The secret appraisal

Appraising the performance of staff is a very tricky business and there is a lot of discussion these days about whether formal appraisals are really necessary anyway. One of the main problems is getting consistency. You could take the same team of people with the same levels of performance and one manager will think they are all superstars while another would consider them barely adequate.

Deciding whether performance targets have been met or not is another complex area. While it may be relatively straightforward with quantitative data, such as sales, it is much more difficult to evaluate qualitative data such as skills and competencies. I even had one NHS manager tell me that the people who gained the highest ratings against the recommended appraisal criteria were actually the least effective performers in his function. This may be because a highly structured one-size-fits-all corporate approach just does not work for the diverse range of functions found in that environment.

Some managers just don’t like being completely honest in the appraisal discussion. In one organisation I worked for there was a formal appraisal process but unbeknownst to us there was also an informal gathering at which senior managers gave their real opinions of staff. This only came to light when someone found a document left on a photocopier.

The key point is that managers will form views about their staff anyway, whether or not there is any formal process, and any employee should have the opportunity to respond to those views.

Performance appraisal is not something that happens once or twice a year at formal meetings but is an ongoing part of management. There should never be any surprises as staff should be fully aware of how they are doing. Critically they should know when they are doing well, not just when they may have fallen short.