How to get the most from a staff appraisal

The cold wet weather of winter persists, and much of the promising expectations for the new year have ebbed away.

However, as we explored in the last article, it is also the time of year to take stock of the business, assess performance and make change.

For many businesses now is the best time to hold staff appraisals. These are incredibly important exercises to allow employees to understand their role and what is expected of them, while employers can set targets and assess progress.

Unfortunately appraisals are often sub-standard and do not deliver the value they should. It is all too easy for staff reviews to become a box ticking, procedural exercise because either the manager, employee – or both – do not believe in the benefits from holding these assessments.

Yet if one accepts that that hiring and retaining good staff is one of the biggest challenges facing business owners, then mastering the employee appraisal can ease a lot of unnecessary pressure.

Holding regular, effective appraisals highlights any problems as they arise and ensures these are dealt with before they become business critical.

What make a good appraisal?

Appraisals need to be held regularly. For new staff, or where the role is complex or difficulties already exist, these should be held as often as every six months. For most staff, however, an annual review is sufficient.

The starting point is to have a clear job description that both employer and employee agree upon. As we explored in an earlier article, in so many cases, employees do not know what is expected of them because the role was never made clear. Further, it is likely that the job has evolved over the years and both parties need to revisit the description and ensure expectations are clear.

The appraisal should then hear qualitative feedback from the employee so managers can understand their employees’ personal experiences.

Next the manager needs to review the SMART objectives set in the previous year. These are the standard, measurable achievable, realistic and targeted goals which both parties agreed to meet in the preceding 12 months. If any goals have been missed the manager must learn why and either change these objectives to something more achievable, or set more frequent points at which to review the employee’s progress.

Finally, new SMART goals for the next 12 months should be agreed.

There is a growing trend in business to conduct 360 appraisals where direct reports assess their manager to give a more holistic view of everyone’s performance. These can be valuable but only if they allow for honesty. Too often, 360 appraisals fall foul of people’s’ fear of offending or saying the wrong thing, particularly to someone in senior management. An alternative approach is to use a score card which allows both parties to rate each other and themselves out of ten across a range of areas including time keeping, professionalism, communication and so on. Where the two scores are out of kilter, the manager can make moves to improve process and achieve better outcomes.

It is all too easy to allow appraisals to become procedural, but these exercises offer an important insight into how employers are working. Business owners should see reviews as a valuable means of keeping in touch with staff and ensuring issues are nipped in the bud before they take root.

Five steps for an effective appraisal

  1. Hold appraisals regularly at the start of every year
  2. Ensure the job description is clear and understood
  3. Allow time for the employee to provide personal feedback
  4. Assess past performance against standard, measurable achievable realistic and targeted goals
  5. Set new goals for the next 12 months and agree the date that these will be assessed



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