While we’re on the subject of personal growth, let’s apply a bit of New Year’s resolution thinking to staff appraisals. I hear many of the big companies are pushing appraisal processes on-line to stop all that paper shuffling. Is this all that appraisals are good for – a paper trail of accountability? Doesn’t that get us to places like ‘the operation was a complete success, but the patient died’?

I’ve gone through many ‘interesting’ appraisal situations in my time, as appraisee and appraiser, but I’ve never found any of them very motivating. If the process itself is as attractive as tooth extraction, how can we expect it to help people change their in-work behaviour for the better?

If you must hold annual appraisals, don’t book them in January

Just in case you still hold annual appraisals and were thinking of holding them in January, don’t bother. If you ‘have to’ only speak to people once a year about their performance, do it in Spring when people are full of energy and have more zest for life. Then they can tackle any challenges you set them for the year ahead with a higher level of motivation. Nobody is going to take kindly to negative feedback in the dead of winter with Christmas credit card bills looming.

Do appraisal systems make any difference?

Do people improve the faults we pulled them up on last year? Think how hard it is to change yourself when there is a real will and motivation to tackle the issue. Now how motivating does it feel to tackle not this issue, but one that your partner or your best friend has picked out for you as important? Even though you want to remain high in their estimation, how do you feel about changing to fit what they need? Not feeling it quite so much?

Then think about how motivated you would be if someone who you know only vaguely came and told you to change. Even less of an exciting idea?

And yet that is what we expect people to do, because we pay them.

How motivating is formal communication from your employer?

I heard about someone’s appraisal process including a letter of congratulation that they had not been off sick for the past 3 years. It said ‘Congratulations, you have successfully fulfilled your contract with us’. So motivating. Up against an alternative reality where the person concerned could have benefited from 20 days paid sick leave per year without any form of sanction from their employer.

A bit of realism

In a climate when AI is on the rise and robots might be taking our jobs, why is it we can’t accept that people are human? They will have failings and things will go wrong. Blame culture doesn’t help anybody, no matter how appealing it seems at the time. I don’t think we spend enough time looking at what is ‘causing’ the things that are going wrong. We could direct our energy to changing the context, rather than the person’s behaviour.

We all know that complaints handled well mean we shoot up in the estimation of customers. So what if we applied this to things that have gone wrong internally?

“I’m sorry that piece of work wasn’t up to standard. How about I look at what caused the issue and come back to you next week with a plan for how we can stop that happening again?”

Or we could just say ‘bad dog’ and watch them slink off into a corner.

In my experience, happy staff means happy customers. Time to re-appraise appraisals.

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