I think appraisal is one of the more difficult processes to successfully implement in any business. No matter how you approach it, the whole area always seems to throw out a series of pros and cons and no matter what you do it never seems to fully cover what you want it to cover.
The format of the meetings varies dramatically from little informal chats to full blown away-day ‘soul searching’ sessions, but they all have one aim. The purpose of the appraisal (or whatever trendy label we are putting on them at the moment) is basically to assess the current performance of an employee in a role and see what can be done to help them be successful in that role.
The traditional method of doing this is the annual appraisal. This is something I have an issue with because I am not convinced that simply sticking a pin in one day a year, allocating an hour or so to filling out a form, and trying to assess the needs of the employee in that time, is actually very practical.
As a little aside here can I just mention that one of the differences in attitude I have seen over the years is the approach to the appraisal by the participants. Unless there is a real need for some form of serious performance review, the person doing the appraisal is usually seeking to enhance the work-like experience of the employee. Sadly, the employee sometimes sees it as the annual ritual ‘dragging over the coals’ by the management. As a result, both parties can be so nervous about it that the whole thing becomes a box ticking exercise out of fear of upsetting the other person. The annual appraisal is particularly prone to this because there is a tension building all year. Employees with an issue may even decide to wait to raise them until the meeting which results in a pressure point waiting to explode. Managers can easily fall into the trap of holding on to review points or development needs until the meeting and then there is a danger of the meeting being a road map where everything is laid out for the employee and there is no real interaction.
I am sure you are all familiar with these and other scenarios when you are in a long period-based review system.
The alternative for many companies these days is to move to a continuous review process. This method, in theory at least, allows for a closer working relationship between the manager and his team and removes the barriers created by the fixed point performance review.
With an ongoing development process, the progress of the employee is monitored in a series of smaller, possibly monthly, less formal meetings. These allow for short term goals for both improvement and development to be set and for clear, achievable deadlines to be decided. Each month the employee leaves the meeting with key milestones for the coming period on an agreed agenda. There is interaction and the decisions are taken jointly between the manager and the team member.
The interesting thing is that when done well this process goes both ways. For the manager the meetings can form the basis of their own personal review and they will be really focussed on the employees needs for development.
Sounds perfect? Well perhaps, but as with all things there can be a downside. In a very real way, the continuous improvement process throws a light on the manager as much as the employee with an attendant pressure to publically perform well. It must also be endemic throughout the company from the top down or it can easily be seen as checking up on the staff.
So while continuous development shows a great deal of promise, it should be considered thoroughly before you implement it. What was intended to be a team building process can very quickly turn into a continuous chore if implemented badly or if the managers and employees are not fully on board with the system. It should be a positive process, but it can very easily become a negative one.
Overall, however, continuous development, when implemented correctly, offers a real opportunity for the management and employees to work together and build very effective, continually improving, teams.