Five things HR gets wrong with appraisals
Avoid these pitfalls to increase the value of your staff reviews
No-one comes out of them any-the wiser
“Managers dislike doing them, feeling they lack the skills to adequately raise difficult performance issues, while employees feel disempowered to actually say what they want to get off their chest,” says Dennis Nickson, head of Strathclyde Business School’s Department of HR Management.
“It all adds to a mindset where there is a pre-disposition not to arrive at anything meaningful, and produce middle-ground results.” The solution, he says, is for performance to be promoted far more as a fact of organisational life. “The appraisal needs integrating with broader performance management systems, so that the awkwardness is taken out, and issues are talked about dispassionately,” he says. “Time must also be set aside to allow staff to talk about their own issues.”
Too much focus on the ‘what’ and not the ‘how’
Appraisals can focus too much on the extent to which someone has met pre-designated objectives, without thinking about the skills, abilities and attributes they want from their staff.
Sarah Daynes, an HR consultant and trainer in the not-for-profit sector, explains: “This often gives a skewed perception of performance – like the sales person who meets all their sales targets but manages to miss deadlines, disrupts the team, or is consistently late for work.” She says appraisals should encompass a mix of “both objectives – what people have done; and competency areas – how they have done it.”
Danial Morris, manager at 360 review consultancy IBP, adds: “If you set hard performance targets, people will act like imbeciles to reach them. Set behaviours right however and targets will naturally flow from this.”
Employees feel disengaged – it’s too much ‘them and us’
“At their worst, appraisals can end up being less about staff and their work, and more about personalities of bosses flexing their managerial muscles,” says Susy Roberts, director at people development consultancy Hunter Roberts. Even if their performance has been indifferent, she argues staff really need to leave review meetings with new impetus: they know what they need to do, and what good performance looks like.
She says: “This means managers need to have a good understanding of what their staff actually do. Some companies ask their people to prepare and take along examples of work which demonstrates their contribution. This is a good exercise as it helps prevent the appraisal being carried out at the level of generalisations.”
Objectives aren’t clearly defined
“It amazes me how often employers have no outcomes from appraisals,” says Tom Doherty, general manager at HR Dept Ltd. “If you take the time to sit down with someone, you need actions. Employees need guidance and direction from above, and actions always speak louder than words.
Out of every appraisal should come three top actions that must be completed and performance can be measured against the delivery of these.” To do this, Daynes says managers must avoid using ambiguous assessment terms. She says: “One person’s ‘good’ can be another person’s ‘excellent’ and someone else’s ‘satisfactory’, which can lead to disagreements. It’s far better to set clear expectations or requirements and then use objectives terms related to those – such as ‘below expectations’, ‘meets’, ‘exceeds’, ‘consistently exceeds’ etc.”
There’s never any praise
The once-a-year format, focusing on performance, means one simple engagement device – praise – is often forgotten, argues Pam Jones, director of Ashridge Business School’s Performance through People programme and author of Managing for Performance.
“Focus on weaknesses and areas for improvement is still necessary”, she says, “but it is just as important to think about how staff can build on their strengths and identify how they can continue to develop in the future.” She adds: “Look at what the individual does well and think how you can use their skills and strengths to enhance the team. This is likely to raise their confidence, increase motivation and develop the performance of the team as whole.”