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To appraise or not to appraise

It’s a workplace cliché but performance appraisals are traditionally dreaded by worker and manager alike. The classic once-a-year event has become such a focus for derision that it begs the question, should you bother at all… especially if you’re a small or micro business with a limited team?

Reasons to appraise: 1, 2, 3…

First of all, let’s just agree on what an appraisal is for. Put simply, an appraisal is some form of assessment of an employee’s performance. In that sense, it’s the foundation stone of performance management. What’s performance management all about? It’s about enabling an organisation to deliver its objectives by ensuring each individual understands what is expected of them in their jobs and has the skills and knowledge to do it. Sounds reasonable.

The benefits of managing performance can be:

  • Increased motivation – employees understand what they are doing and are appreciated for doing it.
  • Improved training – the process of performance management inevitably leads to identifying training needs.
  • Improved communications – a greater clarity of the objectives and purpose of the organisation.
  • And finally, the big one: improved performance – both individual and organisational.

In fact, the only ‘pitfalls’ of performance management tend to occur when it’s done badly or half-heartedly.

A good appraisal system is…

Structured… by all means keep the system as informal and easy to operate as possible (and the smaller the business, the less bureaucracy is needed) but do set some agreed basics, such as:

1.An annual timetable that links the organisation’s annual goals and targets to the individual’s job description – that way, not only is everyone working towards a common aim, they know exactly what their contribution is (or should be).

2.Clear and measurable targets and goals for each individual.

3.Assessment of the individual’s skills and knowledge in relation to the job; i.e. do they need further training or assistance to be able to do what is being asked of them.

4.Ongoing regular assessment of the individual’s performance (this is the dreaded annual appraisal but it’s much more effective if feedback and discussion of performance takes place throughout the year, then the ‘appraisal’ becomes a summing up event, rounding off the past year and leading into the next (much more positive and proactive; and less surprises).

Key appraisal principles

Whatever system you choose (and there are plenty of effective off-the-shelf packages on the market) and however formal or informal it is, best practice includes the following core principles:

There should be a continuous process of feedback and two-way discussion.

Managers must have the right skills (assessment, feedback, coaching, etc.).

Remember the aim is to improve performance (individual and the business as a whole) and not just tick boxes.

Clarity is everything – everyone should know what constitutes an acceptable performance.

Performance management and appraisals should be a fundamental part of your business.

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