Well-conducted and written performance appraisals are among some of the most effective tools for managing and developing people, but the skills of writing and conducting a good appraisal do not always come naturally to HR managers. A well-written appraisal is, in fact, a synopsis of what has been happening in the organization on a continuous basis, and gives managers a clear picture of areas that have been successful and areas which need improvement. It also helps to create a firm action plan for the next year, giving employees tangible goals and objectives. A good appraisal should be a fair, objective, and a two-way process. Performance appraisal also has to be realistic, clear, continuous, and specific. A good performance appraisal does not compare employees with each other because this can damage their morale and create competition among employees, which will almost certainly be detrimental to teamwork. Performance appraisals should be primarily about improvement and development, rather than blame for failures during the appraisal period. Any serious issues that occur should be dealt with at the time – waiting until the appraisal to bring such issues up is leaving it too late. Focusing on the negative in appraisals is going to make employees feel nervous about the process – it should be viewed by all parties as a way of summarising the last year, and forming an action plan for the year to come. In addition, the appraisal process provides a guarantee that efforts made by the employee are not overlooked.
Keeping notes throughout the appraisal period
Try not to think of staff appraisals as a once-a-year event, but rather a continuous process of monitoring and feedback. Throughout the appraisal period, it is vital that you keep a record of employee incidents, both positive and negative. This will form the basis of any appraisal, and give you accurate, factual material to work with. Through this approach, you can present a summary of what has been happening during the entire appraisal period, rather than focusing in on the last few weeks or on any one specific event, thereby making the process fair and balanced.
You should also encourage your employees to keep their own records of their working experiences during the appraisal period. This can include successes and challenges, as well as any areas for concern that they may wish to bring up. This employee input is vital for letting you know what the employee considers important, and whether you have been communicating priorities to them effectively. It also gives the employee a chance to air any matters that may have been concerning them – it is important that they feel comfortable in the appraisal environment to do this and are aware that this is a two-way process. Ultimately, this will help ensure an accurate, fair appraisal.
The environment in which to conduct an appraisal
You should conduct the appraisal in a neutral, non-threatening environment. It is important that there are no interruptions during the meeting – this may be your only chance this year to spend one-on-one time with an employee and have some proper dialogue, so you should treat the occasion as important. Do not constantly re-schedule appraisals as your diary fills with “more important” appointments – this will lead to the employee feeling insignificant and unvalued and they may lose respect for you and the organisation. The individual attention you give an employee during this meeting will make them feel their contribution to the organisation is valued, and will encourage them to continue making a positive contribution over the coming year.
It is important that you have developed an atmosphere of transparency and that the employee feels comfortable in approaching you with any issues they may be experiencing. In order to do this, you should make sure that you do not spring any surprises on the employee during the appraisal and that throughout the working year you are approachable and reasonable. You will have a better relationship with your staff if they feel that you have time to listen to what they say and that you value their input. If an appraisal is viewed as a two-way discussion, dealing with development and potential rather than focusing on negative points then the employee is far more likely to be open and communicative. Any criticism should be constructive and fact based, and any negatives viewed as challenges for the year ahead, and suggestions for improvement.
Making appraisals more personal by using a range of vocabulary
If you have many staff to appraise, you may fall into the trap of saying very similar things about a lot of them. This can feel like a production line process, both for the staff and for you, and therefore not achieve what you are aiming for – open and productive dialogue. Develop a range of expressions and varied vocabulary for the appraisal process. For example acceptable, fair, and suitable all mean much the same thing.
Keeping things specific rather than vague (use examples and facts)
Use factual wording so that you concentrate on observed behaviours rather than on personality. Instead of “Lee has performed poorly,” write, “Lee’s performance has been below standard in the area of customer service, with 5 complaints regarding the speed of his responses having been received in the last year (cite examples). He needs to ensure that his response time is reduced to a level where no further complaints about this are received. To achieve this, Lee should take part in a customer service training course over the next weeks.” Here you are being specific about incidents, as well as recommending a target for the future and the best course of action to follow in order to achieve this.
This same approach should be used for both achievements and challenges. Language used in appraisals should always be as impersonal as possible, certainly avoiding any petty, carping or prejudiced comments about the individual. Focus on what key accomplishments they have made and what areas can be improved rather than being too general or vague.
Specific wording keeps employees focused on objectives and gives them something concrete to “latch on to” in order to improve or maintain performance. Finally, specific, accurate wording protects the company in the unlikely (but possible) event of legal proceedings.
It is important that you are clear and specific in your meaning when writing an appraisal. This leaves no room for confusion or uncertainty on the part of the employee as to areas for improvement in the upcoming period.
The way you organise the layout of the written appraisal will affect how much the employee understands and gains from it. Use effective page layout techniques to reveal logic and organisation:
Create tables and graphic presentations that work and make sense.
Do not use meaningless or unnecessary graphics.
Eliminate common writing and usage errors to make the reports more professional.
Use appraisal terminology and definitions effectively.
Specify clear objectives and areas for improvement for the next year, with an action plan to achieve these. Make sure that you define how accomplishments will be measured. Set a date for completion of objectives. Make sure paragraphs and sentences are logically staged and not overlong. Create energetic prose by the use of active voice and present tense. When writing action plans for development needs keep an immediate or short-term focus.
Negative staff appraisals
Inevitably, there are times when you have to give negative feedback, if an employee has been under-performing or consistently failing to meet objectives. Unless it is your intention to lose this member of staff, you need to phrase your criticisms in such a way that they convey meaning without causing offense, loss of face or undue upset – remember that the appraisal should be viewed as a summary of the last year, and a way of making an action plan for the year to come, rather than a forum for giving employees a dressing down. As has already been stated, disciplinary matters need to be dealt with at the time, rather than weeks or months later, and the appraisal should not concentrate solely on negative points. One method of achieving professional use of tactful negative language is as follows:
Not very + the opposite adjective
e.g. rather than saying he’s lazy, you might say he’s not very hardworking.
Although the skills for conducting and writing a successful appraisal may not come naturally, they are fairly easy to learn and to implement. Moreover, as a tool for staff management and successful business practice, they are essential; they are the easiest way of identifying problems and solutions, planning the year ahead, identifying employee strengths and weaknesses, ensuring staff feel valued and appreciated, and highlighting any gaps in training or knowledge. They should leave both the manager and employee feeling confident in the year ahead, and with a clear picture of what is expected and how to achieve that. In doing this, both staff and management can concentrate on the main job at hand, growing and maintaining a successful department.
Source: HR Magazine