How can the annual appraisal system be improved?

Jo Ayoubi, managing director of Track Surveys, posits some improvements to the annual appraisal system.

Everyone dreads annual appraisal time. For managers, it means a mountain of form-filling, desperate digging in diaries to remember who did what, and the possibility of having to tell somebody that they’ve been underperforming.

Appraisals can be just as big a nightmare for employees, who dread the “feedback” discussion with their manager (translate “feedback” as “what you’ve been doing badly but I haven’t got around to telling you”).

HR teams dread the administration, the endless cajoling, threatening and begging to get people to book the meetings, fill in the forms and sign everything off; and then trying to make sense of whatever data comes out of the whole thing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fundamentally, building great performance only needs three things: goal setting, goal monitoring and great feedback – and lots of it.

So how do you make sure that those three critical activities happen?

Goal setting

People are only motivated by goals that are relevant to their job, that are interesting and that are valued. At a practical level, what do managers and employees need to be able to set goals that fulfil all these criteria?

  • Top-level goals. Making organisational goals available to everyone in easy to understand language is the first step. Conversations from senior management down through the ranks will cascade those goals – but only if the right conversations take place.
  • Link organisational goals with real life in the organisation. Make the connection between organisational and departmental goals and how team members can contribute to those goals. Again, support from senior management on how to bring those goals alive is critical.
  • Make it clear how to do the job, as well as what to do. Performance goals (what to achieve) are often separated from development goals (how to achieve). So, people do their jobs, go on training courses and don’t necessarily ever link the two together. Goals should focus on all of the skills needed to achieve them. This is often where managers struggle if they haven’t had the right briefing from their senior managers or any training on how to do this.
  • Give managers and employees an easy system to record the goals they have set and the dates they have agreed for achieving those goals. Online tools can provide a simple way of noting those important discussions and allowing HR to monitor the data.

Goal monitoring

Most organisations only give the majority of staff an opportunity to revise their goals once or twice a year. But organisations that monitor goals frequently have better financial results than those that don’t. So, what tools give managers and employees the ability to review goals more frequently?

  • Make it easy for employees to be able to update progress on their goals easily and quickly, giving evidence of what they have done and the dates on which their goals were met. A central online tool for doing this ensures that those critical records and notes are kept safely and can be accessed easily; rather than on scraps of paper that get lost or stuck in desk drawers never to be seen again.
  • It should also be easy for managers to log in and see what their employees are doing – and make notes or comments as required.
  • Provide a reminder system for managers to arrange short, regular catch-up meetings with their people. It’s like getting fit: exercising little and often is much more effective than trying to run a marathon once a year. And, of course, it means that employees and managers are getting more frequent practice at those important skills. Managers will be able to manage, coach and give more immediate feedback to their teams, while their people will get more regular and relevant feedback and start to see it as something really useful – and act on it.


We all know that frequent feedback is important, but it’s easy to forget how crucial it is.

  • Managers who give feedback frequently will get better at doing it; encourage and reward managers who give frequent and positive feedback.
  • Get the message out, through senior managers and other key influencers, that feedback is good for the organisation, even if it’s not always complimentary.
  • Provide opportunities for people to ask their colleagues for feedback at various critical points. For example, at the end of a key project or after they have been going through a development programme. Give them the mechanisms to source the feedback themselves; there are online tools that are easy to use and can provide valuable feedback in a structured way.
  • Encourage employees to ask customers for feedback too – they often see this as a very valuable development tool.
  • Provide simple online applications that allow anyone to give motivational, instant feedback to anyone else – that way, good feedback is captured and shared.

Of course, we still need performance appraisals that are structured, consistent and transparent. But, with a bit of effort, a focus on the basics and a little help from web-based technology, could we make performance appraisal easier, more effective and, dare I say it, something that people may even begin to look forward to.

Jo Ayoubi, managing director, Track Surveys Ltd

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