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Colborn’s Corner: How am I doing?

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Quentin Colborn
Performance appraisals are a bit like motherhood and apple pie after all who could object to them? Well I for one certainly don’t but why do we do them and are they all they are cracked up to be?


Of course the textbook answer as to why we do appraisals revolves around the twin issues of ensuring that individuals are contributing to organisational goals, while at the same time providing individuals with the necessary feedback to ensure they know how they are regarded by the employer, identifying any necessary development needs.

Most organisations will conduct appraisals annually, a few who are more enlightened will do so six monthly. But is this good enough in today’s world? In the organisations I support life changes pretty quickly and any objectives set at the outset of the year are redundant half way through.

How many job descriptions remain accurate during the course of a year? I would suggest that if job descriptions and objectives don’t change over the course of time, the employer is going nowhere fast and failing to respond to the world outside that is changing all too rapidly.

So how do we go about measuring performance in a meaningful way in a world like this? Firstly, there has to be a clear understanding as to what the role is there for. Put another way, what would happen if the role wasn’t there? Would customers suffer? Would the functioning of the organisation be fundamentally impaired? Would informed decision making stop?

Secondly, performance has to look at tangibles – i.e. it has to be looking at true measurables. Sometimes this is a challenge – possibly mostly within the public sector. I may be showing my ignorance, but do Police Officers and teachers have performance appraisals? If not, why not? Yes, for jobs like these measurables may be hard to find, but if you can’t can you really tell how someone is doing?

But what of appraisals in a changing world? Could one suggestion be to review objectives and key responsibilities on a quarterly basis – or would this generate too much administration and paperwork? How about getting employees to set their own objectives within the context of an overall job purpose?

There have been many occasions when I have been involved in reviewing appraisal formats and seen employees assessing themselves quite harshly, I don’t think we have to assume that if employees set their own targets they will necessarily be soft on themselves. I would be interested to hear of examples where employees have been actively involved in the design of appraisal systems.

Of course the system itself is only one part of the story. If we are honest, how many employees and how many managers really look forward to appraisal time? Generally the concept of ‘being appraised’ (said with as much feeling as going to have teeth extracted) is a negative one with an expectation of negative feedback and possibly being told ‘could do better’.

How do we get away from this negativity and get true involvement that will make appraisals something that employees truly look forward to?

A few organisations have cracked that challenge – but they are a precious few. The task many of us face is to take the necessary steps that enable the change in culture such that appraisals are welcomed with open arms and truly add to performance and hence contribution for the business and satisfaction for the individuals.

So where do you think performance appraisals are going? How do you address this issue of annual targets within a changing organisation?

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant who supports organisations with a wide range of HR activities. For an informal discussion of how he can help you T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles


One Response

  1. Self Appraisal
    I worked for a large Investment Bank for a few years and I think they have well and truly cracked the appraisal system. They operated a self appraisal system. As an employee it started with attendance at a 2 day course on objective setting! Objectives had to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. Once you got to grips with objectives it was up to each of us to write our own objectives. This ensured we as employees had a very clear idea of what our role was and it also set a precedent for training and development and identifying strengths and weaknesses.
    We had monthly one-on-ones with our supervisors ensuring that any problems outside of our control that prevented objectives being achieved were addressed and it made sure we kept our appraisal document up to date, citing examples, giving dates that objectives were met. We had quarterly reviews with our managers and the final review would be with the head of the department. At this point there were no surprises. It is my firm belief that in any successful appraisal system there are no surprises for either the employee or employer (hence removing much of the negativity surrounding appraisals). It also gave employees confidence that every-one was being treated fairly as we were all subject to the same system.
    The real beauty of the system however was that control over career progression lay with us the employees. The appraisal gave us the opportunity to ensure we were trained and developed and by having a simple rating system it was easy in many ways to exceed those requirements laid down in black and white thus ensuring a good review along with promotion and bonuses.

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