How to avoid the appraisal "cold sweat"

Say the word “appraisal” or “performance review” and the response is often a grimace followed by comments such as “demotivating” and “too much paperwork” – and that’s just the manager!

Many well-known companies are doing away with the formal annual appraisal but what are they replacing them with? Well despite the headlines, these organisations are not giving up on performance reviews completely – they appear to be removing the “tick box” processes and shifting the focus to improve the quality and quantity of conversations between manager and employee.

In my experience as a Consultant, Coach and a line manager, these conversations are all too easy to put off “until we have more time” or keep the focus on the operational tasks rather than the employees’ approach and performance. However, when you take the opportunity (even 10 minutes) to ask a few powerful questions and listen, then performance can thrive.

So here’s my recipe for a good performance discussion:

  • Do them often – although formal reviews may be scheduled every 3, 6 or 12 months, more regular discussions about performance can help an employee keep on track and address issues at an early stage

  • At formal reviews, allow enough time to review successes, problems and learning.

  • Be clear on what “good or excellent” performance looks like – can you describe what people do, say and think when they’re performing well.

  • Ask questions with the intention to understand and help the employee learn rather than just asking for comments and making judgement. So, questions such as:

- Which part of that project went well? What did you do to make that happen

- What was your reaction when the customer said XYZ?

- What was supposed to happen and what did happen?

- What can be done to improve this next time?

  • Recognise good performance and clearly explain what made it good.

  • You don’t have to have all the answers – don’t feel the need to jump in with solutions.

  • Take opportunities to build trust – show you believe in their ability, offer support, ask for their input.

Removing the annual appraisal may seem like a risk, but surely the bigger risk to your organisation is not having high performing, motivated employees.


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