=mc Assistant Director and L&D specialist Yvette Gyles blogs on the pros and cons of appraisals…
A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a number of ex-colleagues, all in HR and working in the City in various commercial and professional services companies. Ever one to take advantage of a situation, I seized the opportunity to ask whether any of them had changed their appraisal processes recently?
Having moved from HR to delivering learning and development way back in 2014, I felt out of touch with what’s going down at the HR rock face. My question was prompted by reading a number of articles (such as People Management, 2015 and Harvard Business Review, 2016) saying appraisals are dead, dying or endangered. And there always seems to be some new scientific reason why we should ditch the annual review process. ‘Neuroscience says appraisals are bad, they are not-brain friendly so HR should kill the annual appraisal.’ It wasn’t a massive surprise, then when my friends said yes, in their worlds the corporates are ditching appraisals, and binning big heavy documents. They were excited about the change – not least because it took away a painful process that created heavy spikes in their workloads.
I find this fascinating because I can’t quiet reconcile what I am reading and hearing with the experience I have working with charity, non-profit and public sector organisations. Far from ushering in the demise of appraisals, in recent months I’ve repeatedly been asked to support our customers with creating new annual processes, and helping them to formalise their performance management approach. Is this because in the non-corporate world we are behind the times? Old fashioned? Lagging?
I don’t think so. But I do think there is something going on to do with babies and bathwater. Appraisals are more than just documents, and processes. They are conversations. They set expectations, clarify progress and help managers to give direction, support and recognition to their teams. Just because Accenture are changing their process, does not mean you have to change yours.
In my view we need a focused checkpoint to hinge performance conversations and discussions on. This is what the good, well-run appraisals provide.
On a recent training course, a participant explained to me that the annual process is not valued by his team of 20 gas safety engineers in a housing organisation. To perform in their job they must keep abreast of regulations, understand current policies, keep their qualifications up to date and ensure they meet KPIs. They also need to have softer skills to engage with customers (who are often vulnerable people in social housing). So he’s reduced the process paperwork and focuses instead on what he and his team value – using the time to discuss how things are going and problem solve. Oh, and they’ve stopped calling them appraisals, and these conversations happen every three months rather than once a year.
What can we learn from this? Appraisals are not bad in and of themselves. But they are nearly always guaranteed to get people’s eyes rolling. This is because far too many organisations have tried to take an ‘off the shelf and fill in a form’ approach, and that simply won’t do. Performance management must be fit for purpose, and needs to be adapted to the roles and needs of the organisation. Appraisals are not about fashion. Whether you have a competency framework, a values statement or a simple regular one-to-one agenda is down to you. Getting it right means having a process and approach that suits your culture and your needs. Consider the following questions:
And don’t just kill what you have now because someone else has said it is old hat.
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Clare Segal, Director