Performance appraisals can be a touchy subject at the best of times, but they’re something both employers and employees have become used to. Indeed, it's a process that takes place in almost every business.
That's not to say they don't serve a critical purpose. After all, it's important to measure the productivity and performance of staff both for the good of the business and to highlight potential areas of growth for the individual. However, it's a system that many people dread, both from an administrative perspective and the difficult conversations they can create.
What's so daunting about an appraisal?
According to a 2019 study by Leadership IQ, just 13% of employees and managers believe the way their organization handles performance appraisals is "useful".
At the same time, just 14% of employees feel that these appraisals provide "relevant and meaningful" feedback that could help improve how they operate moving forward.
For managers, the situation is very similar, with research published by CEB showing that 95% are dissatisfied with how their company carries out annual appraisals because they fail to provide an accurate snapshot of how an employee is actually working.
Therefore, it can be difficult to build enthusiasm around performance appraisals both for managers and staff, but there are some simple methods that can help to offset any possible disdain:
1. Don't wait until the end of the year
Try setting performance 'catch up' meetings every three/six months - by doing so you can help to remove some of the formality and better understand how employees adapt to possible changes within their role throughout the year, as well as how their future appraisals may have to change too.
By having consistent conversations, you'll not only build a stronger rapport with your team but also get into a rhythm of developing a more personal and responsive way of managing performance.
2. Let employees have their say
Encourage managers to let their employees speak first and give their input before going into detail about how the last few months have gone. Doing so ensures the individual being appraised has the chance to make their case for how they feel they’ve performed.
Managers can then discuss areas where they potentially disagree and can avoid defensiveness by being open and honest with their assessment. Encouraging participation and a two-way conversation makes appraisals less about what people may have done well or done badly in the past and more about what the next steps can be.
3. Avoid surprises
If any issues need to be raised due to poor performance, then these need to be addressed before the actual appraisal. Both managers and members of staff should have no surprises when it comes to scoring, rating and discussions during a performance appraisal.
Raising a fresh issue in the meeting can give the impression that the appraisal is being used as an excuse to deliver a bad rating - thus not being fair. It’s okay to mention any problems that might have been faced in the meeting, but the employee should have heard about them beforehand and had time to prepare.
4. Clear communication breaks down barriers
A performance appraisal should be seen as an opportunity not just to examine the activities and performance of an employee over a set period, it should also offer the chance for a proper conversation around both the wider business and how their current role fits into the bigger picture.
By expanding the scope of these sessions and giving a broader overview of how a person's actions may have either helped or hindered other departments or teams, you provide the necessary background that helps to bolster future performance.
Research from the UK's Chartered Institute of Professional Development shows that clear communication from managers improves engagement, employee retention and wellbeing.
Rather than relying on limited, one-off meetings where managers and staff meet to discuss a whole year's performance, a much closer, personal connection is needed within teams that means regular, constructive feedback and support can take place.