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Are appraisals a waste of time?

19th September 2012

Before you go through the time-consuming appraisal system, whether you are running them or attending your own, first of all stop and think. Is it worth the effort? Alexander Kjerulf, chief happiness officer at workplace happiness experts Woohoo, says that formal annual performance reviews are a waste of time. And he give three reasons:

1. Everyone hates them. Managers cite performance reviews as one of their most disliked tasks, and employees dislike and distrust the process even more. Psychological studies show that if you’re in a bad mood (and many people are during their review meetings), you’re not open to criticism and suggestions and are less able to plan for constructive career development.

2. They overemphasise the quantifiable. Einstein said “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Many of our employees’ most valuable and important contributions to the workplace do not fit into neat little check boxes.

3. They become an excuse for not evaluating performance the rest of the year. As in “Yes, I know Johnson in accounting is lagging a little and seems dissatisfied, but his performance review is coming up in four months – we’ll handle it then.” If you don’t give your employees regular, specific, timely, and relevant feedback (good and bad), you should not be a manager at all.

Kjerulf believes appraisals are often actively harmful to motivation and happiness at work. He offers an alternative: “Instead, ensure that all employees receive constant feedback and appreciation so that they know at any given time what they do well and what to improve.”

Not surprisingly, PRCA director of training and professional development Jessica Lobendhan, is quick to disagree: “As the manager of a busy department I find regular staff appraisals extremely important. It’s the opportunity for better understanding my staff; talking about their career development; increasing familiarity; and discussing any personal and professional issues they may have.”

Lobendhan says it is imperative to prepare and allow plenty of time for discussion. She adds that it you must then act positively after the meeting: “Throughout the appraisal I always consider what action points I can take away, and how I can use them for both their and my professional development.”

Other tips to help your appraisal go smoothly come from CIPR CEO Jane Wilson, who says one of the most important aims of an appraisal is to assess strengths, weaknesses, successes and areas of improvement of key skills, which these days range from copywriting to podcasting.

Wilson believes that appraisals are vital because they help you to measure how individuals and the whole organisation are functioning. It is also key for the delivery of the business plan at all levels: “Issues such as personal development, skills and career management are all important, but one of the most important aspects of the appraisal is that it provides clear alignment between the business plan at the most senior level of the business and the individual objectives of those working at the most junior level.”

Six tips for making an appraisal run smoothly

Elena Davidson, client services director at marketing and PR specialists Liberty Comms, lists key elements of appraisals:

1. Communication – many appraisal systems are introduced without spelling out the benefits which means people participate half-heartedly because they are forced to.

2. Training – Most managers are not trained in conducting appraisal interviews. As a result, almost everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. The appraisees don't get the motivating feedback necessary to improve; the appraisers don’t learn to manage better; and the company doesn't get the data it needs to make positive changes.

3. Job descriptions – without adequate job descriptions there is no sound starting point for the appraisal and there is no way of measuring improved performance.

4. 360-degree feedback – without gathering feedback both from above and below it is impossible to get a rounded picture of a person’s performance.

5. Time – people don’t prioritise the development of their staff and push appraisal meetings back. It’s easily done especially in a PR agency where client commitments often take precedent.

6. Ongoing improvement – You should not ignore people’s development until appraisal times. For an appraisal system to be effective a person’s performance should be appraised more regularly than once a year, even if it is done in a more informal way.

Written by Daney Parker


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