Performance appraisals are essential for the effective management and evaluation of staff. Appraisals help develop individuals, improve organisational performance, and feed into business planning. Formal performance appraisals are generally conducted annually for all staff in the organisation, with each staff member being appraised by their line manager. The main points can generally be listed as follows:
- Enable management and monitoring of standards, agreeing expectations and objectives, and delegation of responsibilities and tasks
- Establish individual training needs and enable organisational training needs analysis and planning
- Typically feed into organisational annual pay and grading reviews, which commonly also coincides with the business planning for the next trading year
- Review each individual's performance against objectives and standards for the trading year, agreed at the previous appraisal meeting
- Can be essential for career and succession planning - for individuals, crucial jobs, and for the organisation as a whole
- Important for staff motivation, attitude and behaviour development, communicating and aligning individual and organisational aims, and fostering positive relationships between management and staff
- Provide a formal, recorded, regular review of an individual's performance, and a plan for future development
- Vital for managing the performance of people and organisations
Managers and appraisees commonly dislike appraisals and try to avoid them. To these people the appraisal is daunting and time consuming. The process is seen as a difficult administrative chore and emotionally challenging. The annual appraisal is maybe the only time since last year that the two people have sat down together for a meaningful one to one discussion. No wonder then that appraisals are stressful - which then defeats the whole purpose.
Discussion from Above
There lays the main problem - and the remedy. Appraisals are much easier, and especially more relaxed, if the boss meets each of the team members individually and regularly on a one to one discussion throughout the year. This could be through an informal interaction in the staff canteen or at the culmination of some other discussionary event that the employee has attended, such as a progress meeting on a potential new customer.
Meaningful regular discussion about work, career, aims, progress, development, hopes and dreams, life, the universe, the TV, common interests, etc., whatever, makes appraisals so much easier because people then know and trust each other - which reduces all the stress and uncertainty. Put off discussions and of course they loom very large, so don't wait for the annual appraisal to sit down and talk, even if it's only a brief interaction.
Whatever you think of them, or however much you consider them to be a chore, appraisals (and work) all tend to be easier when people communicate well and know each other. So sit down together and talk as often as you can, and then when the actual formal appraisals are due everyone will find the whole process to be far more natural, quick, and easy - and a lot more productive too.
Performance and Aptitude Assessments
There are many types of performance and aptitude assessments, including:
- formal annual performance appraisals
- probationary reviews
- informal one-to-one review discussions
- counselling meetings
- observation on the job
- skill or job related tests
- assignment or task followed by review, including secondments (temporary job cover or transfer)
- assessment centres, including observed group exercises, tests presentations, etc
- survey of opinion of others who have dealings with the individual
- psychometric tests and other behavioural assessments
None of these methods is mutually exclusive. All of these performance assessment methods can be used in conjunction with others in the list, depending on situation and organisational policy. Where any of these processes is used, the manager must keep a written record, and must ensure agreed actions are followed up. The notes of all review situations can then be referred to at the formal appraisal.
Holding regular informal one to one review meetings greatly reduces the pressure and time required for the annual formal appraisal meeting. Holding informal reviews every month is ideal for all staff. There are several benefits of reviewing frequently and informally, such as:
- management is better informed and more up to date with his/her staff activities (and more in touch with what lies beyond, e.g., customers, suppliers, competitors, markets, etc)
- difficult issues can be identified, discussed and resolved quickly, before they become more serious
- help can be given more readily - people rarely ask unless they see a good opportunity to do so - the regular informal review provides just this opportunity
- assignments, tasks and objectives can be agreed completed and reviewed quickly - leaving actions more than a few weeks reduces completion rates significantly for all but the most senior and experienced people
- objectives, direction, and purpose is more up to date - modern organisations demand more flexibility than a single annual review allows - priorities often change through the year, so people need to be redirected and refocused
- training and development actions can be broken down into smaller more digestible chunks, increasing success rates and motivational effect as a result
- the 'fear factor', often associated by many with formal appraisals, is greatly reduced because people become more comfortable with the review process
- relationships and mutual understanding develops more quickly with greater frequency of meetings between manager and staff member
- staff members can be better prepared for the formal appraisal, giving better results, and saving management time
- much of the review has already been covered throughout the year by the time it comes for the formal appraisal
- frequent review meetings increase the reliability of notes and performance data, and reduces the chances of overlooking things at the formal appraisal
Whatever you feel about appraisals in general, they are a necessary aspect of managing people and getting the best out of them in the best interests of all. Ignoring the potential benefits will serve nothing more than to foster a complete lack of understanding of your workforce and more than likely you will alienate yourself in the process.