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Nik Penhale Smith

Effectory International

Online and Content Marketing specialist , HR Author & LinkedIn publisher

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A ‘no manager’-alternative to yearly appraisals


I used to dread having my yearly appraisal. Looking back on them, I’m struggling to remember an appraisal that I walked out of having either developed or learnt something new about myself. It always seemed to me that it was more of a game as to who was having the least fun; me or my manager.

A few years ago, when I started working at Effectory International one of the first things I enquired about was how appraisals were done. I was grateful to hear that no managers means that yearly appraisals don’t exist and that instead, a continuous feedback system is in place.

The feedback system

Within the company, employees work in multidisciplinary teams. Value is placed on autonomy and entrepreneurship. Special attention is paid to the balance between what employees add and extract from the company, and we use a feedback system for our appraisals.

Three times a year, we are required to invite a minimum of 7 of our colleagues to give us feedback. Results from each feedback round are delivered in report form to us every four months, and each feedback round is open for around a month before the closing date. The colleagues that we invite tend to be those we work closest with, but can also include colleagues that we’ve worked with on specific projects.  As a guideline, we’re advised to be as specific as possible with our request for feedback.

Within the feedback system we are invited to give open answered responses for each colleague, primarily focusing on what you find positive in the person, and what you think the person could improve. To make the process effective, we are given regular training and advice on how to give and receive feedback. So that the appraisals are measurable, we are required to grade colleagues on three aspects: workmanship, collaboration and added value.

Once completed, the feedback is then collated and our individual reports are produced. The open ended feedback from colleagues is visible and available for us to read, and there are scores included. Our scores are made up of both peer to peer feedback and customer feedback, so that our whole work environment is integrated into each report. Based on the average score, we can then gauge how well we are performing and whether or not we are performing to the expectations of our colleagues.

Issues with appraising colleagues

I think the first thing that has to be acknowledged is that receiving such transparent feedback from multiple people has an impact. The first set of feedback I ever received was so confronting and took me so far out of my comfort zone that it brought me to tears.

The purpose of the feedback is not designed to be emotionally confronting, but is instead designed to create direct communication. Despite the best intentions, there is an acknowledgement from employees of the impact that the system can have on newer employees and every effort is made to support them.

Alongside support, we discuss the feedback within specially planned team meetings and we are actively encouraged to discuss the comments with the appropriate individuals. One of the key functions of this is to help ensure that any tension is quickly solved and put to bed. Furthermore there’s a general consensus that if feedback is useful, do something with it, if you don’t agree then discuss it and if you don’t recognise, feel free to dismiss it.

Over the last few years I’ve learnt to deal with such honest feedback and have learned a lot from the process. As a system it has helped me grow. Yet it only works if people treat it seriously and are mature in the way they approach it. From the moment I started, it was clear just how strong the culture of feedback is and how embedded it is within the company. The directors are fully supportive of the system and everyone understands that the system doesn’t work if you abuse it.

When colleagues join, it’s made clear that the system is taken very seriously and this helps set a precedent for how the system is used. Results are always shared within a team, which means that any clear abuse is quickly spotted and dealt with. Furthermore, as our yearly feedback results are the basis of any salary increases or promotions, employees recognise the need for fair appraisals.  

Having said all of this, the system is not perfect. In recognition of this every employee is invited to discuss the system, with an emphasis on what can be improved. The ideas and suggestions are used as a source for innovation, thus creating a situation whereby the feedback system is continually developed by the people that use it.

Outside of the system itself, one precondition for good feedback is a high level of trust and maturity between colleagues and within teams. Senior employees (including the directors) make sure to keep an oversight of each team so that when trust and honest issues arrive, it can be brought to the team’s attention. As an organisation we have a partnership with a trainer that specialises in team dynamics (including trust) and when needed, she comes in to help teams create a work environment where honest feedback is well received.

Feedback tips

Give concrete examples: Especially when informing people of behaviour or things to work on, concrete examples turn feedback from something abstract to something recognisable.

Don’t shy away from it: It’s easy to run away from direct feedback, however from personal experience the best results come from when you discuss it, no matter how uncomfortable it feels!

Take your time: Too often there’s a temptation to leave it until the last minute, but taking time to give good feedback is worthwhile.

Refer back to previous feedback: It really helps to hear how you’ve acted upon previous suggestions, and further shows the feedback was sincere.

Author Profile Picture
Nik Penhale Smith

Online and Content Marketing specialist , HR Author & LinkedIn publisher

Read more from Nik Penhale Smith

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