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Leveraging Learning from Annual Appraisals

Posted on the 04 May 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Leveraging Learning from Annual Appraisals

It’s that time of year again – the swallows are arriving, birds are building their nests, the days are getting longer and warmer, and, oh, yeah, it’s time for the annual appraisals to be rolled-out.

Annual appraisals are a strange thing – sometimes viewed with trepidation by both employee and manager or manager and N+1, whereas they can provide an excellent springboard for development and motivation.

The simple reason is usually that annual appraisals are the time when rewards are either given or taken away, people are either praised or blamed for events that happened or didn’t happen throughout the past year.

Some companies pin their hopes of bonuses and pay-rises on this – ok, but surely there are other things in this, no?

And there’s another thing – just because they are called “Annual Appraisals” doesn’t mean that they should happen once – annually, with nothing being done in between – OK the appraisal per se, can be, but the ongoing support and development needs to be just that – ongoing.

Annual appraisals are a huge and golden opportunity that are left, at times, begging, rather than seized upon as a reciprocal tool in the organisation’s toolbox.

Appraisals are often seen as a unidirectional method of sitting down with an employee, once a year to give some form of structured feedback – however, they are also an opportunity for a manager to get some feedback on themselves, in order that they too can develop.

It can be a very constructive feedback loop – from below and above, from both subordinates and superiors.

Any annual appraisal worth its salt, will not just end at the appraisal but will form the basis for an Individual Development program – I.P.D. that can then be followed up throughout the year, bringing value to the individual and the organistion.

There is nothing quite so demotivating than sitting across from your manager as they tick the boxes of a long list with little or no interaction or thought put into the process – I mean, let’s get real here…

A good place to start in an annual appraisal could be with the subordinate completing a SWOT evaluation of their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats then using this as the basis of the appraisal and the ensuing IPD. See our post on SWOT analyses on this blog.

This not only gives the person the opportunity to reflect on their own Strengths and Weaknesses, but also ensures that they are fully implicated in the process from the very start. Of course, we have to assume that the organisation is sufficiently forward looking and open-minded to be able to allow open and free discussions, free of blame, threats and guilt – but let’s just hope that this is the case in the majority of organisations.

Here are some simple, common-sense tips on running an effective annual appraisal:

1. Aims – Be very clear on the aims of the appraisal and that the person being appraised is clear too. If you are not clear or able to fully justify the ‘why’ then there is a good chance that the person opposite you will be in even more darkness.

2. Ensure that the scenario is set to encourage openness and does not look like an inquisition – sometimes just changing the set up of the room can help. Being in a neutral environment can help alleviate pressure – in a meeting room away from the manager’s office. Avoid the barriers to communication that tables may pose.

3. Negatives – If you discuss weaknesses, or talk about change that may be received badly – try to ensure that you talk about something positive first – achievements etc. then address the weaknesses before finishing on a positive note. Don’t let people leave the appraisal with a bad taste in their mouth nor feeling dejected – after all you want them to develop, positivity helps this.

4. Be relaxed – sometimes the person giving the appraisal is more nervous that the person being appraised – especially if they have to address weaknesses. Don’t imagine how people will react to feedback – try to relax and help the person being appraised relax too.

5. Listen – Listen carefully without reacting, paraphrase if needed to ensure that you are really understanding what is being said – practice active listening skills. Take notes and ask for clarity when needed.

6. Listen to opinions and ideas that may fall outside of the actual appraisal – these can be an excellent source of ideas for improving the working environment, processes and procedures, but do not get sidetracked by this – ensure that the objectives of the appraisal are fulfilled.

7. Evaluate the motivation of staff during the appraisal – this is an excellent opportunity to assess motivation in the organisation and to either encourage high motivation or stop the rot with de-motivated staff.

8. Analyse performance from several angles if possible – colleagues or other managers if working in a matrix organisation or in project mode – don’t let it rely on the opinion of just one person – you for example – (if at all possible) as this can easily be viewed as either judgement or anecdotal – neither being very useful for developmental purposes.

9. Balance the required qualities and skills for the job with those that the employee posses – if there is a mismatch then you need to ensure that they are either trained to close the gap on the shortfall. If the employee has skills and qualities that outweigh those that are required to do the job effectively, you will need to ensure that these skills and qualities are used within the organisation, otherwise you will be faced with a demotivated employee over time.

10. Ensure that a clear development plan is set up and that it is closely followed for the person being appraised by yourself or others that you delegate this to. It is important that there are regular feedback sessions between yourself and the person being appraised to monitor progress and development. This also shows that you care and are concerned about the person’s development (and ultimately your own and the organisation’s development).


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