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Appraisals don’t work: Regular ‘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 distil these into ‘5 top tips’... let me know if I’ve ‘hit the mark’:

1.       Firstly – 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 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.       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… 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 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!

Oscar Wilde wrote, "Sorry to write such a long letter: I didn't have time to write a shorter one". 

Sorry this bogg goes on a bit… something I’m passionate about… let me now where to ‘cut out the fluff’ for the future!

6 Responses

  1. Appraisal don’t work…

     Hi Martin or should I say "What bout ye?" Ah yes we can teach people a thing or two about language. Great blogg excellent link between appraisals and game of poker. I have just finished running a year long modular ILM course with a certain well known organisation (whom shall remain nameless for this forum). Everyone of the managers on the course without fail were critical of their organisation’s appraisal system in their workbased assignement on managing performance – all would have agreed 100% with your comments. So well done for raising the issue and lets hear more…..

    Ian McMaster
    BRC Partnership

  2. Achievable or Agreed

    Hello Martin.

    Just a quick comment, I thought I was the only person who uses "agreed "rather than "achievable" when negotiating SMART objectives.  How refreshing to find out how wrong I am.

    I have heard the others use "relevant" (to the business) as opposed to "realistic" to differentiate between the A & R; however I feel that realistic can be both for the business and the person who takes on the target; so back to A for "achievable".

    By the way, I (and our company) believe that an appraisal is a working document, all emloyees are encouraged to revisit their resulting action plan during the year and I prompt Managers when they have team members who have target dates that fall during the year. And yes, issues should not be left to the appraisal, but discussed as they arise; the sound "praise" is in there for a reason!

    Thanks for reading this.


  3. Bout Ye

    Lol – thanks for the feedback! 🙂 It’s amazing how many organisations’ performance review systems are not delivering for either the organisation or the individual. I think you’ve just given me the inspiration for my next blog post… Watch this space. Cheers Martin

  4. Thanks Hazel

    Hiya Hazel – great to know we’re both of the same mind on the AGREED bit! Great suggestions on keeping a ‘rolling review’ of objectives and corresponding action plan! Cheers Martin

  5. SMARTER objectives

    how about this one then:





    Time bound



  6. Smarter rocks!

    Cheers Liz – love the SMARTER approach… really takes it to the next level!

    Ethical might require some explaination though – why that as opposed to: empowering, engaging, exciting or even expiditious?

    I think I might know where you’re going with this and would love to hear your response! 🙂




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