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Performance Appraisals: The Dog & Pony Show

Performance appraisals can make even the highest performing employee and top manager cringe in fear.  This once a year mandatory evaluation can easily become an uncomfortable and ineffective exercise, if not done correctly.  Although some organizations and HR professionals believe the performance appraisal is becoming a thing of the past, the process can still be an effective tool in employee performance evaluations. Experts recommend five key elements for successful performance appraisals preparation that begins from both sides of the desk.

Performance Appraisals Goals

Performance appraisals are not meant to be the enemy, but rather a useful guide that eases us through our organizational and developmental goals, step by step.  According to SuccessFactors.com, a software company owned by SAP, performance appraisals have several goals that provide organizations and HR an effective employee management tool. Some of these goals include:

  • Aligning employee’s daily job duties with business objectives – It is very easy for both managers and employees to lose track of year-end goals. Setting a time to review these goals and analyzing an employee’s progress allows managers a way to analyze each employee goal for completion and accuracy.
  • Analyzing accountability in performance expectations – Whether on paper or electronically stored in a HRM system, a good objective check list and rating system allows both managers and employees a good visual tool for quick reference to responsibilities and expectations for individual projects.
  • Documenting and evaluating career planning and compensation based on employee performance – Performance appraisals provide a great way to evaluate possible career paths and compensation from one year to the next.  This includes outlining job responsibilities and training needed for each individual path.
  • Establishing future planning for employee development  – Managers can keep track of their employees’ skills assessments and training needs by listing any skills gaps, training recommendations, and necessary employee improvements that are required to help meet both departmental and organizational goals.
  • Creating documentation for possible disputes or legal issues – Any and all performance and conduct warnings should be documented and discussed during performance appraisals. Warnings should always be followed with a timeframe, discussion of the improvement required, and any consequences they may occur if the employee does not meet these stipulations.  This written evidence may serve as documentation for any potential discrimination lawsuits.

Appraisal Planning Tips for Managers

Preparation is key in many organizational processes, and performance appraisals are no exceptions. The University of California, Riverside recommends careful preparation for successful performance appraisals.  This includes following these five key elements:

  • Review – Managers should carefully review their subordinates’ performance, including completed and incomplete projects or goals, any possible employee’s warnings for performance and conduct, as well as any positive feedback that was given throughout the year.
  • Allow  – It is crucial not to try to cram performance appraisals between meetings or prior engagements.  Managers need to allow enough time for an open discussion with their employees about performance, as well as any concerns or challenges their employees are having as they try to meet their goals.
  • Candid  – Managers should be candid in regards to any concerns they might have about an employee’s performance.  “Sugar coating” criticism does more harm than good.  An employee should be told of any performance shortcomings immediately in order to allow them enough time to fix the problem before it becomes serious. When reporting any negative feedback, managers should always deliver the message objectively without placing blame or making generalizations about an employee.
  • Focus  – Managers need to focus on specific employee behaviors when giving both positive and negative feedback.  This will help employees improve inferior behavior and continue positive behavior. The more specific, the better.
  • Clarify – Managers should be clear and concise when describing both short-term and long-term goals.  This will allow employees a better understanding of what is expected of them and how to achieve success in meeting those goals.  It’s a great idea to tie the employee’s goals to the overall organization’s strategic plan to help create greater employee motivation.

Appraisal Planning Tips for Employees

It is also crucial for employees to plan for their performance appraisal ahead of time so they can better prepare for their performance evaluation.  The five elements below are also applied to employee planning:

  • Review – As an employee, you should review last year’s performance appraisal as it gets closer to the current review process to ensure that you’ve met all goals and training requirements. Be sure to collect any notes or emails as examples of goals you met and exceeded, notes on incidences when you went above and beyond your job duties, and any challenges you need to address with your manager.
  • Allow  – Be sure to select a time slot that provides you enough time for a full discussion with your manager.Avoid scheduling this between meetings or at the end of the day to avoid rushing the discussion.
  • Candid  – Remember to remain candid during your meeting.  Plan to communicate and be specific in addressing any concerns you may have about goals or job duties or any work environment issues that may interfere with your job performance.
  • Focus  – Focus your discussion on specific behaviors.  If you believe you went above and beyond your duties, be sure to cite specific examples, as well as any evidence through email or other forms of documentation.  If there were some challenges you had, be specific and explain how you can turn these challenges into future opportunities for growth.
  • Clarify – Be clear in communicating your future career goals and aspirations, even if that means transferring to a new department or division.  Being honest and open with your manager will allow him or her greater flexibility that will also help you achieve your goals in the long run.

Performance appraisal time shouldn’t be frowned upon, but rather taken in stride as a way of ultimately evaluating employee performance and development.  It’s best for managers to review employee performance on an on going basis, but there is great value in having a formalized performance appraisal system.  Planning for performance appraisals ahead of time is crucial for both managers and employees.  Experts recommend including five elements in their planning – reviewing, allowing for time, being candid, focusing, and clarity – to guarantee an overall successful performance appraisal experience.

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