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Not all organisations have an appraisal process and there are many reasons as to why this is the case. But those who invest the time and resources into creating and maintaining an effective appraisal process will reap the rewards of having a workforce that is motivated, well developed, has a clear career plan mapped out and understands where their contribution makes a difference.
Where management time is at a premium and the focus is on outputs rather than managing people and their careers, it is easy to let appraisals be seen as something that has to be tolerated in order to keep the HR department from chasing you. But appraisals have come a long way in recent years and now they are much more focused on integrating the needs of the business into tangible objectives for people to work towards, and look at how these have been achieved through individuals’ behaviour.
Most employees need to know what their contribution is to the success of the organisation, that they are working in the right direction, and that they are valued for the work they do. By setting clear business objectives that are aligned to the needs and success of the business, this helps not only the business strive ahead, but also ensures that employees are on track with their efforts and shows that the success or failure of the organisation can be down to individuals’ contribution, or lack of it.
Once the business plan has been set for the year, showing what the focus is in terms of turnover, acquisitions, growth, etc. these should then be filtered down to each department so that departmental objectives can be set. Now that each department is accountable for its contribution this needs to be cascaded to individuals in the form of individual objectives within the appraisal process.
During the appraisal review, managers will often discuss the new objectives and hopefully gain the employees’ agreement as to what their individual contribution will be for the following year. Alongside this process discussions will take place regarding training and development or managerial support that will facilitate the employee meeting these objectives.
By linking the individuals’ objectives to the business plan it ensures that each employee is doing the right thing at the right time to the best of their abilities.
To get the best from setting objectives you should always look at setting them in a SMART format.
Using this format ensures that employees are clear on the objective that has been set, and allows managers to clearly assess what contribution they have made.
You should assess what is needed to be completed, why, and who is involved or responsible.
This is the way in which you will assess if the objective has been achieved.
The Attainable element looks at how achievable the objective is. It should be stretching enough to keep the employee’s interest but not so extreme that it will never be reached.
When looking at this area you should look at how the objective can be achieved; this way you will be able to review any issues or problems that would stand in the way of making it achievable.
The overall goal of the objective is that it needs to be realistic. The employee needs to be able to assess with their manager if there are issues that would make the objective unworkable. You would look to ask if the objective is relevant and worthwhile.
With any objective there needs to be a time-bound element, to ensure that the employee is focused on getting the task completed by the target date. The sensible question to ask with this area is, ‘When?’
Prior to the actual appraisal meeting, both the manager and the employee should have prepared fully for the meeting. In preparing you should look to fully review the objectives that were set and understand what the employee has done to achieve them. When reviewing objectives you should not just look at outputs but also the way in which the objective has been achieved, the behaviours exhibited and the work that was done towards them. Sometimes the way that an employee goes about something says more about them than the fact that they did or did not achieve it.
Reviewing the objectives is just one part of the preparation that needs to take place; you should also look to gather information from colleagues, customers, direct reports on their work and behaviours during the appraisal period. Also gather any customer complaints or praise that has been received, as this can be used as objective information to support any feedback that you provide.
Ensure that the employee has prepared, get them to consider how they feel they have achieved against the objectives, look at what they would like to focus on during the next appraisal period, review any training or development areas that they have, and be ready to discuss career progression and next steps within your organisation.
Once both parties have prepared, the actual appraisal meeting needs to take place. When setting a diary date, try to make sure that it is not cancelled, because if you do cancel it can look like you do not value the importance of the appraisal meeting to the employee. Set enough time aside to have a full discussion and ensure that you have an area where you will not be disturbed.
At the start of the meeting look to review the objectives that were set previously, understand what the employee has done to try and achieve them, and how they went about it. Towards the end of the appraisal process you should look to set and agree new objectives for the next appraisal period.
Ensure that you provide constructive feedback on any areas of concern or where performance / behaviours went well. Do not shy away from addressing issues – managers need to address problems. You need to understand how they happened in order to gain the employee’s agreement that they do not happen again. In doing this you may uncover an area for development.
In the meeting, take the opportunity of reviewing the job description and the duties outlined within it. Often it is the case that employees do many tasks that do not fall within their remit. You need to understand if their job description needs updating or if it is the employee who needs to refocus their efforts on the tasks that are required.
Take the opportunity to motivate your employee, talk to them about the direction of the business, and where they fit in. If they have done a good job, thank them for it and recognise the effort that they have given. Managers do not often get the chance to speak to their employees about the business, so take the chance to do this and empower the employee to own their objectives and contribution.
Do not use the appraisal process as a disciplinary meeting. Nothing that is discussed in the appraisal should be a surprise, so do not use it to highlight issues that you have not brought to the employee’s attention previously.
Ensure that the discussions look at behaviour and performance. You can’t change somebody’s personality, so ensure that the meeting does not look at personal issues. Keep the meeting professional and deal with issues supported with objective information.
Throughout the meeting ensure that you take notes of action points, key issues or concerns, development needs, and objectives that have been agreed. This way when you complete the appraisal form you will have a good grasp of what was discussed and agreed.
A good appraisal meeting will have a good mix of listening and questioning on the part of the line manager to understand and clarify the situation. The employee should take the opportunity to feedback on their performance, highlight any concerns or issues that they have had, and discuss any development needs. Managers should not shy away from seeking feedback on how they are doing in terms of management style, support, etc. Use the meeting to ask employees on what more or less they would like from their manager and then, more importantly, act on the feedback that you receive.
There was a time when appraisals took place every 12 months, and just before the meeting managers and employees alike would dust off the old appraisal form and update it just before the meeting. After the meeting they would ‘file’ the new appraisal form away and the same cycle would follow.
The appraisal process has evolved significantly now and there are real benefits to be had for organisations and employees alike when following a proactive appraisal process.
Rather than leave them year on year, review the objectives regularly, and if they need changing or removing, do so. The needs of the business change throughout the year and so should the objectives to reflect these changes.
To assist managers in conducting good appraisals they should look to have the following skills and documents to get the best from the meeting and their employees.
Recognising that appraisals can take a lot of time and effort in preparing, conducting and the continual review process for both the manager and the employee, aside of this there are great number of benefits that can be gained for both parties.
It offers a conduit for continuous discussion that is focused on the needs of the business and the individual, which in turn improves performance and motivation. The appraisal process allows managers to develop and identify potential in employees, which can filter into succession planning. Where development and training needs are identified it can help organise the training plans for an organisation. The opportunity for open and honest discussions will allow for two-way constructive feedback, allows both parties to address work issues, and gaining agreement on how these can be solved.