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The appraisal is dead. Long live the appraisal.

=mc Director and L&D specialist Yvette Gyles blogs on the pros and cons of appraisals…

Many of us have had to adapt to changes to hybrid or home working in the last couple of years. Whether it’s affected you directly or indirectly, our working patterns and processes have been disrupted. Add to that an increasingly tough operating environment has led me to thinking – given the extraordinary circumstances, is the annual appraisal still valid? Or should we be taking a different approach to big picture performance review? I’ve been taking the opportunity to ask charities, non-profits and public sector HR teams if any of them have changed their appraisal processes this year.

I see it time and time again on social media and HR magazines, people are saying appraisals are ‘dead,’ ‘dying’ or ‘endangered.’ They have been saying this for at least a decade as far as I can tell. And there always seems to be a new scientific reason why we should get rid of the annual review process. ‘Neuroscience says appraisals are bad, they are not-brain friendly so HR should kill the annual appraisal.’ It seems the corporates are ditching appraisals, and binning big heavy review documents. No one enjoys the form filling, overly formal conversations or time spent on following a strict process.

I find this fascinating because I can’t quiet reconcile what I am reading 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 told that organisations are creating new annual processes, reviewing their approach, and helping them to structure their performance management system. So what is changing?


It seems like the good bits of appraisals are being kept – not throwing out the baby with the 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. Managers need a focused checkpoint to hinge performance conversations and discussions on. To look forward, plan for upcoming changes and think about improvements. To look back at lessons learned. This is what good, well-run appraisals provide. A chance to focus on impact, what is working, and what has been achieved (rather than just a catch up on the ‘to-do list’).

On a recent training course, a participant explained to me that the annual process is not valued by his team of case workers supporting adults with disabilities. 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 are funded by a local authority, so need to report on caseloads and progress. They also need to have softer skills to engage with their clients (who are vulnerable people). 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. They call them one-to-one supervisions. This is complemented by regular team meetings, where the team share learning and case examples.

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. Or they try to adapt their process to fit a specific programme or database. Performance management must be fit for purpose, and needs to be adapted to the roles and needs of the organisation. Whether you have a behaviours framework, a values statement, key results 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. Given everything that has been happening in the last few years, it may be time to refresh your approach and make appraisals more flexible, so that they support people adapting to change. Consider the following questions:

  • What process will most help your staff perform well in their jobs? How regularly do they need to review their work?
  • What kind of things need to be discussed? What are the key areas that make up performance?
  • What is the purpose of this process? Is it to decide pay, to figure out where to invest in development, to provide recognition, or to provide your team with support and direction?
  • What are your organisation’s values about how people should be managed and supported?
  • How much management time is reasonable to invest in this process? Consider time invested in effort against performance payoff.

And don’t just kill what you have now because someone else has said it is outdated.

If you want to discuss your performance management process, or find out how we can help your managers develop the confidence to manage performance then call us on 020 7978 1516 or contact us online.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...