Performance Appraisals The Key to Your Success
by Jacquie Wise
Good leaders conduct good performance appraisal interviews. Bad leaders don’t see the need to give staff any feedback. Many leaders loathe the idea of sitting in judgement on their staff and often sabotage the process by bungling their way through it in haste.
Which category do you fall into? How can you make sure the appraisal process is the mutually beneficial communication exchange it’s intended to be?
Appraisal has had bad press because it is often done badly, not because there is anything wrong with the concept. The overall aim is to ensure you develop and retain competent, highly motivated people committed to the success of your organisation, thus reducing turnover, errors on the job and the resulting costs. The valuable information you receive from employees can enhance your ability to plan the growth of your organisation and improve the standard of service you provide.
Appraisals are not intended to be a critical survey of failings without any praise or recognition, nor are they supposed to deal with personality matters unless they directly affect job performance.
As a manager, you need answers to question such as:
• How realistic are the goals and assignments we set our employees?
• How effective is our work group or organisation as a whole?
• Who needs what help or training—or who is heading into a major problem?
• Who is showing progress and is ready for promotions?
• Is our organisation developing in the right direction—with the right people?
Your employees need answers to questions too:
• What does management REALLY think of me?
• Do they appreciate the extra effort I put into that last assignment?
• What do I need to improve, and what skills are worth developing?
• What opportunities will this organisation offer me—or should I move on?
SO, WHERE DO YOU START?
First, there is no point appraising anyone’s performance in a job unless it is reasonably clear what that job is. That might sound obvious, but there are not many organisation where there are clear position descriptions for every job, and even fewer where the reality of the job corresponds to the official description. It could be an interesting exercise to have employees write their own job description, to see if their perception matches yours!
It is also recommended that you follow a performance appraisal form, perhaps designed for your organisation, and especially designed to prevent common traps in appraisal, such as subjectivity. Before you enter into any discussion, be sure you have clear answers to the following eight issues, including examples to substantiate your assessment. You need to show you are relating to facts, not to subjective opinions or personality issues.
1. What are the key responsibilities and tasks in this role? Are the exact boundaries and limits or authority clear? Is there any overlap with someone else? Are there any areas for which no one seems to be accountable? In what areas do incumbents need more room to use their discretion?
2. Which aspects of the job interest the incumbents most—or least? An effective manager should know this and have an idea of the individual’s career aspirations.
3. What restricting factors prevent effectiveness? For instance, limited resources, insufficient liaison with other team members, inadequate warning of changes, poor maintenance of equipment…Are these difficulties likely to recur? How could they be eliminated?
4. Were there any factors outside the work situation, which hindered the employee in meeting expectations? In relation to this aspect, personal problems may be relevant, if they affect the person’s ability to perform their function.
5. Which aspects of the job has the person performed best, demonstrating unusual initiative or exceeded expectations? How will you develop this person? How can you capitalise on those skills to develop your practice?
6. Which aspects of the job has the person performed least well, and how could those weaknesses be corrected? Aspects of performance you would want to discuss include attendance, time-keeping, deadlines, interpersonal skills, understanding of the position, adaptability, compliance with goals, verbal and written communication ability, amount of supervision required, judgement of situations, effort, reliability, and perhaps leadership and delegation ability for more senior staff. Any criticism made of performance must be constructive, that is, focusing on performance not on personality traits; on solutions, not on deflating admonitions.
7. Where might training or coaching be useful? In what ways might management contribute to developing this individual, in line with their career aspirations?
And finally, a key question:
8. What suggestions does the person have to make their department or organisation a more effective and satisfactory work place? Management normally encourages people to advance for two reasons. One, if lack of confidence is the only thing holding back a potentially outstanding employee, they need to be encouraged and developed. Second, people who stay in the same job for too long may lose motivation or interest which may lead to a mechanical approach to the job, stifling any creative search for improvement.
A good leader will be continually aware of these issues through occasional ‘howzit going’ chats, in addition to the formal annual appraisal. The success of these interactions depends on your relationship with your staff and the level of trust existing between you. Trust will depend on such factors as reliability, confidentiality, empathy, honesty, genuine concern and the ability to listen.
The best way to begin the appraisal process is to ask employees to reflect on the questions listed in readiness for discussion with you. You in turn, will reflect on the employee’s history during the previous year or selected time period. It helps if you have kept a few notes over time reminding you of performance strengths and weaknesses and whether your requests were adequately followed up. Remember that the discussion is a two-way process. Your employers may have valid reasons for not accomplishing certain tasks, but do they feel comfortable enough to tell you? That depends on how good a leader you are!
A very good question is: ’What can I do differently to help you perform your function better?’
Having discussed the individual’s past accomplishments, future interests and potential, the conversation is usually manoeuvred to a concrete action plan. It is essential to end the conversation on a positive note.
Assuming you have both made commitments, fix a time then and there when you will meet again to review the situation – say within a month. That review could be a five minute chat during the regular meetings you have with your staff. Don’t forget the importance of recognising efforts made, even if the desired improvement has not yet been achieved.
Is it worth the effort? The answer is another question–do you want a team of competent highly motivated people committed to the success of your organisation—your success?
Would you like to learn some new ways to conduct performance appraisals that suits your personal style? If so, contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.
I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.
If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.
Any information presented on our website is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.
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