel better about work.

Your
organisation may have a formalised structure in place to elicit further
information, such as a multi-sourced feedback or full-blown 360-degree appraisal
system (if not, then consider putting one in place). If the feedback throws up
inconsistencies, such as wildly differing views on an employee’s performance,
leave adequate time before the appraisal to investigate further.

Anticipate
any questions or problem areas that will arise during the exercise. Avoid being
too prescriptive but the employee, reasonably, will expect you to have answers
to all of their questions.

To
maximise the benefit of the appraisal exercise, it is not unreasonable to
expect some preparation on the part of the employee, too. Get them to list in
advance their strengths and weaknesses, achievements as well as performance
highs and lows for the previous 12 months.

Create
a framework for the appraisal

This
is the template HR should set for the entire organisation. Recognise that the
exercise should be stimulating, not stifling, so while imposing a structure it
is essential to retain a degree of flexibility.

A
typical framework will allow for the following:


A general introduction, stating the purpose of the appraisal


To review objectives set at the last appraisal and a forthright and honest
discussion as to whether they have been met


If the objectives have not been met, to highlight any difficulties and how they
can be resolved or dealt with


Outline and agree future objectives


To formulate a personal development plan (PDP) for the year ahead and how it
will be achieved


To identify any training and development required by the appraisee to meet
those objectives


Sufficient time for the employee to discuss concerns.

There
can be a tendency to assume too much from the exercise but the employee will
expect to:


Receive constructive feedback on their performance


Understand what their objectives are for the year ahead


Be made aware what their career prospects are for the year ahead and in the
future


Be able to air grievances about management or the organisation without it
affecting their prospects


Be able to discuss salary frankly


Above all, to feel notice has been taken of what they have said.

What
should I do if bad feeling or hostility arises?

One
way to avoid such unpleasant- ness is to frequently discuss performance and
development throughout the year. Regular informal chats with employees can also
provide early indications of any discontent or resentment so they don’t
suddenly, and confrontationally, surface in the appraisal.

Make
sure you listen to what is being said. "Listen to what appraisees say and
ignore how they say it," says Terry Gillen, author of Exercises in
Appraisal and Performance Development. "More than a good appraisal, people
want a fair appraisal; they want confidence in their appraiser. Active
listening forms an essential foundation."

Always
keep the discussion on the track of the appraisee’s performance and
development. Be assertive about it if necessary.

Where
can I get more info?

Books


The Appraisal Discussion, Terry Gillen, Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development (CIPD),£6.99, ISBN 0852927517


Exercises in Appraisal & Performance Development, Terry Gillen, CIPD,
£175, ISBN 0852927738

Reports

UK
Line Managers, Are they good enough? Personnel Today Management Resources,
£25, Esco Business Services, 01371 810433, personneltoday@esco.co.uk

If
you only do five things…

1
Make sure both parties prepare in advance

2
Set clear objectives

3
Actively listen

4
Be specific and descriptive

5
Make it an ongoing process, discuss performance and development through out the
year

Expert’s
view Terry Gillen on appraisals

Terry
Gillen is a consultant trainer and author of 11 books and trainers’ resources
including The Appraisal Discussion, Exercises in Appraisal & Performance
Development and Leadership Skills for Boosting Performance. His website is
www.terrygillen.co.uk

Do
HR and line managers work closely enough in terms of developing their appraisal
skills?

Unfortunately
not, and HR is often its own worst enemy in this regard. All too frequently,
appraisal training focuses on the formal processes and documentation and not on
day-to-day performance management skills. Where managers are trained in the
latter, coaching and staff development, formal appraisal is what it should be –
an overview of conversations that have already taken place.

What
are common failings when conducting appraisals?

The
‘mother’ of them all is the appraiser doesn’t know what performance they
actually want. (Here is a challenge for readers: describe three fictitious
staff, one whose performance is acceptable, one under par and one who is very
good. If you can’t begin immediately, you’re thinking about it for the first
time). Another is to think of giving feedback as an end in itself: it isn’t. It
is a step towards modifying behaviour and improving performance. Lastly, the
appraiser sees it as an HR process. It isn’t. It is about what good managers do
anyway.

What
qualities and characteristics make for good appraisers?

Feedback
and performance development is part of their day-to-day management style. So
formal appraisal is just an ‘overview’ of what they already do. They know what
performance they want from staff in terms of both inputs (what they do and how
they do it) and outputs (the results they achieve). They see themselves as a
performance coach not a performance police officer, and enjoy developing people
and seeing them move on (knowing talented people will always want to work for
them). They see performance management as part of their job, not something they
squeeze in once a year.

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