How to carry out appraisals

10 Sep 12
Performance reviews can seem like practising scales on the piano: vital but dull and time-consuming. However, they are an opportunity to set the tone, fine-tune the goals and bring out the virtuoso in your staff, important at a time of public sector upheaval, says Pam Jones

By Pam Jones | 1 September 2012

Performance reviews can seem like practising scales on the piano – vital but dull and time-consuming. However, they are an opportunity to set the tone, fine-tune the goals and bring out the virtuoso in your staff – important at a time of public sector upheaval, says Pam Jones

How to carry out appraisals

Performance reviews have an important place in any manager’s portfolio of activities. Managed effectively, they provide a valuable opportunity to review objectives and set goals for the coming year. They also provide a forum to understand more about the motivation, development needs and aspirations of team members.

Given the constant challenges facing the public sector, performance reviews also have a vital role in communicating changes and setting up new ways of working. It is an opportunity to help people cope with the stresses and pressures of their roles and understand how they can contribute effectively to the future.

It is often assumed that these appraisals are a ‘once-a-year occurrence’. However, the likelihood is that objectives, roles and goals will change during the year. In addition, the challenges that people face and the support they require will vary as well. To be effective, it is important to recognise that reviewing performance is a continual process. You will need to arrange follow-up discussions and meet again during the year to ensure that you and your team stay on track.

The ten tips below will help you to think about how to get the most out of  your next performance review meetings.

1. Be prepared

Both you and the individual being appraised will need to prepare for the meeting. Encourage your team members to review their own performance in advance. Ask them to consider what they have achieved in the past year, the challenges they have faced and their goals for the coming period. You might need to collect views from other departments, and you will need to reflect on your own feedback for the individual.

2. Look back and forward

When you meet you have the opportunity to review the past year’s performance. What went well? What was the individual particularly proud of? What challenges did they face and what could they have done differently?

It is often better to let the individual lead the conversation so that you can ask questions, summarise and provide relevant feedback.

3. Plan ahead

Planning for the coming period is an important part of the process. You will have your objectives for the year, which your team can help you achieve. You will also need to respond to the challenges facing the public sector and make sure that the team is in the best position to respond to these needs. This might involve developing and coaching individuals so that they take on new responsibilities.

4. Set some clear goals

You will need to work together to set some clear objectives. These should be Smart (specific, measurable, achievable, results orientated and time-bound) so that you both know what has to be achieved and when.

Try to develop these jointly, to allow your team member to develop a strong level of commitment and understand what is expected of them.

5. Balance talking and listening

One important factor to think about is the balance you take between talking and listening. If you find yourself doing all the talking – stop and ask some open questions. It is important that you are both engaged in the conversation and that you have the individual’s commitment to and understanding of the process.

You will also need to listen well, not only to their suggestions and ideas but also to their level of enthusiasm and motivation.

6. Give and receive feedback

The performance review meeting is an important time to let the individual know what you have seen them do well and what they need to improve on in the future. Your feedback should be balanced, specific and focused on behaviour and actions. Ideally, you will have been providing such information throughout the year, so the comments you make should not come as a surprise to the person.

However, this is also an opportunity for you to receive feedback from your staff. This can focus on how you lead the team, how well you are working together and any changes they recommend for the future.

While it might seem a bit a daunting, it will undoubtedly result in some new ideas for developing the performance of the team for the future.

7. Build in praise and develop strengths

Often we focus on weaknesses and areas for improvement. But it is just as important to think about how to build on the strengths of the people in your team and identify how they can continue to develop these in the future.

Look at what the individual does well and think how you can use their skills and strengths to enhance the team. This is likely to raise their confidence, increase motivation and develop the performance of the team as whole.

8. Identify development opportunities

It is important to think of ways of developing and stretching the staff who report to you, making the most of their strong points and helping them address their weaker areas. Development opportunities do not just involve training, but can include  new areas of work and responsibilities.

These changes might involve contributing to other areas and departments and perhaps representing you at meetings or events.

9. Summarise and agree actions

The final part of the performance review conversation should involve an agreement on the way forward. What outcomes have you both agreed on? What support and training will be provided? And what will you both be doing in terms of follow-up and review during the next performance period? 

It’s always best to let the individual summarise these as this not only shows understanding but demonstrates commitment.

10. Arrange a follow-up meeting

By recognising that performance management is a ‘process’, it is important to think about when you will meet again to review progress and provide any necessary support. You will need to decide this together.

Often managers set the target of quarterly performance reviews. Having such regular follow-up meetings will help you to ensure that everything is on track and that you are providing regular feedback and support to your team as you work together through the coming year.

Pam Jones is a director of Ashridge Business School's 'Performance through people' programme and the author of Managing for performance, published by Pearson Prentice Hall. This article first appeared in the September issue of Public Finance


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