Like so many things that began with great intentions, in far too many companies the annual performance appraisal now evokes all the gleeful anticipation of a root canal, for both the evaluator and the evaluated.
It doesn’t have to be that way. With a little work, the performance appraisal can be a valuable tool for helping both the company and the employee grow. Here’s how to get there.
Make sure the review is current. Unless your company’s process has been revamped recently, there’s a chance it’s become ineffective. Even the performance appraisal needs the occasional job review. Examine yours and make sure it reflects your company’s current business model and culture. Factors such as collaboration are much more important today than they were five years ago. Other categories, on the other hand, might be antiquated. If your company uses an appraisal template, go through line by line and make sure everything is relevant. Remove categories such as absenteeism and tardiness that should part of company policy. If you have an employee who’s chronically late, you shouldn’t wait until review time to address that.
Set a fair standard. Some companies are proud of a “walk on water” culture where only consistently exemplary performance is rewarded. That’s laudable in a way. The problem is, it’s also potentially demoralizing. Chances are that even your best performers aren’t perfect all the time. Other companies evaluate employees in comparison to each other. The potential problems are obvious. Such a system can breed feelings of envy and foster competition where collaboration is needed. The best appraisal process sets reasonable standards that all employees are expected to meet and recognizes superlative performance. It will not, however, require that an employee knock it out of the park in every category in order to be deemed “outstanding.”
Create a running record. Six months later when you sit down to write the review, the details of that spectacular success might not be at the top of your mind. Conversely, every detail of a foul-up might remain fresh because the fallout was heavy. That’s why it’s important to keep notes throughout the year. If your company uses a job review template, begin a new evaluation as soon as the previous is given. Alternatively, create computer files for your direct reports. Make it a part of your workflow to review and make notes weekly.
Simplify for greater meaning. In companies where raises are tied to performance reviews, there can be a tendency to go overboard on detail as a way of justifying the decision. Unfortunately, this can leave employees floundering to read between the lines in their rush to get to the bottom line. Instead of writing paragraph after paragraph of text, include only two sets of bullet points with each category: what the employee does well and what the employee can do to improve. Call them “strengths and focus areas” or “assets and challenges,” but whatever you call them keep them brief but meaningful.
Having trouble coming up with bullet points? Perhaps you don’t know your employee as well as you should, or perhaps that category has outlived its usefulness.
Think goals, not wishes. In most companies, setting goals for the coming year is part of the appraisal. Make sure these are meaningful and achievable. For example, “do a better job of training subordinates” is a dream. “Create a training program for subordinates and ensure that all have completed it by year’s end” is a goal.
The performance appraisal process doesn’t have to be an annual exercise in agony. Implementing just part of these steps will help you return the review to its intended state as a tool for growth and improvement.