Do appraisals still work?

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, staff appraisals are part of most people’s working lives in PR. Andy Sommer, communications and PR manager at insurance company esure, is firmly in favour of them, as long as there is a solid appraisal process in place.

He describes the types of appraisal system that he finds are the most effective: “I believe that appraisals work best when there are multiple touch points throughout the year to assess and support development of staff on a regular basis. In the past, I’ve seen success when there is an annual appraisal, a half-year assessment interspersed with quarterly check-ins to ensure a continual conversation is happening throughout the year.”

“Generally, appraisals should include not just feedback from manager to employee, but also capture the employee’s perspective as well. I’ve always favoured a 360-degree approach that engages team members’ feedback as well as from other stakeholders the member of staff may work with on a regular basis. Finally, targets set during appraisals should be measurable and not up to interpretation.”

Falling into the “loathe ‘em” category, is Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, who says: “Is there anything worse or more contrived than the farce that is the annual appraisal?”

Turton says one reason he hates appraisals is because the person being appraised cannot be honest: “The problem is that you can never say what’s on your mind. If you were to say that you have been going through a rough patch with a partner you might be deemed ‘unstable’ and not fit for promotion – despite the fact that you have successfully run 10 key accounts single-handedly because of the recruitment freeze. Neither can you say anything negative about your job for fear of being side-lined as you would be seen to be clearly off-message.”

“But, the person performing the appraisal has carte blanche to say whatever they like about YOU. Watch out, though, because they will dress any criticism up as an inverse compliment, so you come out of the meeting thinking that you’re doing a great job and heading for the boardroom. Well, you may be headed to the boardroom, but to collect your P45!”

Turton believes that an appraisal system is not needed because, “if you are genuinely rubbish at what you do then your colleagues will force you out; equally, if you’re doing a great job then you ought to get recognised.”

In his agency, appraisals are not an issue, as Turton explains: “We don’t employ people full-time, preferring the flexibility of freelance staff, which suits all parties very well. But, if we did employ someone, then I can guarantee that there would be no annual appraisal.”

Case study

Philip Jones, director at PR agency Maxim, describes his agency’s approach to appraisals: “Staff appraisals are as much about looking to the future as they are about reviewing progress. We use them as a way to talk about the bigger picture and where the individual fits within the agency.”

“We hold one-to-one meetings with all members of staff twice a year. Salaries are only discussed on one occasion which means that employees are given the freedom to raise any issues they may have without the fear of it affecting a possible wage increase.”

“That said, if anyone has a problem we encourage them to raise it straightaway rather than letting it fester. Appraisals should not be the only opportunity that staff have to provide feedback or for employers to highlight success or failure.”

“It is also important that it does not become a tick-box exercise, but rather a genuine exchange of information.”

“Last, it is always a good idea to record what has been said which we do by way of a follow-up letter. This is then used as a starting point when we next meet to check that goals have been achieved and issues addressed.”  

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