For many businesses the usually-annual staff appraisal is seen as an opportunity for managers to review an employee’s performance, provide feedback on areas for improvement, agree trading needs, set targets for the coming year and address any problems that may have arisen in their behaviour.
As a result, too often employees view the annual appraisal with dread. It depends heavily on their relationship with their manager and his or her ability to be objective.
Yet the appraisal can be of benefit to both employee and business if structured and handled in the right way.
Ideally, it will be seen as a constructive opportunity for an exchange their views, not simply as a tool for management to assess and, if necessary, improve the employee’s performance.
The constituents of a constructive appraisal
There needs to be a culture of trust and openness in the business and ideally, managers who are appropriately skilled, for example in asking good questions and active listening.
Ideally employees should be receptive, prepared to align with business objectives, learn and take responsibility for their performance.
The appraisal is an opportunity to recognise achievements and find out about an individual’s career objectives. It should recognise their achievements and be a genuine two-way conversation.
It should cover the whole period under review not just recent or isolated events and the result should be an agreed set of actions.
By the same token, it should also offer the employee an opportunity to feed back suggestions for improvement in company processes, ideas for the future development of the business and to highlight any processes that are clearly not working.
Set out and document clear appraisal objectives and purpose
The appraisal purpose, structure and process should be clearly defined and written down so that all parties are clear about what to expect. The aims, frequency and process should be clearly and simply outlined in the staff handbook.
It is helpful for both parties to have done some preparation for the meeting, ideally both should attend having completed the same questionnaire but from their own perspective. The completed documents can be compared and provide a framework for the meeting and its outcomes.
An appraisal is hardly likely to be seen as a constructive opportunity to all involved unless it is seen as a fair process. This could include appraisals always being carried out in the presence of a neutral third party, usually someone from the HR department or from the company to which HR is outsourced, whichever is applicable.
It should be clear that the business has made every effort to eliminate the danger of bias in an appraisal, perhaps because there is a clash of personalities between a manager and an employee.
Far too often the structure of an appraisal is seen as an occasion to be dreaded when properly defined and constructed it can be an opportunity for both individuals and the business to move forward.
I believe that appraisals should always be carried out by the employee’s line manager since their role is normally one of pastoral leadership. While there are many types of leadership, managers should consciously develop their own skills and style with the aim of getting the best out of their team. The appraisal is an opportunity to reinforce the relationship and improve everyone’s performance.