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Why annual appraisals no longer work

The problem with annual reviews is that waiting for a whole year before you address career issues is simply too long. Tara Williams, HR manager at PR firm Whiteoaks International, explains why the agency has done away with annual reviews: “We think an annual appraisal can’t possibly be regular enough for people managers and their direct reports to discuss meaningful feedback and set goals on such an infrequent basis. Instead, our approach is to create a review structure where performance successes and improvement areas can be regularly recapped to ensure employees are supported to achieve and successes are recognised in a more timely way.”

In complete agreement that a year is too long to wait is Lisa Carr, director at PR firm Lansons, although she still believes annual assessments have their place too: “We still have annual performance and salary reviews here at Lansons, and then shorter reviews during the Christmas period. It’s so important for professional development at all levels. I would also argue that one annual review isn’t enough, 12 months is a long time to go to address any key points or issues that need to be tackled, this is why our December catch-ups work so well.”

Below, Williams and Carr, along with other agency HR chiefs, discuss ways to better monitor, and encourage, staff performance.  

Tips for better appraisals

Tailor regular meetings to the individual says Tara Williams from Whiteoaks: “We replaced annual reviews with six-monthly reviews and shorter, quarterly ‘touch point’ meetings. To make both of these more meaningful, we’ve recently introduced a competency framework, unique to each individual role that we have, which is designed to increase clarity around performance expectations and give everyone confidence in their ability to achieve. The framework is closely aligned with each job description to realistically reflect the needs of the job and the behaviours we look for, so in this way the performance reviews also support individual development plans, help with engagement and input into pay decisions. Along with regular weekly one-to-ones between employee and manager, this combination of reviews has been positively received by the team and helps support management decisions.”

Give everyone their own career guru says Lisa Carr from Lansons: “Another way our people are supported throughout the year is by having a ‘career manager’, this means there are regular catch-ups to keep everyone on track.” However, Carr adds: “They have to work for everyone, there is just no point going in to your review without a plan of action or knowing what you want to get out of it, what questions you want to answer. Making sure you get the most out of it has to be the key point, it’s not just there for protocol.”

Take time over each review, and be honest says Leah Coglin, head of resources at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry: “We use annual reviews at the Lorries – they’re still a great tool for keeping track of where people are at, if they’re enjoying their role and how they see themselves growing within the business.

“They’re also useful for staff retention as they give employees a clear idea of where they’re headed over the next 12 months and how they fit into the bigger picture as a whole. And if there are any issues it gives us the opportunity to face them head-on and nip them in the bud rather than allow them to fester. Obviously, it's important not to just sit down once a year! We also build in quarterly meetings to check in on objectives, alongside more informal catch-ups.

“To get the best out of your annual review I’d say honesty is the best policy. Your manager isn’t a mind reader so tell them what you’re thinking!”

Schedule reviews properly and use tools to help you says Sandy Middleton, senior HR manager at communications agency Racepoint Global: “Removing the obligation to hold performance reviews won’t miraculously result in regular, robust one-to-one meetings where rich feedback and achievements are discussed in detail. With the best will in the world, one-to-ones get delayed or cancelled, or end up being a discussion about next week’s priority list rather than focusing on development, giving constructive feedback, and celebrating successes. The day job is always top priority – meeting client expectations and hitting targets trumps line management responsibilities every time which means performance assessments don’t happen.

“What’s the solution? Offer an online tool that’s easy to use. Encourage managers and employees to take notes of highs and lows regularly, making it easier to summarise performance in preparation for review meetings. Ensure your leaders are openly supportive of your review process so that staff see there is true value in investing in their reviews. It’s worth it.”

Engage employees and recognise achievements says Emma Laye, head of talent and development, at agency Beattie Communications: “We hold annual reviews for all staff at Beattie. They are great for setting out plans for career progress for the year ahead, but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all.  

“Those yearly meetings are important for giving our people formal feedback on performance to improve motivation and engagement, and encourage open and honest conversations.  

“But when it comes to recognising achievements and growing abilities, we do that all year round with coaching sessions, on-the-spot Wow Awards for delighting clients, and our Employee of the Month programme.  

“By keeping our team continually engaged in their own professional development and Beattie’s development, we – and our clients – benefit from having better skilled and more motivated PROs, marketers, designers and developers.”

 There is only one thing worse than having just one review a year, and that’s not having any type of review at all. If your company doesn’t give you any feedback on how you are performing, or allow you the chance to offer feedback either, you are likely to feel overlooked, ignored and ready to move on to another company that actually shows an interest in you.

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