Performance AppraisalA good appraisal system will provide individual staff with the opportunity to better understand how their efforts support the work of their team and the business as a whole. It allows them to gain feedback on their past performance, including recognition of their achievements; to agree objectives and targets with their line manager which support business and team objectives and to agree learning and development goals to support the work of the business as well as achieve personal career aspirations.

Most people dislike conducting performance appraisals, often putting them off, or ‘going through the motions’. Here are my top ten tips for small business owners keen to make the most of the appraisals they are conducting with their staff.

1. Show you are committed

A successful interview demands that both parties are fully committed to the appraisal process and will fully participate. Allow adequate time – at least 90 minutes – for the meeting, schedule your own preparation, have relevant data to hand and book a suitable venue. This might be off-site if your small business premises doesn’t have a meeting room or similar. Show your employee you take discussion of their performance seriously and they will do the same.

2. Pay attention

You need to be aware of all the leads and hints which the jobholder expresses and half expresses in the interview, so that you can pick up and build on them. Eliminate distractions; ‘door knockers’ and the telephone and concentrate on the discussion.

Make sure you understand what is being said by your team member and ask for clarification if you’re not sure. Indicate your understanding by summarising and re-stating if appropriate.

Refrain from interruption – this is their opportunity to raise concerns and ask for support if they need it. Indicate that you are listening by the use of appropriate body language

3. Give praise

Sometimes people hold back from giving praise, or feel uncomfortable doing so, or think it should be obvious they are pleased and shouldn’t need pointing out.

However, people are motivated when their contribution is recognised and acknowledged. When giving praise, be specific, seek to expand effective behaviour and use evidence to support your judgement.

4. Give constructive criticism

If there are many criticisms, discuss each in turn and reach a conclusion before going on to the next. Ensure you are able to give specific examples of what the jobholder has been doing wrong, rather than general negative comments. This means they can more easily understand what you are saying, identify what is wrong and have a better chance of putting it right.

Do not alternate praise and criticism – it confuses the jobholder, and do not fudge the real issues. You should not present issues for the first time in an appraisal, any concerns should have been raised beforehand rather than being left until the annual appraisal meeting to be addressed.

Check with the jobholder that your description of events is correct and give them an opportunity to respond to criticism.

5. Deal with disagreement effectively

Accept that there may be some disagreement during an appraisal particularly if you have criticised performance. Resist the temptation to argue. Listen to the appraisee, remain calm and do not become defensive or challenging but maintain the interview at a rational level.

Once your team member has responded, evaluate the fairness of their position and reconcile it with your own. Re-state their opinions, confirm you understand what was meant.

Always be open to new information and if necessary, reconsider or adjourn the meeting to check facts.

If appropriate re-state your view after a disagreement. Discuss ways to resolve the problem, seeking the appraisee’s ideas and negotiate a resolution.

6. Agree SMART objectives

An objective is a statement of what an individual is aiming to achieve in a key area of responsibility, during the coming year.

Objectives should not be a repeat of the job description but should define specific priorities.

There are two types of objectives:-

  • Work objectives; focusing on improving the jobholder’s contribution to the effectiveness of the organisation.
  • Personal objectives; focusing on improving performance through developing skills and knowledge.

A good way of ensuring objectives you are setting are effective and appropriate is to follow SMART guidelines. Objectives should be:

Specific and stretching

  • Start with an action word (verb)
  • State what will be done (outcome)
  • State why it will be done
  • Objectives should stretch and develop the job holder

Measurable

  • Quantifiable (numbers, percentages, costs, products, and output)
  • Verifiable (quality, comparisons)
  • Descriptive – what does success look, feel like

Agreed and accepted

  • With jobholder

Relevant

  • Consistent with team/organisation targets and policies.
  • Appropriate to the position
  • Within the control of the individual
  • Appropriate, considering available resources.

Time based and trackable

  • State specific time frame in which the objective is to be completed. Acknowledging that some objectives may cover more than 12 months.
  • If objectives are not ‘trackable’ progress cannot be monitored and performance ‘fine tuned’.

7. Avoid these common pitfalls when setting objectives

  • Objectives not relevant to team business plans.
  • Objectives are in too general, non-verifiable terms.
  • Objectives are stated but without relevant means of judging accomplishments.
  • Objectives set too low to challenge capabilities.
  • The objective is concerned with how to do something rather than what is to be done.
  • Objectives reflect an individual’s perception of what the line manager wants rather than what can be achieved.
  • Objectives which are subsequently proved to be not feasible, irrelevant or impossible, are not revised or deleted.
  • Objectives’ completion dates are too optimistic, or no time frame is included.
  • The justification or outcome for an objective is not clearly stated.

8. Use appropriate language when writing up appraisals

Use statements which are clear and at the right level, not vague, too complex or too simplistic. Use a positive tone, showing you value the person, not words which show you have an aggressive, negative, uncaring, hostile or ‘I told you so’ attitude.

9. Address the issues

Tackle the real issues; do not go through the motions just to get the appraisal done. It is important you highlight performance, good and bad, not just good. Focus on performance which is achievable, not on changes in personalities and unachievable objectives.

Show that you understand all the circumstances influencing the jobholder’s performance whilst remaining objective. Avoid being over sympathetic or too detached. Use solid examples of performance to support your judgements, not statements or innuendos relating to personality.

When you’re writing the appraisal up afterward, make sure it tells the truth about the discussion and doesn’t avoid putting problems in black and white.

10. Get employee input

Ensure the employee is given the opportunity to see the written appraisal and sign off that they agree it as an accurate reflection of the meeting which took place. This means that it can be seen that they have acknowledged any areas of concern which were raised, and agreed any objectives or issues to be addressed going forward.

Employees should also have the opportunity to make comments themselves on the written appraisal.

Conducting an appraisal is never going to be anyone’s favourite activity, but following these 10 tips will help you get the most out of it for your business.

If you would like any assistance or advice in dealing with performance in your business do get in touch.