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How to Make Performance Appraisals Meaningful and Relevant

Stuart Hearn
Stuart Hearn

Productive discussions with employees

Performance discussions have the power to turn an average employee into a top performer. They can resolve pressing issues, engage staff and provide transparency regarding objectives.

They can also be merely perfunctory – a box-filling exercise that serves no purpose and wastes a great deal of time. When this is the case, there is nothing to be gained from performance discussions, and the only result is heightened stress levels for both manager and employee.

Thankfully, this doesn't have to be the case. When managers are given the training necessary by HR to conduct meaningful and relevant performance appraisals, you will have the keys to truly motivate your workforce, and you will notice a rapid improvement in performance, productivity and discretionary effort. Each and every performance management system should be carefully adapted to encourage these meaningful performance discussions, but of course, this is easier said than done.

To facilitate and streamline the exchange of honest feedback during these discussions, these are five critical points to keep in mind at all times.

1. Stop having "appraisals" and start having discussions.

If your employees dread appraisals, it's probably because they know exactly what to expect. After filling out a series of forms, they will be dragged into an awkward, formal meeting wherein they will be assessed and judged on their previous performance. To make matters worse, most companies conduct only a single yearly appraisal, which makes the whole ordeal stressful for everyone involved. After all, how is a lone performance appraisal every 12 months supposed to be reflective of a year's worth of performance?

Rather than using the term "appraisal," shift to engaging in discussions. This shows that you are open and eager to take their feedback, thoughts and ideas. You want to explore issues and solutions, and you want to work together to improve individual and team productivity. This will encourage employees to be more open and communicative. They will feel less judged, and rather than dreading a performance meeting, the discussions will improve employee engagement significantly.

2. Make performance discussions more regular.

As discussed above, yearly appraisals are simply not effective. They try to accomplish too much in one sitting. The manager is forced to remember and cover a whole year's worth of performance, accomplishments and frustrations. On top of this, you need to assess areas in need of improvement and development opportunities as well as establish goals for the forthcoming period.

Unfortunately, no matter how eager the manager is to do this for all their employees, it is a lot to ask, and more often than not, things get forgotten. This is unfair to the employee, who deserves a meaningful performance discussion but is instead left with a halfhearted appraisal that serves no real purpose.

Companies have been moving toward continuous performance management, and this system typically incorporates monthly performance check-ins. Meeting regularly in this manner has been shown to improve employee engagement levels, boost morale and reduce employee turnover significantly. Though it might sound like more work, regular performance discussions are actually far more efficient and encourage greater performance overall.

3. Focus on strengths over weaknesses.

How positive are you during your performance discussions? It has been shown that a remarkable 55 percent of employees feel their managers focus on weaknesses more than strengths, which can be a massive productivity killer.

Consider your employees' strengths and how they have improved since your last meeting. What have they been working on? Acknowledge their efforts and encourage them to improve further. If they show a particular strength in a given area, consider using that strength to the company's benefit and adapting your employee's role to utilize this strength more in the future. We tend to enjoy what we're good at, so this will be great news to your employee, who will likely put in even more effort. Furthermore, your company will benefit from a skilled, determined team player.

Of course, this isn't to say that weaknesses should never be discussed. It's important to address weaknesses and overcome them, particularly if the employee is keen on constant self-improvement. However, don't make weaknesses a focal point during performance discussions.

4. Prioritize transparency and give context.

To make your performance discussions truly meaningful, let your employees in on the dynamics and direction of your business. Share organizational objectives and relevant company problems, and be vocal about how each employee contributes to the achievement of organizational objectives. This transparency will show your workforce that each individual is a valued member of a larger team and what they do really matters.

If you are transparent and open with your team regarding organizational objectives, when it comes time to set their own SMART objectives, employees will be able to better plan and set their goals, aligning them upward and ensuring a unified workforce.

5. Discuss what can be done to improve performance and achieve goals.

If you want performance discussions to be helpful and relevant, encourage candid discussion. Rather than taking the lead as manager and single-handedly coming up with solutions to performance issues, engage employees and take their opinions on board. Ask them how they think they could improve their performance, whether they need training in a particular area, whether a given workplace process is overly complicated and time-consuming, or if they believe their goals are simply unrealistic.

Remember, your employees deal with their role and responsibilities every single day, so they are probably in a better position than you to let you know how performance and productivity can be improved. Take full advantage of this awareness and use it to improve your business. Your employees are the most valuable part of your company, so it's important to communicate with them regularly and honestly and to make each discussion as meaningful as possible.

Image Credit: Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock
Stuart Hearn
Stuart Hearn Member
Stuart Hearn has twenty years of experience in the HR sector. He co-founded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.