Performance Appraisals have come a long way and are much more common in today’s workplace. While I see some businesses at the stage of implementing the annual performance appraisal and others moving away from the annual appraisal to more regular feedback conversations, whatever process you use, it’s better than no appraisal at all. The end or start of the financial year is a very common time for the annual performance appraisal so if you are in the process of conducting performance appraisals with your team members or are an employee about to complete your performance appraisal, here are the three most common pitfalls of the annual performance appraisal I hear about from employers and employees, and here is my advice on how to avoid the pitfall.
It’s a tick and flick process
Performance Appraisals are time consuming, especially if you do them properly. There is a lot of time and energy that needs to go into preparing for a performance appraisal and that’s before you even walk in the door for the actual meeting. In most cases, I see employers have the employee complete an appraisal form prior to the meeting and I think this is really valuable. However, once the employee completes their section of the appraisal and then the employer adds in their comments and feedback, the performance appraisal is certainly not done and dusted. The purpose of the employee completing the form is about providing some context for a discussion and it’s the subsequent conversation that is the most important part of the process. It’s not just about acknowledging, agreeing or disagreeing with the comments the employee has provided. A performance appraisal that adds value requires the employer to ask questions, to probe, to understand the employee’s reasoning or thinking and then to explore, make suggestions, pose different ways of thinking about things, set goals or stretch goals, and agree on actions or changes. If this level of conversation doesn’t take place, then completing the form feels like a tick and flick process, the form goes on the employee file never to be looked at again, we don’t discuss it again and then we roll out the same process next year.
It’s an annual process yet we focus on the last few weeks or months
One of the challenges of the annual performance appraisal is that it’s hard to remember what we were doing 6, 9 or 12 months ago. When we think back to September 2022 for example, what challenges were you facing in your role, what elements were you really enjoying, and what standard were you performing work to? It’s really hard to remember. Often when we (the employer and the employee fall into this trap) look at performance for the last 12 months, we focus on what has happened recently because it is front of mind, however, this may skew the appraisal. Overall, you might have had a really great 12 months, yet in the last 2 months you have fallen behind on a project, missed budget, lost a client, etc., which then becomes the focus of the appraisal instead of the entire last 12 months. This is also why some businesses have moved away from the annual appraisal and to more frequent feedback conversations. Preparation is key when focusing on a longer time period. Investing the time to recall what was happening throughout the year, looking at data and key metrics to remind you how you were tracking and performing all helps to ensure the appraisal doesn’t just become focused on the here and now.
Have you ever been given feedback well after the event/situation? I have and it’s not a great feeling. The annual performance appraisal has been renowned for this and has got a bad reputation for hitting the employee up with feedback that is relevant to something that happened many, many months ago. Why is this frustrating and makes us feel crappy? It’s because the feedback has lost its value and we feel robbed. Being congratulated or acknowledged for something you achieved or did really well 9 months ago loses its shine because that project/task is long gone. Everyone’s now focused and investing their efforts into the current project/task. When given feedback about something you could have done better or didn’t do well long after the fact, it is even more frustrating because you are left reflecting on how you could have worked on improving that skill or done things differently over the last months instead of thinking you were doing a good job when you possibly actually weren’t.
My philosophy for the annual appraisal is that if I have done my job well as a leader and manager, then there should be no surprises. Team members should not be hearing for the first time feedback that they should have been given months ago.
If you are about to conduct an appraisal where you are going to drop some feedback bombshells, it might be time to re-think your approach. By sharing this feedback now, many months after the fact, will it actually help or hinder the employee, their engagement and motivation? Depending on the feedback, its relevance and importance, you might be better to leave it out of the performance appraisal and raise it in the moment when the situation arises again in the future. Or you might need to provide the feedback and own that you stuffed up and didn’t provide the feedback in the moment and it’s been a learning for you. At some stage in our careers, we have all shied away from having the difficult feedback conversation, if you are in this situation and the feedback now has to be delivered well after the fact, owning it, apologising and then talking about how you can provide feedback to that employee in a timely manner in the future is key. Whatever you do, don’t just dump the feedback and run.
In my experience, an effective performance appraisal all comes down to the preparation and the time and effort both parties put into it.