With the right mental attitude, effective preparation and a commitment to constructive follow-up, you can turn your staff appraisals into positive, performance-enhancing meetings.
Benefits to you
With the correct preparation and a positive mindset, you can make your appraisals productive, stimulating and a boost to your own management self-confidence.
Look at the appraisal as an opportunity to:
- Revive flagging motivation
- Kick-start projects that may have fallen by the wayside
- Reward productive employees with more responsibility
- Deal with problems head-on
- Set objectives for the future
- Assess training needs
- Learn more about the group dynamics of your team
Benefits to your staff
Believe it or not, many people actually look forward to their performance appraisal (this is one reason it's important to take the occasion seriously).
The performance appraisal is a chance for the employee to:
- Gain recognition and reward (although appraisals are most definitely not pay reviews - these should ideally be handled separately)
- Look ahead and set objectives that will help their career
- Identify support for you to provide
- Resolve grievances
- Seek reassurance and appreciation
In order to make the appraisal session worthwhile, it's essential to prepare by reviewing past information and jotting down some notes. To give you an insight into how your employee might slant the conversation in the meeting itself, it's useful to ask for some initial thoughts via a pre-appraisal form.
Things you can do to make the appraisal more beneficial include:
- Ask your member of staff to complete the appraisal form in full
- Explain you will need the form back at least two days prior to the meeting (this gives you time to study it)
- Spend some time analysing the appraisee's comments
- Review previous appraisal notes; what were the objectives set?
- Talk to other line managers and colleagues - what do they think?
- Talk to clients or suppliers - is there any useful feedback you could use?
- Review work done - how have projects been executed? Could they have been done better? What was done well?
- Think about future departmental objectives - how can the appraisee contribute? How can you develop the appraisee?
In the appraisal
First and foremost, stick to the appointment. Whether your appraisee has been looking forward to the session with enthusiasm or trepidation, a postponement will cause disappointment. Show that you take your employee's career seriously and that the appraisal is important to you too. If other people want to see you, put them off. Make the appraisal start first thing in the morning, 8.30 if necessary, to avoid being waylaid by other demands on your time.
As a guideline, allow an hour for the appraisal and hold all calls.
When the appraisal begins, set the agenda. Explain the importance of the appraisal and that the purpose is to focus on the appraisee. A gentle reminder that salary is not on the agenda is not out of place, but be sensitive to individual circumstances.
Try to follow a logical order, ideally along the lines of your pre-appraisal form. The discussion should centre around:
A review of objectives set at the previous appraisal
- What objectives were met? Is the appraisee deserving of special praise?
- What wasn't met? Why? Was extra help needed?
- How does she view herself as part of the team?
- Does he enjoy his job? What doesn't he enjoy?
- How does she assess her skill areas?
- Does he have a clear idea of his role and the department's role?
- Where does she see herself developing over the coming six months/year? How is she going to achieve these aims?
- Are there specific targets? Can the targets be realistically met?
- How will performance be measured?
- What training needs are required to fulfil these objectives?
- What other issues would he like to raise?
Delivering home truths
Confrontations can arise when delivering uncomfortable news. You may be required to spell out in no uncertain terms that the appraisee is failing in a particular aspect of his job. This could be as simple a matter as timekeeping or personal appearance, or more sensitive, such as competence at specific tasks or ability to get on with colleagues.
Be prepared. How can your comments be best phrased? Can you at the same time highlight positive points? Are you being constructive in your criticism? Have you suggestions as to how these points can be resolved?
Performance appraisals can sail along happily until the offer is made to 'raise other issues' This may open cans of worms for which you were unprepared, such as personal gripes about other members of staff, complaints about office ergonomics, accusations of unfair treatment and grievances about workload or resources. Many of these may seem of little significance in the grand scheme of things. But to the appraisee, they can acquire importance of great magnitude.
Some of these problem areas can be shrewdly predicted. Can colleagues tip you off beforehand? If you in fact you suspect gripes, ensure they are discussed at the appraisal, even if a little coaxing is required to bring them out. Some people would rather let moans and groans fester, saving them for gossip in the pub, and lowering morale all round. But tackle them head on. The chances are, your proactive approach will work in your favour. An employee who is known to be continually complaining about some issue may be taken by surprise and take a less confrontational view.
However, if it is you who is on the back foot, taken unawares by some unforeseen problem, think on your feet. Ask the appraisee to give you specific examples rather than generalisation. Asking for evidence is not unreasonable. Listen carefully. What is the problem really about? Is the problem being raised a cover for something less sinister which can be easily handled? Is the appraisee embarrassed about something? Throw down a challenge. How does the appraisee suggest the problem be resolved? Have they given the matter some thought? Are there suggestions rational? It may be, if the issue is one of resourcing or ideas, that the appraisee could be given a special project to look into possible options for resolving the issue. You can use the 'gripe' for a spot of impromptu volunteer recruiting.
Obviously, if the complaint is of a more grave nature, such as harassment or discrimination allegations, further investigation will be required. Make it clear you take the matter seriously and take the appropriate steps. Return to the main appraisal and concentrate on positive points.
The appraisal isn't over when the meeting ends. Complete any documentation , write up appraisal notes, including any action that needs to be taken, negative points raised and what is being done to correct these, as well as aspects of performance that have been highlighted as having been done well. It's usual practice to ask the appraisee to sign a copy of the appraisal notes.
Your work is still not over! Make the action points actually happen - and be seen to be making them happen. If you have committed to exploring further training or arranging meetings with other departments, find out or get these sessions set up as soon as you can. If you have had a positive appraisal, the worst thing is to emerge, freshly motivated, only to discover your boss is less wholeheartedly behind your career than he seems.
With the right mental attitude, effective preparation and a commitment to constructive follow-up, you can turn your staff appraisals into positive, performance-enhancing meetings. There is nothing to fear!