5 Ways to Take the Dread out of the Dreaded Performance Appraisal

Posted on January 5, 2012.

It’s that time of year again. Time to judge the people that work for you. Feels a little like death by 1,000 cuts, doesn’t it? Despite a recent WSJ article, suggesting the annual appraisal is losing steam, only 1% of companies have scrapped them.  Most managers likely feel as Edward Deming did in 1986 when he categorized the annual appraisal as one of the “seven deadly diseases.” Let’s face it, are they really effective at improving performance? Not according to the WSJ article. So why are companies still requiring them and how can we make them more effective?

In the Globoforce Workforce September 2011 report  they discovered that without some kind of required evaluation process, only 39% of the workers received any feedback at all.  So if you want to help reverse these percentages, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Put real time feedback on your to do list every day.   As we discussed in our blog on feedback loops, you can’t change behavior when your suggestions for improvement come months after the observed behavior.  Additionally, providing delayed positive feedback and recognition will not reinforce great behavior. Instead of “checking emails” for 4 hours or more a day, take some time to look at what the people around you are doing and offer constructive feedback.
  2. Keep track of performance throughout the year.  The problem with annual or semi annual appraisals is that you are likely to document only what you remember from the last 30 or 60 days.  In one of my less stellar performances, I did exactly that because I was too pressed for time to put together a meaningful document.  My employee came to the meeting with two pages of his accomplishments over the year. I had noted one or two things. Lesson learned. Set up an online file for each employee and when you’ve delivered the feedback from step 1, make a note of it and track the changes in behavior.
  3. Establish and communicate quantifiable goals. In the first part of the year, every employee should know what’s expected. If you don’t have a scorecard that updates every month, then build something they can see every quarter.  If people know where they stand against goals throughout the year, you eliminate any surprises and the fear that often goes hand in hand with the appraisal process.
  4. Keep it simple.  If at all possible, keep the document you’re using simple. We like the Start-Stop-Continue form.  Filling out a multi-page document to record performance is a waste of time. If you’ve establish measurable goals in step 3, then this form can be used to help your employee leverage their strengths, improve their weaknesses or use it to track social goals you may have established. If HR or your boss insists you use “The Appraisal” document, then us this form to keep track of the feedback you’ve been providing throughout the year.  Transferring it to the corporate required form will become a snap.
  5. Make the Performance Appraisal meeting about them. Yes, it was a pain to track all the information and complete the documents, but if you’ve followed the steps above, the actual meeting should be something your employee wants.  They know where they stand because you’ve provided feedback and goal tracking throughout the year. They know there will be no surprises. It’s their one opportunity to discuss their career- where they want to go and how they can get there. You don’t need to spend time on “judging” or appraising as you’ve done that all year long.

In an ideal world, teams would come together at the end of every project or every sale and discuss what went well and what could have been done better.  Results are everything and the impact one person's performance has against those results is all that matters.  But until then, most of us have to deal with the bureaucracy of the annual performance appraisal, so try to take it off the list of Deming’s seven deadly diseases.