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Leadership & Management

Performance Appraisals – A Guide

We’ve all had them.  The weak performance appraisal.

The one where it becomes a tick box exercise, a meeting to get through.

And we all know performance appraisals should be more motivating, leaving you feeling heard, valued and understood. Resulting in you wanting to work for your manager and consequently having a higher performance rate.

But how can you as a new manager ensure your performance appraisal system creates that supportive environment for your team?

Consistency in management is something that sounds great in theory but is actually hard, as we are emotional beings.  This is where your performance appraisal system can support you.


What is a Performance Appraisal System?

First let’s get clear on what Performance Appraisals do for you.

Your appraisal system is one of your performance management tools for building a relationship with your team members.

Having an effective tool, and using it regularly, you will have the foundations to:

  • Build 2-way communication in a safe environment
  • Have greater clarity and clear expectations (of each other)
  • Motivate by timely rewarding successes
  • Developing the team by planning for the future together

Your performance appraisal system is just that – a system.  It is a series of regular reviews or 1-2-1’s  throughout the year, that are there to support you in managing your team, enabling you to deal with issues as and when they arise, showing appreciation for your staff, helping them develop by giving them constructive and developmental feedback and supporting their future development.

Don’t let performance appraisals become a pen and paper activity.  Embrace it.  Own it.  It’s your tool, not something HR has put upon you.  HR are known to use the results to identify company wide training needs.  So if anything, use it wisely to get the development your team requires and set worthwhile achievable goals for your team members to feel motivated and excited to achieve.

The performance appraisal system is there just as much for YOU as the manager, as it is for your team to motivate and grow them. You can use it to develop your relationship and find out how to be the best manager you can be.

So how can you create a safe environment to support performance appraisal communication?

There are 4 key steps needed to create a safe environment:

  1. Set guidelines for how your discussion will be conducted – this includes how feedback will be given and received, confidentiality and transparency.
  2. Communicate upfront that the purpose of feedback is to build and grow the individual to help them learn and develop in their role and achieve the joint objectives that you both agree.
  3. Always be clear of your intentions of what you want to discuss in their performance appraisal so they can prepare in advance too. The discussion should not be a surprise for the individual and is based on dialogue and fair assessment of performance.
  4. Find an appropriate and confidential environment where you can conduct an open discussion such as in a room where you can sit side by side rather than having a barrier of a desk between you.

Motivating with Clear Expectations

Many people think it is just writing a list of objectives and measuring people against their lists.  But it is so much more than that.

And it is all too easy to give a nice long list of objectives for the year and check them off each month.  But, with too many objectives, focus is diluted and achievements can therefore take a lot longer.

People are motivated by a sense of achievement. Setting dynamic goals that are achievable and inspiring to achieve will help motivate others.

We recommend selecting key objectives, ideally no more than 3, and set the review for a smaller time period, for example 3 objectives every three months.  In fact if you can get the individual to write their own objectives – even better!  This way they are actively involved in the process and will have personal motivation to achieve their objectives. You don’t have to agree to everything, however, collaborative objective setting is so much more powerful than directive objective setting!

Completing objectives, and having successes recognised throughout the year is highly motivating.  You may find our insight on Worthwhile Achievable Goals (WAGS) helpful.

Performance Appraisal Frequency?

We’d love to challenge the vocabulary around performance appraisals.

They are often labelled as yearly actions when in fact it is an ongoing process with reviews throughout the year.

You certainly cannot build a great relationship with one meeting a year.  And great relationships are the foundations of high performing people and teams.

Technically the annual performance appriasal is the company structure for reward and recognition.  However as a manager this performance management tool is more than this.

We recommend regular catch ups, formal and informal, throughout the year to inform your annual performance discussion.

It is also important that you ensure these appraisal discussions go ahead.

If you cancel meetings what message does that send to the individual about their value at work?  Regularly cancelling appraisal discussions will destroy the individuals motivation and can give the wrong impression of you as a manager.

Performance Management

Knowing you have to performance manage as a manager is different from the reality of actually performance managing. – J. Johns

Being a brilliant manager is not just about getting appraisals right.  This is just one aspect of performance management.

Understanding and using your performance management tools and processes will help you build trust with your employees.  This is critical for a really effective team and supports you if you have to deal with any conflict within your team or with a particular individual.

In our Performance Management Workshops we delve deeper into the value of formal and informal feedback. We help you utilise your company’s performance management system so that it supports you to develop and grow individuals within your teams. We provide hints and techniques on how to create a positive and motivated workforce so that underperformance is minimised.

You will get greater clarity around your role as manager within the performance management framework.  You will also build your own confidence in giving feedback to develop performance in others and learn how to manage underperformance in the workplace if it occurs.

Our next Leadership & Management Programme, which includes our Performance Management Workshop, commences May 2023.  Visit the ILM Open course to learn more and call us to secure your pace.