You are happy. Business is moving forward. You have finally delegated a bunch of jobs that were keeping you awake at night. You like your team and feel like they are in it with you. And it’s employee appraisal time. A day to put your feet up, enjoy a really positive chat with some important colleagues and look ahead to the next quarter with optimism.
The All-Important Employee Appraisal
Of all the internal meetings you have this year, employee appraisals have to count among the most important. They are a chance for honesty and reflection. For transparency and dialogue. They provide you with a chance to demonstrate great leadership and steer the right course for the future. Or the opposite.
Here are some appraisal pitfalls to avoid:
‘The Best Buddy’
You really like your head of sales. He is punctual, trustworthy and diligent. You enjoy a gossip and the occasional beer together. He is always welcome in your office for a chat. And that’s how the appraisal goes. You have a laugh. Catch-up on the highlights of the past few months. Discuss how the team can get even stronger. But you overlook the fact that he is a much better reactive salesman (great at answering the phone) than someone who can get the team pushing into new networks. Likewise, he doesn’t offer any meaningful observations about his own weaknesses or about your role as boss.
‘The Blind Eye’
You have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of accuracy within the CRM system. There are missing fields in the address for major contacts and many important messages aren’t noted or saved. Your Senior Client Manager comes in for their appraisal and you discuss the bigger picture. You mention the frustration, but don’t push hard enough. You allow her to feel that it’s someone else’s problem, something that affects the two of you equally. This means she leaves the appraisal with no sense of urgency or personal responsibility. You have avoided an awkward conversation by implying that blame lies elsewhere.
‘The Closed Questions’
You have a number of issues with your compliance team. They have allowed a couple of promotional campaigns to go public without the right small print. You know this is a crucial opportunity to ensure it doesn’t happen again and you bring-up all the right subjects. However, you clothe them with answers. “I know you guys have had some staffing issues and less time than you’d like to spend on each job”. Or “Do you think that with one new recruit you’d be able to avoid the issues we’ve had recently?” These shut down a conversation that needs to be more open and honest. You should be asking to understand exactly what isn’t working and why. What specific steps will be taken to ensure they never happen again. And, yes, you also need to ask if there’s anything you have – or haven’t – done that has impacted upon the team’s performance.
You are, understandably, irritated by your marketing team. You’ve had less column inches in the media and a higher cost-per-response on your advertising budget despite higher costs. You ready yourself to read the riot act to the person responsible. And you can’t be accused of avoiding the issue. You set out exactly what’s gone wrong, why you are so disappointed and what you expect in the coming months. The Head of Marketing isn’t surprised. She takes the hit, nods and agrees. At the end of the meeting, you shake hands, smile and suggest starting afresh. Which might feel good, but you have avoided the key piece in the jigsaw. The exact reasons she was hired, the processes she agreed to and the ways she had committed to reaching her goals. Without them, you are minimizing the chances of her turning the ship around.
This is not a definitive list, but it covers many of the reasons that many of our clients need to review their appraisal process:
- Set the scene – this is a chance for a clear, honest dialogue
- Explain that you want to receive feedback too
- Work from a clear set of objectives and processes agreed in advance
- Ensure you have a clearly defined role for the position
- That role must include performance metrics so you can objectively “sit beside” your employees in these appraisals rather than subjectively “sitting opposite” them
- Ask open-ended questions around them; remember that this is a live conversation
- Agree next steps – written and signed – to ensure that the next appraisal picks-up from where this left off
Have you read Dick Grote’s ‘How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals’? It’s got some really helpful advice in-line with everything I’ve written here.