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Appraisals don’t work…’catch-ups’ do!

Do you dread your annual performance appraisal? Is it stressful for you? Do you find that you have to spend time gathering evidence to prove your worth? Does your annual performance appraisal add or detract from your relationship with your line manager?

Ok – a lot of questions to start off with, but they’re the sort of questions that I’ve asked over the years that have lead me to believe that annual performance appraisals DO NOT WORK! This might be controversial to some managers out there, but the reality is that employees generally feel that annual performance appraisals are dated, promote an adversarial mindset and deliver little added value, if anything!

Annual performance appraisals often become a ‘poker game’ with line managers encouraging their direct reports to ‘lay their cards on the table’ first so they can identify weaknesses and focus upon what actions are required in order to improve performance… now I’m not a betting guy, but I would wager that that approach ain’t doing much for improved morale or employee relations.

So what can you do as a line manager to keep your team motivated, improve performance and support your people to unleash their potential? Here’s a few thoughts based on the feedback I’ve had from some really exceptional managers and true leaders from public, private and not-for-profit organisations. I’ve tried to distill these into ‘5 top tips’… let me know if I’ve ‘hit the mark’:

1. Mindset

Get out of the ‘annual appraisal mindset’. Managing performance is all about the support, guidance and direction you give people on a day-to-day basis. If you don’t deal with performance issues when they arise, you’re failing yourself, your people and your organisation. If you ‘save up’ issues for discussion at the annual performance appraisal and don’t deal with these as they arise, you’re taking the wrong approach.

2. Understand YOUR quarterly targets

Understand YOUR quarterly targets and meet with your people one-to-one to discuss these. Set aside uninterrupted time to share the priorities that you need them to focus upon over the next quarter. What are the ‘big hits’ for the business? What do they need to deliver to ensure they achieve for the team and the organisation? Quarterly one-to-ones (one-on-ones if you’re from the States) are alternatively called ‘job-chats’. I have come to call these ‘catch-ups’ with my team – we have a pretty relaxed but structured chat about what the priorities are for their individual areas and what support I need to provide them to help them deliver these. It’s creates a supportive environment and it works! Our organisation was the first organisation in sector to achieve the Investors in People Standard under the ‘new choices’ approach to assessment.

3. Outcomes of performance

Ensure you agree unambiguous outcomes of performance with the individuals that report to you. Make these tangible. Most managers don’t ‘get’ the acronym SMART, they struggle to come to terms with:

  • Specific outcomes – no generalized ‘waffle’
  • That are Measureable (they’re either met or they are not)
  • AGREED (i.e. real ownership from the person who will deliver them). Ok, I know the generally accepted use of the A in the acronym is for ACHIEVABLE, but I’m a thick mick (as my post nominals from the Institute of Consultancy confirm, a ‘FIC MIC’ Use a London accent to make this work!) who doesn’t understand the difference between ACHIEVEABLE and the next requirement (REALISTIC)… they’re both one and the same to me! J
  • Realistic – stretching yet do-able.
  • Time-bound – you have a definite date that these should be accomplished by.


4. Monitor progress…

Monitor progress… but do it differently; catch your people doing things right! The truly great managers and leaders I speak with regularly make sure they provide recognition, encouragement and praise. These folks have it sussed – they’ve set SMART objectives and don’t need to ‘sweat the detail’. They don’t have a ‘policing’ role or focus on the minutia of what’s not perfect… they direct their attention towards the ‘big hits’ for the business and make sure they recognise and emphasise how their people make positive progress.

5. Recognize achievement

Recognize achievement and celebrate success. I often ask employees when their line manager last thanked them for their input and contribution. The response is always enlightening; it either confirms that there is no culture of recognition or verbal thanks within the organisation, or clearly shows that people’s potential is not being unleashed!

Have you any tips on how to manage performance in the workplace?

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