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Performance Appraisal Systems
Performance Appraisal Systems
How to Make Them Work
By Peter Wildblood
Performance appraisal systems are at the heart of effective two way
business relationships between team leaders and their team members. At
least they should be if they are carried out with the right approach
and with the appropriate degree of commitment by all parties involved!
There are two main reasons why performance appraisals tend not to work.
First the appraisal system itself, and the accompanying documentation,
is often badly designed. Second and most important is that the
underlying relationship between team leader and team member is often
quite poor. Performance shortfalls by team members have not been picked
up or spoken about. The team leader has omitted actions which could
have done to better support team members.
This article is about how to convert appraisals into win-win occasions for team leaders and for team members.
First, let's look at the nature of performance appraisal systems.
After a lot of experience in designing and operating performance
appraisal systems, I find the very best appraisal system is one that
occurs in an ongoing way, when the relationships between the team
leader and team members are sufficiently high for there to be ongoing
recognition of good performance, when appropriate praise is given, and
when poor performance is corrected as it occurs. After all, you would
not think much of an air conditioning system which monitored air
temperature once a year.
In high performance teams, team members are able to
comment on the performance of the team leader, saying what works for
them and what doesn't, pulling the team leader up when he or she fails
to meet a key commitment, or agreed standards of behaviour. Put this
kind of freedom of speech and behaviour in place in your team and it is
almost as if an appraisal system is no longer needed. The focus moves
from a backwards looking critical assessment of shortcomings not
previously spoken about, to a forward looking focus on the
developmental needs of team members and the team leader.
A good work relationship will not only withstand this kind of honesty and integrity; it demands it!
At their worst therefore, appraisal systems are a [poor] fail safe
mechanism when no ongoing feedback is given. At their best, they are an
integral part of the developmental program for team members and a
framework for providing appropriate recognition.
A properly designed appraisal system contains three principal elements.
First there is the statement of performance objectives for the
individual. This describes the outcomes expected of team members, how
they are measured, and when they are to be completed.
Next there is a statement of the specific support
to be provided by the team leader in order for team members to reach
agreed objectives. This describes the special skills the team leader
can assist with and the training required. There may be additional
resources required and these should be specified with a delivery date.
Finally there is the appraisal interview itself.
This has a number of functions. First it is a review of performance in
an overall way against the previously agreed outcomes.
The primary focus of the interview, however, should
be on the future. The goals and objectives your team member has for his
or her career development should be discussed along with how they can
best be expressed. The team leader should ask how he or she can support
these goals. This facilitates agreement on specific performance
objectives for the ensuing period. These should take account of revised
team objectives to be fully effective.
A key element of the "perfect appraisal system" is
its mutuality. Team members and their team leader must be allowed to
take responsibility for making the overall relationship work and for
the effectiveness of the appraisal system and the associated interview.
It is also important to make sure that the appraisal
system is simple and readily adaptable for each work situation. One of
the best ways to ensure the effectiveness of an appraisal system is to
closely involve all team members in the development of the scheme and
its continual review.
Put all this in place and performance appraisal systems become an integral part of the work of a team.
Tips for Team Leaders:
Work towards an honest open relationship with two-way feedback a
constant feature of team relationships. Spend time in understanding
your team members' values and in respecting the genuine differences
Provide day-to-day feedback to your team about
their performance - praise what's working and moving toward the
objectives you have agreed upon. Relate individual praise to overall
Ensure the principal outcomes for the team and for
its members are clearly specified. Understand the level of skill your
team has in doing the task and how this is affected by their
"motivation" for the task.
In setting up an appraisal interview, stick to your
commitment about the interview time. Allow for more time than you
anticipate and make sure you are uninterrupted for the whole of the
Keep the focus of the interview on the future. In
commenting on overall good performance talk about how this can be
extended to the future. In discussing "improvement opportunities" work
toward agreement on new behaviours and higher standards. Encourage
genuine two-way discussion.
Ask what you might do to support the performance
agreements and behavioural change you agree for the team member on any
training or coaching necessary.
Follow up on the interview with confirmation of the
agreements made. Set in place action steps as soon as practicable. Keep
team members them informed and involved.
Maintain your commitment to ongoing positive
feedback; go out of your way to discover the good things your team
members are doing. Praise them for their effort and their achievements.
Make sure you reward considered risk taking and
support people in the learning they derive from their mistakes.
Tips for Team Members:
Work towards an honest open relationship where two-way feedback is a
constant feature of your relationship with your team leader. You have
as much responsibility to make sure that this is established and
maintained as has your team leader.
Provide feedback to your leader about the extent to
which he or she has supported you and the team. Relate this to the
agreement you have made at the previous review.
If goals and outcomes are not clear to you for any
reason, ask. Make sure you know what is to be done, to what standard
and by when. Ask for the level of support you feel you need: resources,
authority, personal coaching.
Refuse (politely) an interview when you suspect it
might be "rubbery", or when you think it might be too closely jammed
with another appointment.
If the interview is interrupted, remind your team
leader how important the discussion is to you and the work of the team.
Ask whether the meeting can be re-convened at a time when he or she is
able to concentrate fully on it.
If your team leader is focussing on the past, ask
what specific outcomes he or she might want of you to avoid the
"problem" in the future. Suggest any training you might feel useful or
necessary. Ask for any coaching you think would be useful. Indicate
your commitment to meet the performance outcomes agreed.
Ask you team leader for changes in his or her
behaviour which would make it easier for you to meet the performance
objectives agreed - more time - less "control" - specific authorities -
more feedback in certain key areas - more specific project definition
After the interview, get some quick "runs on the
board". Establish some momentum for your agreed outcomes - indicate
commitment. Confirm your understanding of your objective in some