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The Importance of Staff Appraisals

17 May 2021

Every organization is trying to get the most out of its employees' work through performance management because, after all, that’s where the magic happens.  And this often comes down to communication and expectation management.  If your employees aren’t getting 360-degree feedback on their performance of their competencies and guidance on how things can be improved, they’re basically wandering around in the dark!

The annual performance review is quite common practice for most, but this is not nearly often enough.  That’s where staff appraisals come in.  Performance appraisals create opportunities for more regular conversations with human resources and help to align goal setting with competencies throughout your organization.

Regardless of how big or small your team is, employee appraisals are crucial for nurturing a coherent working environment that sets your company up to grow and succeed.  And in this article, we’re going to explore exactly how to do them well.

What is an Appraisal?

An appraisal is a tool that is used to connect with an employee to assess and evaluate their effective performance, hear from them about how they are doing, and set individual measurable goals and expectations for them going forward.  This can be achieved in numerous ways, whether in person or virtually, but the principles remain the same. The performance appraisal process can be carried out within an individual review period. Some companies perform annual reviews, some find that period of time too long and prefer to have more regular check-ins with their team members. 

They are different from formal performance reviews which can typically affect salary increases since they occur more regularly as part of the normal course of business.  The goal is to align expectations between the staff member and the organization, while also creating an employee development plan to move forward effectively.

Here are some examples of how these appraisals can be structured:

  • Casual Appraisals. These happen on an ad-hoc basis when management wants to get closer to their staff members. Typically, they will take the form of an informal conversation around individual performance without an explicit agenda. This opens up lines of communication and leaves the structure open to wherever the conversation goes.
  • Formal Appraisals. These are more structured, and an agenda is set out in advance. The employee can prepare their thoughts and the manager can spend their time looking through recent performance to make the most out of the meeting time.
  • Weekly / Monthly / Quarterly Recaps. These are somewhere in between formal and informal and happen on a regular cadence. Because they are set in the calendar, they form bookmarks on periods of work and allow for tight feedback loops.

Preparation for Employee Performance Appraisal is Key

There is a big difference between effective appraisals and ineffective ones.  When you get them wrong, they quickly become administrative exercises that actually don’t drive real business and personal success.  So, it’s important that your processes are set up in such a way that they actually deliver on what you’re trying to get out of them.

The most important thing to get right here is the preparation.

You want to have all the relevant information at your fingertips so that you can have a productive and informed conversation.  The more effort you put into good preparation, the better that appraisal is going to go.

Here at flair, our internal communication tool is worth its weight in gold because it does a lot of the heavy lifting here.  You can create custom questionnaires ahead of time that drives towards your business goals and then send those to employees in advance of their appraisal.  This helps to codify all of the key information which is going to inform the discussion.  Instead of spending the meeting relaying information, you can instead focus on higher-level analysis and planning that makes the most of your time together.

Once you have settled on that plan, it can be entered straight back into the tool to be tracked moving forward.  This is a great example of how technology can be leveraged to take this concept and scale it effectively, while still retaining all the context.  It’s a game-changer.

What Should You Discuss During Appraisals?

Here are some of the key things you should be discussing during an appraisal:

  • How are things going at the moment?
  • What is the current status of your projects?
  • What is your highest priority at present?
  • What have you accomplished since the last appraisal?
  • What are the biggest roadblocks you are currently facing?
  • What are your goals for the next period in terms of professional development?
  • How can the organization help you meet those targets?
  • Are you happy with the work environment? What can be improved?
  • And so on…

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a sense of the kinds of things that you should be discussing.  At its core, an appraisal should be a tool used to promote personal development for that employee and ensure that they understand what is expected of them.

Common Appraisal Mistakes to Avoid during Employee performance Review

There are a number of things that managers get wrong with employee appraisals, here are just a few:

  • Inadequate Preparation. We touched on this one above, if you aren’t doing the necessary preparation for appraisal meetings you are wasting your time. The conversation is only productive when you can use the time to have a genuine conversation, rather than spending all the time trying to get onto the same page.
  • Consistent Schedule. Appraisals work really well when they are done on a regular schedule because they create a work cadence for the employee. When they are planned at regular intervals, they naturally demarcate the year into different chunks which allow for more accurate reflection. When they are ad-hoc, they can lose some of that magic.
  • One-Sided. Often managers will want to dictate terms during these discussions because they are trying to guide employees down a certain path. This doesn’t work because employees will shut down when they feel that they are being dictated to. It’s much more effective and problem-solving to engage with them in an open and honest way, letting them be a collaborative partner as you plan the next steps. This requires some emotional intelligence, but also some trust in your employees that they understand the mission and can find their own way to get the job done.
  • Appraisals and performance evaluation reviews need to feel like a safe environment for an employee if you are going to get any candid feedback or make any progress for their career development. The moment you appear combative as a manager and you try and use status pressure to get more out of your employees, you will be resented. You have to make it clear that you’re on the same team and that by working together, you can find a win-win for both the employee and the organization. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, staff appraisals are an incredibly powerful tool for pushing your business forward, as long as you use them effectively.  Here at Flair, we’ve seen clients of all types find great value in them as they bring everyone together onto the same page so they can pull in the same direction.

It’s all about communication and expectation management.  That’s all it is.  But you’ll be surprised at how many companies get this wrong.

If you are looking for a multi-purpose HR tool to enable really constructed appraisals, be sure to check out what we’re building at Flair.  It’s a complete platform that sites on top of your existing processes, to make them more efficient and constructive – so you can serve your employees better.

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