The end of 2019 is fast approaching and as well as the Christmas party, for many, it means it’s time for their annual appraisal. While there is something to be said for taking a step back to look at long-term objectives and career development, trying to cram a review of a whole year into one session is an almost impossible challenge. Who can remember with any accuracy what exactly they did months ago, how they felt or what they would do differently?
Appraisals were designed to be a valuable exercise for both employees and managers, a platform to offer praise, constructive feedback and a clear pathway for development. However, over the years this has become lost and too often they have turned into a painful tick box exercise with no discernible benefit for anyone concerned.
A quick scan of Twitter over the last couple of weeks highlights the numerous issues that surround the annual appraisal for employees. For many they aren’t working and the word itself has become toxic. We want to help change that.
What’s in a name?
Think “appraisal” and words like “fear”, “dread” even “hate” come to mind. No one appears to have a good word to say for them, at least on social media. A simple way to begin to rehabilitate the process is to adopt different language. We use the word “reviews” instead. A review implies less of an assessment and instead an analysis which is more positive and focused on learning from the past. While we don't want to be accused of 'review-washing' (just changing the name to cover up former crimes), the word appraisal feels too top-down and judgmental for today's more collaborative workplace cultures.
Below we address some of the other issues that employees have raised about their annual appraisals and offer practical suggestions on how to solve them.
Issue 1 - They take too long to prepare
Putting together all the details for your annual appraisal can feel like drowning under a mound of paperwork. If your organisation doesn’t have a system where you can log updates throughout the year, trying to collate everything from the past 12 months can be extremely time consuming and laborious. If like Kyle on Twitter you are required to prepare or contribute to lots of other people’s appraisals it can feel like a never-ending task making you work late or at weekends.
Reviews shouldn’t be like this. Using a tool that allows both employees and line managers to capture key moments as they happen makes preparation so much simpler and far less stressful. It also means nothing gets lost and companies aren’t relying on the strength of their employees’ memories which is neither efficient nor effective.
Issue 2 - They are too difficult and confusing to complete
Completing your review shouldn’t feel like an intelligence test. It is about you and your performance; nothing should be easier and more straightforward. If your appraisal is anything like Jon’s, then there’s clearly a problem.
Moving to a system that is quick, simple and intuitive to use can completely transform the reviews experience for all concerned. Rather than a job to be dreaded or feared, it becomes a rewarding and even enjoyable task that everyone in the business can embrace and see the benefit of.
Issue 3 - They are a painful experience
Mitch is by no means the only employee to consider his appraisal a “#FourWordHorrorStory”. For far too many, appraisals feel like something to be endured, like some sort of torture. This is often based on past negative experiences, where employees’ feel they are being put down, judged or unfairly criticised.
An effective review should feel nothing like this. One of the main gripes that employees have is that the negative feedback they receive comes as a complete surprise. Their manager has failed to mention there is an issue at any time over the past 12 months, until it comes to them sitting down in a formal setting. If managers and their reports have regular performance conversations or check-ins throughout the year, this situation can be avoided. Issues or grievances can be addressed at the time and often resolved much more quickly and effectively, rather than being left to fester or surface as a terrible surprise.
Issue 4 - They are too rigid and over complicated
While it’s useful to have a framework within an organisation for reviews, too often this fails to be flexible enough to embrace the needs of different employees, working in different departments with variety of responsibilities. For example, those working in marketing are likely to have very different working practices and requirements to those in the finance department. Requiring both to complete exactly the same reviews form is unlikely to be successful for either.
Each department and team should have the flexibility to tailor their reviews process to their requirements, considering how they work and who they work with. If an employee works a role that requires only limited contact with other departments in the business, there is little point in forcing them to provide lots of references. Similarly, if employee works with a wide range of colleagues across the business, their review should reflect the full breadth of their role.
Make 2020 the year when reviews are celebrated
Employees want to work in an organisation that challenges them, has a distinct purpose and values their contribution. They want to know that what they are doing is making a difference and that their efforts are appreciated. A performance development process that provides clear objectives, which are assessed regularly is essential. Employees need to be invested in the process and be able to own it. Performance management shouldn’t feel like something that is being done to them against their will.
Leaving everything to a once-a-year meeting in a fast-moving digital world doesn’t make sense. Introducing check-ins between line managers and their reports to discuss performance, deliver timely feedback and address issues of concern as part of the appraisal cycle diffuses the pressure and stress created by an annual appraisal and facilitates much more collaborative and constructive conversations.
Reviews should be empowering, motivating and inspiring. If yours aren’t working as well as they could, get in touch and we can help you transform them into something to celebrate.