Over the last couple of years there’s been a lot of debate about scrapping the annual appraisal. In fact, the mere word almost always conjures up negative connotations. Shoulders sag, people sigh. Yet progression, development and communication are key drivers for today’s employee. And attracting, engaging, developing and retaining great people is a priority for any business. It’s therefore vital to make sure the right dialogue is happening, with the right frequency, in a way that creates energy and enthusiasm – no more negatives.
How the annual appraisal earned its sad reputation
In the past, the annual appraisal concentrated largely on performance management and, for many, was an inadequately primed, backwards-looking session focusing on events that happened over many months. People worried about what would come up, going apprehensively into appraisal meetings with little idea what to expect. More often than not, their trepidations were realised. The annual appraisal was, at its best a combination of ‘how you’ve been doing, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and what could we do better’. However, even those who enjoyed positive experiences were often later disappointed when the agreed actions didn’t happen and / or they never did receive those follow up notes. Meanwhile, someone, somewhere was trying to keep track of who’d done what and collate outcomes onto a spreadsheet.
Enter the third industrial revolution; technology to transform people’s lives immeasurably. On the one hand, what you did even a month ago is now old news. On the other, with fast and furious information flow, there comes transparency. People have realised that they don’t have to ‘put up and shut up’; they have voices, they have choices, they expect to be treated respectfully within adult-to-adult relationships, they expect a vision of the future – their future as well as a clear vision of what the organisation stands for. Today’s employee will both welcome and expect an honest two-way discussion in the context of the business and the future plans and aspirations of both.
What to do instead
For a start, let’s banish the term appraisal from the business world (other than in the context of a technical assessment such as calculating the value of a building and the like). There are two separate subjects to be addressed, performance improvement (let’s also ban ‘performance management’ while we’re at it) and career planning.
Of course, dialogue around performance and exchanging feedback should be an ongoing part of everyday business life. Good leaders do it anyway though, for consistency, systems should be put in place to make sure it happens. People should have the means to request a one to one when they feel they need one – it works both ways. It’s not necessary to record everything though there will be times when keeping a record is helpful – this needs to be easy and quick. There’s no set formula for what you should measure (so stop looking for templates) since this is inextricably linked to what each distinct organisation wants to achieve. It has to support your business plan, so you might look at metrics around goals, behaviours, values, KPIs and so on – start with the end in mind. Keep it simple, measuring only what matters, with clear indicators of success. People need to know what excellent ‘looks like’.
Business pressures and human nature will dictate that ongoing review sessions will end up being be mostly about the ‘work stuff’; practical aspects, performance and feedback. Yet in our fast-moving, volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex world, where change is the norm, to engage and retain talented people, businesses must fully and transparently manage aspirations. It’s surely a business priority to help people develop and progress towards their potential and expectations. Therefore, for the future focused career stuff, it’s more necessary than ever to set aside time for a proper, off job, big-picture career and development discussion at least once a year, preferably twice. Even if people are perfectly happy as they are, it’s important to check that’s still the case. Digital systems with planning options that appear only to those who request them are the solution here.
It’s a business imperative to find easy ways to facilitate an employee driven, forward-focused periodic review to back up ongoing feedback (simply documented as appropriate). The focus will therefore evolve from backward looking, small-picture, ‘performance management’ to forward-focused, big-picture career planning. It’s in the individual’s interest to drive this – it’s your job to make sure the tools are in place to make it simple, accessible, joined up, enjoyable (yes) and continuous.
For many organisations, the system has already changed and they’re seeing tangible results. Many others are still struggling to know where to start with what has become a fundamental priority for any business that wants to harness the very real power of its people.
If you only do three things:
- Make sure both performance improvement (ongoing) and career dialogue (periodic) are covered
- Use technology to make the process an easy and self-managing one – move from ‘top down’ to ‘bottom up’ ensuring leaders at all levels are on board and support this as a business priority, it’s not an ‘HR initiative’
- Make sure it’s is easy to access, user-friendly and, most importantly, makes a tangible difference to you, your organisation and the people within it
CASE STUDY: Firmdale Hotels
Firmdale transformed their communications, performance and career planning process resulting in…
- Multiple high-profile award wins including the 2017 Best Employer Catey, which resulted in a 51% increase in unsolicited recruitment applications
- Empowered and engaged employees in driving their own progress, increasing the completion of one to one reviews from 15% to 81%
- Increased employee retention rates by 76%
- Increased internal promotions from 5% to 28.5%
- Access to professional development improved by 81.5% impacting knowledge, skills and team commitment