Getting the Most Out of Performance Appraisals

Getting the Most Out of Performance Appraisals
8 September 2015 John Moore

Do you remember the first appraisal you had? I do. It was done to me rather than with me. Unfortunately, this is many people’s experience of performance appraisals.

Yesterday, as I sat by the bedside of my father who is in hospital, I listened in to a conversation at the nurses’ station between the ward sister and one of her nurses. They were discussing his upcoming appraisal. He wanted to know what preparation he needed to do before they met. The answer was, “Nothing really. I will run through a few things with you and complete the forms and then we can select what training to give you this year.”

Wrong, wrong wrong! There is a lot of preparation he should do and even more that she should do. I suspect the outcome of this appraisal will be ‘task completed’. What a missed opportunity for the nurse, his line manager and the hospital!

Top Tips for Effective Appraisals

Here are some top tips to make sure you and your team members get the most out of your performance appraisals:

Top Tip 1: Recognise the Importance of Appraisals

Getting and giving feedback is one of the best ways to improve individual, team and organisational performance. The old-style appraisal which was often bureaucratic and form-driven is not really fit for purpose today. Yes, forms have to be completed, but the focus should be on the quality of the discussion and NOT the forms.

Top Tip 2: Think About Context

What is happening in your organisation now and in the future? Use the appraisal as a way to reflect on performance and to set up the expected and required performance in the future within the current context. Get a balance between looking backwards and looking forward.

Top Tip 3: Be Prepared

Gather evidence about past performance and factors affecting performance. Capture evidence of personal development and achievements as well as identifying areas for improvement. Make sure you also prepare for talking about the future. For me, reflecting on the past gives clues about how to improve and to praise performance, but talking about the future is exciting and motivating.

Top Tip 4: Check Your Attitude

Never deliver an appraisal ‘just because it is part of your job’. Never just go through the motions – you would be better off giving your team members an hour off work than your having an appraisal just for the sake of it.
Ask yourself: ‘what the value of the process?’ An appraisal gives you so many opportunities to plan, to provide feedback, to get new ideas, to motivate and inspire, to communicate, to share plans and much more. Be clear how the appraisal will benefit both you and your team member.

Top Tip 5: Make a Wish List

What do you want from your investment of time from an appraisal meeting? What do your team members want? I always have a ‘shopping list’ of actions, plans and things to discuss and to plan for. I usually ask my team to think about their ‘shopping list’ as well. It means every minute of our appraisal discussions is packed with relevant ideas and plans.

Top Tip 6: Make Sure it Happens

In my opinion, performance appraisals are a high priority activity. Changing the date and time of an appraisal sends out the wrong message, so protect the time and avoid moving it. If you have to move, like I did this week because of my father being admitted to hospital, explain the reason why face-to-face with your team member if you can – an email or worse still a text is not the way to do it!

Top Tip 7: Follow-up

By follow-up I mean completing the paperwork, but more importantly action things. Make sure you discuss and review objectives and performance between appraisals. Make sure team members get the resources and support they need to follow through on their objectives and on undertaking their personal and professional development.

Top Tip 8: The BIG Picture

Whilst each team member’s appraisal is important, take the time to step back and look at the big picture. When planning and reflecting on your team’s appraisal consider these questions:

  • Are the individual team member’s objectives compatible and complimentary to the whole team’s objectives?
  • Have you taken into account the individual’s interests and ambitions or focussed too much on organisational priorities?
  • How can you help and support each team member to achieve and/or exceed performance targets?
  • How do your objectives and departmental targets impact and affect your team member’s objectives and performance?

Top Tip 9: Reflect on the Process

Take a few minutes out after each appraisal and reflect on how well it went. Was the process right? Were you sufficiently prepared? Were team members sufficiently prepared? How did you feel providing sensitive feedback? What improvements or personal development do you need to consider before the next round of performance appraisals?

My advice is to forget the word ‘appraisal’ and think of the meeting as part of your on-going performance management process – like all processes, they can be improved and refined. I wonder what changes the ward sister might consider making for the next time she has to carry out her nurse’s performance appraisals?

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.

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