How to conduct staff appraisals

What is an employee appraisal?

Traditionally staff appraisals take place every six months or annually to review past performance against a set of goals or objectives, assess progress against personal development plans and set future goals or objectives for the forthcoming period.

Why do we need them?

Appraisals or staff reviews are important for many reasons:

  • Objective or goal setting helps organisations to align what people do in their role with the company goals and strategy. It enables staff to have a better understanding how their role contributes to the success of the company.
  • To measure performance and reward people according to their individual contribution. Appraisals can help you to understand how well your staff have been performing and reward them based on this.
  • To identify skills gaps and training needs: they can also help with development of employees, helping to define where additional needs may lie to support their current role and future career progression
  • To improve performance: appraisals provide the ideal opportunity to discuss any areas of concern and highlight where improvements can be made.
  • To boost motivation and morale and ultimately employee engagement: appraisals should be a two-way conversation which allow your employees to give their feedback; allowing their voice to be heard. It also demonstrates that the business cares about and listens to them.

Are annual reviews appropriate for your business?

Do you need an annual appraisal system, or would a continuous performance review programme fit with your business model? Many larger employers have scrapped the traditional model calling it outdated. Consider the following options to work out which approach is better for your business:

  • Your staff want regular feedback. If this is the case, then an annual performance review is not going to meet their expectations and promote engagement. It can also be too late to tackle serious performance, motivation or morale issues if you’re only meeting once per year to review performance. Constant and regular feedback can help staff to review their output throughout the year. It’s also easier for them to make the right changes, speak up if they are struggling, or request a change of direction.
  • Your staff report into more than one manager. Depending on the size of the business, your team members may report into more than one manager who may have a view on their performance and/or their development. Relying on one manager’s perspective during an annual review could lead to issues of bias or areas of performance and development simply not being picked up. Gathering feedback from a range of people such as team members and other managers may provide a more rounded, realistic and objective picture of an employee’s performance and make any personality conflicts less of an issue.
  • Job roles in your business are changing. As your business grows, roles, responsibilities can often change too. Continuous dialogue between staff and managers will allow you to adapt the expectations you have of your team on an on-going basis and they will know what’s expected of them and be able to deliver.

Tips on running appraisals / reviews

Whatever you decide, it is important to review performance in a way that will help drive your business forward:

  1. Ensure you measure performance based on clear, agreed and measurable goals and objectives – this will ensure performance reviews are fact-based and a fair reflection of what an individual has delivered.
  2. Put the effort in and come prepared (both appraisee and appraiser). Ask your staff to think about what they want to discuss beforehand, what are their ambitions. Get them thinking about how they can shape the conversation. It should be a two-way dialogue with the opportunity for feedback and discussion.
  3. Plan a clear structure for the meeting. This will stop the meeting from over-running or veering off course. It will also help you both think about what you want to get out of it.
  4. Let the appraisee talk. This is an opportunity for them to tell you how they feel about working for you, what they are enjoying, and if there are any frustrations. Let them know that their views are important, and they can discuss anything in a confidential environment.
  5. Listen. Equally as important. Don’t be tempted to dominate the conversation, this may be their only opportunity to discuss critical issues with you.
  6. Recognise and reward achievement. As much as an appraisal may be about goal setting and identifying issues, it’s just as important to highlight staff successes and make them feel valuable. Valued?
  7. Follow up. Make sure you agree next steps from the meeting and keep track of them so that you can support and encourage your team to fulfil them.
  8. Give regular feedback throughout the year. Don’t save up all your feedback for the one staff appraisal meeting, or this will lead to the root canal scenario (oh I like this analogy!) where both parties are filled with dread. Maintain a constant dialogue with your team throughout the year.
  9. Discuss and create objectives together. The best way to ensure you get the most from your employees is to set the goals together. This way your team are engaged as they know their goals are realistic, achievable and have been developed in union.
  10. Create the right atmosphere. Think about your company culture. Would it be in keeping with your business if you conducted appraisals over lunch or in a more informal setting? Make sure that it’s private enough for your staff to be able to raise confidential issues, but that the atmosphere is not intimidating or unfamiliar.

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