Businesses, organisations, charities, large and small continue to invest vast amounts of time, money, resources and energy in company appraisal systems. Regardless of the activities of the business, manufacturing, retail or blue chip; the majority of large and medium sized businesses use them. The larger the organisation, the more complex the process – or so it seems.
Appraisals are used to monitor every aspect of working life, the outcomes of appraisals can affect not only remuneration but also training, promotion, redundancy selection and individual development. Whether you term the process that you use an Appraisal or Personal Development Review the basics are the same.
The appraisal will review an employee’s performance over a set period of time, this is most commonly 12 months, and may contain a mid-year review after 6 months that will identify any improvements and changes which need to be made. Training needs will also be addressed and the relevant training identified. Training will not necessarily be a course that needs to be attended, but may involve work shadowing or an additional development need. Objectives will be set, hopefully these will be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. It is important that too many objectives are not set, or too few; an ideal number is between 5 and 10. The appraisal can also be used to discuss salary increases and promotion opportunities.
Amanda worked for a large organisation within the UK with a complex formal Personal Development Review process. As a Nursing Specialist she managed a sizeable team, here she is discussing the experience of the process.
“I was told that they had no problems with my work or my professionalism, all my targets were met and my budget was on schedule. But when it came to my objectives they set only one – “To be nicer”. I felt distraught; if it was something measurable I could have acted upon it. Apparently an auxiliary nurse did not like the way I spoke to her on one occasion, six weeks ago, and in passing had mentioned it to my manager. I was a leading nurse specialist at the top of my career and had been destroyed in one appraisal from hell. I have now left and have no plans to return.”
Unfortunately, Amanda’s experience is not isolated; many appraisal processes are badly managed. To ensure that an appraisal gets the best from the employee it is important to educate the person conducting the appraisal. In Amanda’s experience the manager responsible for conducting the appraisal should never have taken the word of a member of staff against another without first investigating the claim. They definitely should not have raised it at an appraisal some six weeks later, without first discussing it with her, and should never have set such an inappropriate objective. This appraisal was the deciding factor, which persuaded a career nurse to leave her position. This goes to show that a badly managed appraisal process can result in loss of staff. When you consider the cost of advertising, interviewing and selection, this can make sizeable impact on company budgets.
But still the majority of organisations persevere with an appraisal process of some sort and the majority of employees still find them beneficial and rewarding. In some cases it is the only opportunity in which the employee feels able to openly discuss their aspirations and concerns. Whatever appraisal method is chosen it should not be rushed, time must be given for the employee to prepare items they wish to discuss, and for the manager to do the same. The appraisal itself should take place in a friendly environment, some people interviewed had been given their appraisal at the side of a desk in an open plan office – yet another example of a poor appraisal.
Justin has worked for Local Government for over 10 years, his employer’s Personal Development Review programme consists of an annual review and a 6-month review.”As I do not work from a single office, I find it hard to keep in touch with my Manager, we are both so busy that we can go weeks at a time without actually seeing each other, by having the appraisal process we can ensure that at least twice a year we have a good conversation, about where I am going (in my career) and where the organisation needs me to go. In the past I have had appraisals in my manager’s office, but I found these quite distracting as the phone would go and the desk would be a barrier between us. I now have my appraisal in the local Starbucks, no it is not quiet, but it is still private and relaxed, we both take our time and discuss things and the more relaxed atmosphere allows me to be open and honest.”
Justin’s account just goes to show that even the most informal appraisal processes can be enjoyable. If your employee does not feel comfortable in the environment in which the appraisal is being performed, then you will not get the most out of the system. By moving the venue of the appraisal meeting, it enabled frank and open discussion on mutual ground.
Another appraisal method which is becoming increasingly popular is the 360° appraisal. It is a complex appraisal method, which is particularly useful for managers. The idea behind the 360° appraisal is that the individual is appraised not only by their manager but also by their peer group, staff, internal and external clients and internal and external suppliers. Often it is not practical to have a face-to-face meeting with this range of people, which is why most commonly an anonymous questionnaire system is utilised. These questionnaires are collated by a mentor and discussed rationally with the appraisee. Each questionnaire provides the same questions and asks the recipient to score the individual on aspects of their skills, for example, the recipient’s view on the individual’s time management skills.
The plus side of an appraisal like this is that it gives the person being appraised a global view of their role and abilities. But it is not for the faint hearted, appraisals of this nature can become quite emotional and the individual being appraised has to try very hard not to take it personally, which is where the mentor’s role comes in. The mentor should be someone who is impartial, perhaps a colleague who is not taking part in the process. Their role is to rationalise any negative feedback received and focus on the positive feedback.
Louise worked as an HR Officer for a large UK charity and although they had an internal appraisal system wanted to undertake a 360° appraisal.
“I wanted to undertake the appraisal as I was fairly new to the job, but more crucially this was my first time at managing such a large number of staff. Previously I had managed 2 members of staff however in this post I had a team of 15. By going through this process I wanted to demonstrate to my team that I was open to change, fortunately they could see the benefit of the process. It was very hard to take the criticism and not to take things too personally. My mentor helped me rationalise and prioritise the areas where I needed to focus. I conducted this appraisal instead of the charity standard for one year only. I do not feel that it is something that needs to be undertaken every year, but I would certainly recommend it every so often. It enabled me to see I was a good manager but poor at delegation. Using this information I was able to set my own objectives with agreement from my manager. By setting my own objectives I was more focussed and determined to meet them, which I did.”
As Louise proves your company appraisal system may not be a one fits all solution and it is important that HR professionals recognise this. The use of a good HR System can enable organisations to make use of different appraisal systems for individual members of staff. The use of technology provides automated emails to be sent to managers to remind them when appraisals are due and for appraisal and outcome forms to be printed. This reduces the amount of time spent on the administration of appraisals and more on what the individual and the organisation achieve as a result.
Although it is vitally important to perform a measurable objectives and training needs analysis, it should not be forgotten that the most important aspect is getting the best from the employee and hopefully motivating and retaining them as a result.