Performance appraisals themselves are under increasing scrutiny and seen by more and more Organisations to be performing below track. Some leading businesses are scrapping them altogether, or refocusing them on future potential, while others are expanding them to cover not just what people have achieved, but also how they have done it. In many cases this is because performance management discussions have lost impact and become a sterile set piece stand-off which neither party enjoys or benefits from.
The idea behind many performance appraisal systems is sound – giving employees and managers valuable one to one time to discuss performance and plan development. The reality is often different – stressed managers squeezing meetings into too little time, often back to back, with no discussion and nothing like a mutually agreed way forward.
Bosses are tempted to take the easier option, avoiding tough conversations, giving everyone similar scores and not addressing big issues. The box ticking performance appraisal parodied by Ricky Gervais’ character, David Brent, in BBC’s ‘The Office’ is too close to the reality for many workers.
Performance appraisals do not have to be like this, though. One to one conversations can be the jewel in the line manager’s communication crown. They offer precious opportunity for managers to find out more about the individual and his or her skills and preferences, as well to help them understand where the organization is headed and his or her role in achieving it. The key is to equip leaders with the skills to have real dialogue, to ask the right questions which help people open up, be able to listen to and do something with what they say, and localize messages so that people can see clearly what they mean for them.
The challenge is that the key skills needed to do this – asking questions and listening – and ones which many leaders feel they are good at and can resent being trained to do. This is a shame as in our experience, many of them may intellectually know what to do, but don’t do it in practice. They can really benefit from tools, techniques and most importantly practice in using performance appraisal discussions for real one to one dialogue. Those that do invest the time to do this will find they have stronger relationships, more motivated and focused people and that for themselves, the regular round of appraisals becomes quite rewarding.