Probably one of the most common complaints by employees is regarding job appraisals and the way they are held – if they are held at all. Job appraisals may indeed be the most overlooked tool in HR.
An appraisal can be a useful tool when assessing how an employee is performing compared to expectations, but also, and possibly more importantly, vice-versa. Indeed employers tend to forget that it is not just the company that appraises its employees, but employees are also appraising the company. A good appraisal policy, properly implemented, can go a long way towards improving employee engagement and retention.
While many companies have now included appraisals as a formal part of their procedures, they are often not used correctly or carried out simply as a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise. This tends to create frustration and disillusionment amongst employees who count on their annual appraisal as an opportunity to get feedback on their performance, air grievances, secure a raise or get a feeling about that promotion.
Now here lies one of the main problems with formal appraisals. Their introduction should not be taken as an excuse to defer all non-day-to-day communication between an employee and a company to just one annual meeting this communication must be ongoing. A well-prepared and properly conducted appraisal should mean that any feedback given during the meeting should not come as a surprise.
Here are eight points to keep in mind when preparing for an appraisal with a subordinate:
- Make sure the appraisal is held. This might sound obvious but it is surprising how many times appraisals are skipped with some excuse or another mostly because everyone is too busy. A similar problem is when the appraisal is held but not taken seriously in which case it might as well not have been held at all if not for the fact that at least the paperwork is in place – not much of a consolation for an employee hoping for an opportunity to define or re-address his/her immediate future with the company. Make appraisals mandatory and make sure they are taken seriously.
- Take time to review previous appraisals. Ahead of the meeting make sure that you are up to date with what was agreed during the last appraisal with the employee. It is also a good idea to take a look at the employee’s contract and make sure it is up to date. And why not look at his/her CV once again? There might be some clues in there as to how the person can contribute further towards the company, or at the very least something interesting about him/her which may have been overlooked so far.
- Be open-minded and keep the bigger picture in mind. An employee might have had a particularly bad month or even a bad year, but this does not necessarily mean that they are not adding value to the company or might not do so in the future if properly directed. A company is also judged by how they handle these situations. It is important to understand if there are specific reasons behind poor performance and to address them – or commit to addressing them – if possible.
- Listen. Obvious right? But another aspect of appraisals that is often overlooked. Do not turn an employee’s appraisal into a sermon about where the company is going, what the company is giving them and how important it is that they do their part. Focus on the employee, their place within the company, where they aspire to be, etc. This will do more to motivate them to put their weight behind your and the company’s goals.
- Give the employee something to look forward to. If you want to retain the person being appraised with your company it is important to understand what their aspirations are and to give them something to look forward to which will move them closer to achieving their goals. Plan for them to join as part of a company delegation to a conference, ask them to take charge of organising the annual company summer party. Whatever it is, it sends the message that they are an important part of the team and that the company is interested in what they want to achieve.
- Document conclusions and commitments. If there is no documentation to show that the meeting happened time will detract from its value and both you and your employee will tend to forget what was agreed – this will potentially lead to misunderstandings and disappointment. Make sure that a record is kept of your meeting listing the main points discussed and the actions you and they have committed to. Include clear deadlines and who is responsible for each action.
- Follow up on what was agreed. We often talk about a psychological contract that is ‘signed’ during an interview and which an employee will hold his/her employer accountable against. This is also true of appraisals. Employees will expect differences following an appraisal both in terms of what they expect of the company and what the company expects of them in return. If the company does not stick to its end of the bargain and the employee’s expectations are not met disappointment will set in and usually, this will result in reduced job satisfaction which in turn will lead to demotivation and lower engagement and performance.
- Have interim informal meetings to touch base. An annual appraisal should not be the only opportunity to assess how a company and an employee are performing against expectations. Meet employees at least one other time during the year in an informal context and without any agenda; if possible go out of the office for a coffee and talk in a relaxed environment. Create an open door policy allowing employees to raise issues they consider to be important at any time. As we mentioned before an appraisal should not produce surprises if conducted in a proper context as part of an overall HR strategy.
Most of the above points have been discussed on the assumption that the employee being appraised is a good employee who the company would like to encourage and retain – this will hopefully be true most of the time and a good appraisal policy will certainly contribute to this.
But what if you are dealing with an employee whose performance has been less than satisfactory? In this case, the above list still applies. It is important to be straightforward and assertive – whilst remaining respectful – and avoid sugarcoating issues. Make sure that you can demonstrate the employee was made aware of any issues and given a fair opportunity to respond to and address them. Tread with caution when initiating dismissal procedures and ascertain that all the appropriate and legally required steps are taken – seek professional legal advice on this. Proper feedback given during appraisals will also be important to support a company’s case for dismissal should this be required.
Anything we left out? Share your experiences with job appraisals and let us know what you would add, if anything, to the above. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.