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Spencer Holmes

Project Four Consulting Ltd


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HowNOT2 do Appraisals


“You’re a 4!”   For many, appraisals are approaching.   We delve into the bad to find the good.

Recently the team members here have all been involved in supporting a variety of organisations, large and small, in their end of year appraisal exercises. In our video you’ll see Mike (the manager) committing the gruesome “standard distribution” crime where Spencer (appraisee) is given a grading based on nothing more than a requirement to have things fit within a bell curve.

Of course, the practice of only having a finite number of gold stars to hand out is only one appraisal crime. The “HowNOT2” series crams in real “gaffes” that we have seen, heard of and even committed over our years in management “development”. Arguably, performance appraisal was the easiest film to make so far. Mike the manager is late, unprepared and utterly disinterested, (and modeled on someone we know and love).

The “HowNOT2”  appraisal video was originally put together as a joke. 1 month and 50,000 hits later we realised we were not alone. Comments flew in like “that’s my appraisal” and “mine’s even worse”. What the heck is going on out there? Why are so many people colluding in an antiquated system that apparently NO-ONE enjoys!??

Originally designed by clinical psychologists, (says Peter Drucker, not us!), appraisals were based on weeding out the undesirables or curing the sick. These days the process involves much more than that, but is it fit for purpose?

Last year Josh Bersin in a thought-provoking article in Forbes lists large firms who have done away with appraisals altogether.

However we don’t endorse the “baby with bathwater” approach. After all, conversations about performance and development should be central to any healthy management culture; but they have to be effective.  From our observations of the truly ghastly, we certainly think some advice around good practice would include:

o   The appraiser demonstrating genuine belief in the process (rare)

o   The appraiser should be familiar and fluent with whatever process exists, This could even include a practice or two before the real thing

o   The appraiser should be trained to use techniques like open questioning and “active” listening to encourage the appraisee to talk freely about their work, strengths and challenges.  We are staggered by the high percentage of “closed” questions  that are used:  Does that sound OK?...Does that make sense?...Do you have any issues?...Everything’s basically fine, right?” etc

o   Simple stuff like ensuring there is enough time and a good location free from interruptions

o   Both parties arriving having done their preparation

o   Using evidence to generate a performance level and not manipulating the process to fit people into a pre-set scoreboard

o   Ensuring there are no surprises for the appraisee, this should not be the first time this year that they have discussed performance with their manager

o   Being clear about “what next” and sharing accountability for follow-up tasks

We could go on!

Please drop us a line with your worst experiences of appraisals. Possibly by reveling in each other’s shared pain we can actually take out some useful learning for next time…(and have a good laugh along the way). We’ll give away a free video and “gaffe guide” to the story-teller who tops our cringe-ometer

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Spencer Holmes


Read more from Spencer Holmes

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