It doesn’t matter what you call it; Personal Development Plan, Feedback, PDR, 1-2-1, Appraisal, it is normally viewed as a necessary evil, something that just has to be done. Many line managers complete appraisals to comply with an HR edict or an external compliance requirement and as a result the appraisal becomes a tick box exercise with which neither party fully engages.
What is the purpose of an appraisal? (or whatever your organisation calls it)
High performing, successful organisations approach performance management (of which appraisals are an integral part) by:
- Aligning organisational to personal objectives
- Supporting their people to achieve high performance by recognising and rewarding high performance and structuring work in a way that allows high performance to take place, and
- Measuring performance, encouraging a culture where feedback is the norm, leading to continuous improvement.
A good appraisal process enables this, by:
Looking back over the previous period and measure performance against objectives, giving feedback to learn from mistakes and encouragement for positive behaviours and activity
Looking forwards to the next period, identifying personal objectives and how these contribute to the organisational performance indicators and clarifying success criteria, and
Looking at development opportunities for the individual and aligning these to future people requirements of the organisation.
Where did it all go wrong?
Appraisal processes have become increasingly complex. This has been driven by an attempt by well-meaning, risk averse HR functions to corral unruly line managers into a standardised way of conducting and capturing performance management.
However, it has succeeded in disengaging line managers from what should simply be a series of purposeful conversations that taking place over the course of the year.
I accept there needs to be some documentation of the process, for compliance purposes or for the organisation to draw out learning needs etc., but this should be minimal.
The most important aspect is the dialogue between manager and their direct report. Anything that gets in the way of this dialogue is counter productive.
Should appraisals be linked to competencies?
I hesitate to use the word competencies here as it often results raising blood pressure amongst managers who have used complex competency based appraisal systems.
Competencies are the skills defined for a person to do their job effectively or to demonstrate the organisational values. These competencies are assessed by pre-defined observable behaviours for each competency.
A competency framework is often a reasonably lengthy document. Some appraisals expect managers to assess every competency every time.
It is hardly surprising therefore that this approach leads many managers to a fight, flight or freeze response. They will fight the HR department and refuse to complete the documentation; bury their head in the sand and hope HR will get fed up of chasing them; or become a rabbit in the headlights trying their best to cover everything but not really doing a good job.
I believe that when competencies are linked to appraisals, it can improve the quality of the dialogue. Not all competencies need to be slavishly assessed every time. Using the competencies and the behaviours which underpin them allow the conversation to go beyond what has been or needs to be done. Talking about behaviours allows a discussion about the how rather than just the what enabling behaviour to be discussed and, if necessary, changed. This type of discussion will then lead naturally into individual development.
How often should you appraise performance?
For some it will be a regular weekly conversation, others it will be monthly or quarterly, but it should not be just a once a year occurrence. There is likely to be a point in the year when you formally review all the conversations that have taken place and agree personal objectives linked to organisational key performance indicators, but the appraisal process should be an ongoing dialogue throughout the year.
How much documentation your organisation needs for these conversations will vary, but I believe that a formal record should be made at least twice a year.
So how can we make the most from our appraisals?
There are 5 simple steps to making the most from your appraisals
- Define some clear competencies relevant to your organisation – There are many examples available online to adapt for your organisation
- Incorporate these competencies into your appraisal process. Using a self and/or manager assessment of a selection of competencies can be a really easy way to open up the dialogue around competencies
- Simplify your documentation making it simple and easy for managers to complete, no long forms which need to be completed in triplicate
- Develop your managers to have purposeful conversations, giving feedback both positive and negative in a way that helps their team to understand what they need to stop, start or continue doing
- Trust your managers to do the right thing and have purposeful conversations at the right intervals about the right things for each individual.
If you would like some help to develop managers or some help to create competencies and incorporate these into your appraisal process please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.