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Performance Appraisals: nothing to be afraid of

The phrase 'performance appraisal' is still unfortunately something of a dirty word these days, which is a shame.

It might have something to do with the way they're used these days: too often, as a competitive assessment designed in some way to show employers which of their team they should be letting go.

Added on 10.12.2012

But a performance appraisal should really be a valuable learning experience for the manager and a development experience for the employee.

What is a performance appraisal supposed to do?

  • Improve productivity - the bottom line and why we're all here
  • Inform management - who should be promoted, switched or (hopefully not) sacked?
  • Identify the role - what do you have to do in your job?
  • Assess an employee against the role - how well do you do it?
  • Improve employee performance - identify areas to improve, develop a plan to target these areas, support and motivate the employee in implementing this plan

The right attitude

It's important to recognise that most employees DO actually care about their job and the organisation they work for. Viewing the appraisal process as a dialogue (so that information travels not just down but up, and praise/recognition as well as criticism/suggestion is given to staff AND management where appropriate) is important. Employees need to feel valued and treated consistently and fairly to give their best; in return you'll gain not only better performance but priceless insights and ideas from staff who feel valued and included.

The details

Ideally we'd recommend a meeting at least annually, but preferably bi-annually. We'd recommend keeping a written record of the meeting, no matter what the size of the business, and with bigger businesses a formal framework for meetings and the information recorded should be considered so that all employees' performance can be objectively measured and recorded (bearing in mind that this information might be the subject of legal dispute in extreme cases).

Different Strokes...

Bear in mind that, depending on the size of your organisation, employees might have a very different understanding of their responsibilities and the place they play within the organisation. For example, in a two person operation the staff member will have no illusions as to their importance; for a significantly bigger organisation, you might have to incorporate far more diverse factors to communicate to a person exactly where they fit into the organisation and how their input is important.

The Yardstick

Whatever the responsibilities of the role, you should have a list of key performance indicators that form a 'standard' to assess against (based on either (a) the employee's previous performance, or (b) the performance of other employees in the group or company); and you'll assess your employee against that standard. If you're going to be basing pay or promotion decisions on this information (and we assume you will) then it goes without saying that you need to have a clear system to quantify what you want, how you recognise that, and how each employee stacks up.

Make sure they understand you!

It's strongly recommended that any system for appraising staff is devised and trialled by the staff themselves (or at least their immediate line managers). And, when giving feedback, this should always be done verbally in the first instance: to take questions and feedback, and to set dates for any follow up.