At the end of every performance cycle, usually at the end of the calendar year, most organizations carry out the annual “ritual” of performance appraisals. Unfortunately, many employees and managers dread the appraisal exercise, because in many cases it leads to bruised egos, broken hearts, and dashed dreams – a concept we styled as “Appraisals with Tears”
Edward E. Lawler III of the University of Southern California and his colleagues provided empirical data that supports the need for improvements in the overall performance management system so that managers and their teams can conduct “appraisals without tears” that will lead to the goals that the organization desires (Lawler, et al, Compensation & Benefits Review, 2012)
Drawing on their research, and applying it to a number of organizations over the last decade, we have found that there are four areas of practice to which human resources managers and organizational leaders should pay more attention – 1) improving managers’ understanding of the importance of performance appraisals; 2) co-creating strategy aligned performance measures; 3) building systems to track performance results all year round; and 4) building the capacity of managers to “coach” their employees during appraisals. Let’s explore the importance of performance appraisals, first.
If done properly, appraisals can be a very positive developmental tool, rather than the negative energy that it seems to create in most organizations. If you improve the effectiveness of appraisals, you can create a less hostile and more psychologically safe workplace.
Secondly, in the workplace today that is largely driven by performance, it is absolutely important that we get appraisals right. If appraisals are not done properly, you could easily destroy people’s careers with the wrong ratings and feedback. In a performance-driven organization, we must do appraisals properly, because they determine EVERYTHING!
In addition, one of the outcomes of a good system of appraisal is feedback – what we consider the BREAKFAST of champions. If your appraisals are conducted effectively, employees and managers will receive the feedback that they need to succeed.
Appraisals also drive the decisions that are taken regarding employees’ remuneration and rewards. They should be as objective, and evidence based as possible and should be devoid of contest or acrimony so that the decisions about reward and remuneration that arise from them can stand the test of time.
Finally, but not exhaustively, appraisal outcomes are important in decisions about the exit of employees, so it is important that the due process is followed to avoid some of the risks that may be associated with terminating employees for poor performance. Carrying out the appraisal properly and documenting outcomes protects employers from potential litigation.
Building on the clearer understanding of the importance of performance appraisals that we have explored thus far, let’s take time to look at the remaining three ingredients.
Performance goals should be co-created by managers and their team members with clear rubrics and standards to measure performance. A case study of Stanbic IBTC Bank, Nigeria (a member of the largest Banking group in Africa) (Barrow, O, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010) demonstrated the impact of performance contracting clinics as an intervention in improving goal setting and appraisal outcomes. When goals are co-created in these coaching-styled clinics and are S.M.A.R.T – specific, measurable, aligned, relevant and timebound, appraisals are less subjective and more likely to be without tears.
If they are not co-created and S.M.A.R.T, then your appraisals are going to be subjective and difficult to conduct. Unfortunately, too many managers and professionals struggle to develop S.M.A.R.T goals and need capacity building in this regard. Performance contracting clinics could bridge some of these capacity gaps and empower employees to own their performance goals.
Also, we need to ensure that there is documentary evidence to support the results associated with all of the S.M.A.R.T goals. Preferably, this evidence should be independently kept and accessible to all – including the employees on an on-going basis. Some organizations and teams use spreadsheets to track performance and others use sophisticated electronic dashboards, which are much more effective.
When there is documentary evidence, the recency bias is eliminated since the appraisal is now evidence-based. In addition, the differences between the employee’s self-appraisal and the manager’s appraisal scores will be eliminated.
Finally, but not exhaustively, managers are encouraged to transform their appraisal sessions into a coaching conversation that challenges the employee to take ownership for their appraisal outcomes and drive their performance improvement.
Managers should be trained to become “Coaches” and to use the powerful coaching protocols of exploring, questioning, listening and action planning to help their colleagues take ownership for appraisal outcomes and performance improvements.
Overall, it is clear that performance appraisals, when done properly remain a powerful tool for talent management and driving the success of our organizations. Managers and professionals need to be aware of the importance and impact that their appraisals have on their people and the organization, and they need to build the capacity to co-create performance goals that are S.M.A.R.T; develop systems and dashboards for keeping the evidence of performance; and using the powerful language of coaching in their appraisal discussions.