Performance Management

Performance appraisals from a different perspective


What does your work performance appraisal remind you of? Being in the principal’s office at high school?  Sitting for a major exam?

While we may talk about performance appraisals being about providing mutual feedback and shared learning, for many organisations, the reality is an out-dated process based on power and fear.

In this atmosphere, the performance appraisal process can be doomed before it starts.  Feeling like you’re facing your school principal hardly encourages an equal relationship.  Meeting just once a year also doesn’t build the shared trust needed to support honest, useful feedback. The whole process can become an almost irrelevant chore for everyone involved.

Instead of approaching performance appraisals as a dreaded once a year obligation, imagine if they actually supported staff, improved workplace productivity and were even looked forward to by everyone.

Performance appraisals are actually a gift – to the staff member, the work team and the organisation.  They have the potential to produce feedback that can’t be found anywhere else, cement the loyalty of valued staff and generate fantastic ideas.

Realising this potential means taking another look at how we conduct performance appraisals, where the power sits and what approach we take.  It’s about changing your whole perspective but is actually quite simple to implement.  Here’s how:

1.    Ditch the annual appraisal. 

Break it up into monthly informal and formal meetings that focus on just one aspect of the process. Dedicate a few of the monthly sessions to collecting feedback, then providing feedback. Create a culture and skills base that values and supports honest information sharing.

2.    Incorporate performance appraisal processes into already existing work practices.

Don’t wait for a person’s annual performance appraisal to talk with them about a work issue.  Discuss it right there and then, on the shop floor.  Hiding performance discussions away can create distrust and fear.  Discussing issues openly in a positive manner can save time and heartache.  Be mindful of your approach, your choice of words and the person’s right to confidentiality. 

3.    Link the person’s individual work goals to strategic goals. 

Support them to understand how they contribute to the overall performance of the organisation.  This can create a sense of ownership, value and meaning for their individual role in a much larger machine.

4.    Don’t link performance appraisals with pay rises. 

Demonstrating your work outcomes for a whole year in just one performance appraisal meeting once a year can be difficult.  Staff can feel devalued, stressed and resentful.  And that’s before they even find out whether or not they’ll get a pay rise.  It’s more realistic to collect information at each monthly meeting with a staff member, then collate and review the data to make a decision about pay increases. 

5.    Focus on strengths

Performance appraisals can often become a session to highlight all the things a worker does that have been bugging the manager all year.  Dispel that negative environment by pointing out the person’s strengths, during the appraisal or at any time you notice them.

Performance appraisals have copped a lot of flak in recent years and many have questioned their value.  But it’s unfair to simply blame the concept of conducting appraisals.  We also have to look more closely at how we have structured them and what approach we take.  Will these really create the outcome we want to achieve?  If not, what do we change? Identifying and appreciating the gifts the performance appraisal process can contribute to your organisation and its staff is a great place to start.