by Neil Harris
The purpose of an appraisal is to increase an employee’s performance and efficiency. They are also intended to increase motivation, ensure that people are kept updated with the latest developments and inform them of the skills they will need to develop in order to address change positively.
Tip No.1 Careful preparation is essential when you are giving an appraisal as a manager. The responsibilities outlined in a job description are an ideal starting point for assessing performances. Also read what was agreed at the previous appraisal. Consider the evidence. What activities is the appraisee most proud of? What areas did they find most difficult and why? How helpful are they to their colleagues as a member of the team? When appraising someone who may later take on more senior roles in the organisation it could be necessary to prepare to discuss such skills as leadership potential, interpersonal skills and problem solving. The appraisee should be told in advance what areas will be discussed.
Tip No.2 Give your appraisee plenty of time to prepare. Don’t drop it on them that their appraisal will take place immediately. Be sure that they have easy access to any documents that need to be completed. Provide copies of previous documents, such as the result of their last appraisal, or any other information that is pertinent.
Tip No.3 Organise the environment in which the meeting will take place. Your time should not appear to be hurried or indicate that you really do not have the time to focus on your staff, and their performance and needs. It is wise to block out the diary for at least an hour and make arrangements to have no interruptions during your discussions. Arrange chairs to interview side by side rather than across a desk, making the situation one of sharing ideas rather than confrontational.
Tip No.4 Think about their development? Could their performance be improved, and if so, how? What new skills will they need for the future? What will they need to do to adapt to a new situation that is on the horizon? Do they need training, personal coaching from a colleague or mentoring? Are there any relevant, cost effective training courses available that will add value and not disrupt their work?
Tip No.5 Imagine what issues they might raise. Can you provide practical solutions to these? Do you think that their career expectations are realistic? How will you handle this matter if their goals are not realistic? Are you likely to receive criticism yourself? If so, what is it likely to be about and how will you respond? It is wise to prepare for this.
Conducting an appraisal
Tip No.1 Decide how you are going to open the meeting. It is important to establish a rapport and encourage their active participation in a frank and open discussion. The use of open-ended questions will encourage them to talk. Open handed body language plus good eye contact will suggest that you are fully engaged and attentive to what they have to say. Ideally the appraisee should be doing at least 50% of the talking. It should not just be a ‘you telling them’ session.
Tip No.2 Be aware that you are in an ongoing relationship with your staff and you need to conduct and finish the appraisal in such a way that this relationship is developed, not irrevocably damaged.
Tip No.3 Keep to the facts. What is the evidence that will be the background to your discussion? Focus on the actual results that have been achieved not on emotional issues. Don’t talk in generalities. Be specific about the situations from which your positive reflection or critical comments arise. It is naturally easier to talk about things that are quantifiable such as sales or the number of projects completed but more difficult to deal with initiative, relationships with colleagues, or how your staff develop contacts or approach customers. Think about how you would compare the work of an average member of staff with that of an exceptional one in these areas and consider how you will convey this to the appraisee.
Tip No.4 Seek practical, cost effective solutions that will increase the performance and motivation of your staff. Continually ask your appraisee for their ideas. Don’t limit the discussion to your own ideas or simply telling them what to do and how you want it done. Never offer or promise something that you cannot deliver. If you do, it will come back to haunt you at some later date.
Tip No.5 Do not raise any issues that you cannot solve.
Tip No.6 The appraisal should result in action points and ideas for developing the skills and performance of your staff. Employees who have been doing a job for many years often feel that they don’t need any further training and it may be difficult for you to come up with ideas. But the working environment is in a state of continual change. Everyone needs to plan for how they will adapt to it and develop the skills that will be required in the future and every organisation needs to consider how it can help staff to achieve this.
It’s the law
Be aware that although legal issues seldom arise, appraisals could cause problems if they are discriminatory and are used for the purposes of promotion or dismissal. Any scoring system must be seen to be fair and objective. Unfair scoring activities are not only unlawful they are also bad for staff morale. If, for example, employees from one group consistently get lower grades than others and it can be proved that gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability has made a difference, it could be challenged in the courts. It is wise to allow your staff to add their comments about the process on the appraisal form and have them sign it.