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The 5 Dos and Don’ts of Performance Appraisals

Funny Job evaluation day Pictures“Oh no…performance appraisal time!”

The funny thing is, this is probably muttered by both employer and employee somewhere along the line. Who really enjoys the process? It’s a bit like a regular dental check up: nobody really likes it, including the dentist!

Part of the reason for this attitude is that the time is often not well spent; unless appraisals are structured well and include a meaningful exchange of information and opinion, then they may be defeating the purpose; if they are just used to comply with HR, rather than to offer real value in coaching and developing staff, there will be no motivation or incentive for any change for the better.

How do you make the most of performance appraisals, so that they become something more than another 15-minute must-do to tick off the list?

The “Do” List

  • Set expectations correctly – never spring reviews on employees. Give them time to prepare and let them know exactly what will be happening in the meeting, with a list of questions and what they should prepare.
  • Make it interactive – actively involve employees in giving feedback. Perhaps get them to submit their own appraisals before the date of your meeting. In the meeting ask them to go through theirs first and then look for areas of agreement with your assessment, finding common ground and bridging the “gap” between the two. This will create a two-way process of assessment and observation rather than it seeming like the boss looking for holes. Top performers usually have high expectations and standards, and may assess themselves lower than you do; the reverse is also usually true.
  • Keep a paper trail – make sure that comments from both parties are noted down and can be referred to in future meetings; this provides continuity and a sense of progression, and allows you to re-visit prior commitments that have or haven’t been followed through on. Employers should make notes on employees throughout the year, not just during the appraisal meeting.
  • Keep it positive – even in the most negative cases, there are positives. You should be able to find plenty of good things to say since the last appraisal if you have been keeping files updated. Focusing on one thing, or one recent event, sends the wrong message that the employee is not being appraised for the whole period of time. It can seem like a disciplinary meeting, when it should be for coaching and support.
  • Have a follow-up plan. One of the reasons that employees don’t take performance reviews seriously is that they are not followed up on. Have a plan in place that follows through with promises and commitments you make to the employee, so it’s not all swept under the carpet for another year. At the end of the appraisal make sure the employee knows what the next step is – from them and from you.

The “Don’t” List

  • Make it a personality assessment – your meeting should be purely based on observations about performance, behaviour and results since the last appraisal. It’s not intended as a subjective character assessment, so discussions about motivation level, work ethic and attitude, do not belong here. If there are problems in these areas then they need to be addressed outside of a discussion about performance and results. This is one of the main reasons these reviews go wrong.
  • Mix performance with salary review – these meetings should be kept entirely separate to avoid confusion and lack of focus. A performance review should normally focus on areas of improvement and be a coaching session: if money enters the equation then the rest of the discussion usually comes a poor second place.
  • Grade employees – you don’t want this to seem like a teacher sitting in front of pupils. No matter how junior the employee is, treat him or her with respect and be specific in your feedback and comments. General grading of performance is a strict no-no.
  • Jump to conclusions. It’s important to keep an open mind about the reasons why an employee is not performing. Don’t pretend that you know; observe behaviour and probe to get to the root causes. Do not discount that sometimes the root cause may be poor leadership – in this case offer more support and coaching, as befits a leader.
  • Use an outsider – this nearly always fails. Make sure the appraisal is conducted by the immediate supervisor or manager or it will probably not be successful.

If you do not conduct appraisals yourself in your business, don’t assume that your supervisors or managers know how to do them – make sure they are trained and capable of holding effective reviews or they could be doing more harm than good.

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