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How to conduct staff appraisals
There should be no surprises at an appraisal meeting

The key to staff appraisal meetings is that there should be no surprises. For instance, if an employee tells a manager that the six months since the last review have gone really badly, it should not be the first they’ve heard of it. This is because staff appraisals must not exist in isolation, but should be part of an ongoing process in which both management and staff have a responsibility.

The key to staff appraisal meetings is that there should be no surprises. For instance, if an employee tells a manager that the six months since the last review have gone really badly, it should not be the first they’ve heard of it. This is because staff appraisals must not exist in isolation, but should be part of an ongoing process in which both management and staff have a responsibility.

‘Look at the whole issue of performance management,’ advises Rebecca Clake, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. ‘The appraisal is a formal event happening every six months or each year, but there should be several regular, informal conversations between manager and employee in the interim. It is worth setting aside blocks of time at least once a month for these.’

Prior to the formal appraisal, preparation should be done by both parties. The manager should look at objectives set at any previous appraisals, while the employee should give due consideration to any points they want to bring up.

It’s important for the success of the business that appraisals are conducted with an eye on the bigger picture. ‘Make sure the whole process is joined up,’ stresses Clake. ‘The objectives set for the individual must match up to those of the team, which in turn must tally with those of the whole business.’

Get the most out of staff appraisals
1 Be prepared
Prepare by referring to a list of agreed objectives and notes on performance throughout the year.

2 Create the right atmosphere
A successful meeting depends on creating an informal environment in which a full, frank but friendly exchange of views can take place. It is best to start with a fairly general discussion before getting into any detail.

3 Work to a clear structure
The meeting should be planned to cover all the points identified during preparation with time allowed for individuals to fully express their views.

4 Use positive feedback
Where possible, reviewers should begin with praise for some specific achievement, but this should be sincere and deserved. Praise helps people to relax – everyone needs encouragement and appreciation.

5 Let the employee do the talking
This enables them to get things off their chest and helps them to feel that they are getting a fair hearing. Use open questions to encourage people to be expansive.

6 Invite self-appraisal
This is to see how things look from the employee’s point of view and to provide a basis for discussion many people underestimate themselves.

7 Performance, not personality
Always refer to actual events, behaviour and results.

8 Encourage analysis of performance
Do not just hand out praise or blame. Analyse jointly and objectively why things went well or badly and what can be done to maintain a high standard in the future.

9 Don’t deliver unexpected criticisms
Feedback on performance should be immediate. It should not wait until the end of the year. The purpose of the formal review is to reflect briefly on experiences during the review period and to look ahead.

10 Agree measurable objectives and a plan of action
The aim should be to end the review meeting on a positive note.

‘We have achieved strong growth in the last three years through the principle of putting our people first,’ boasts Margaret Harris, chief executive of The Learning Hub, a London-based provider of learndirect training programmes. ‘For a lot of companies, it’s about paying lip service to valuing staff, but for us staff really are where it’s at.’ Backing this up is the company’s commitment to the Investors in People standard, which was recommended by Business Link for London.

Key to the people-centric attitude is the annual round of appraisals that takes place in August and September for all staff. From these, individual training plans are developed, resulting in an overall company training plan.

‘We genuinely believe that staff are our best asset,’ says Pamela Burns, Director of Planning and Corporate Services at The Learning Hub. ‘No organisation should see appraisals as a paper exercise. If staff see that everyone takes the appraisal process seriously, then it will be a positive experience for all concerned.

‘There should be an outcome from an appraisal; a change to the employee’s role that improves the situation both for them and the organisation. Point out what the individual has achieved. Any performance problems should have been identified a long time before. Employees should go away from the appraisal feeling good about themselves and involved in their own development.’

Also see: Staff appraisals are important for SMEs

See also: Getting the right staff

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