Beyond the Appraisal – Nicholas Roi

Nicholas Roi, managing director of SilkRoad explains the importance of joining the dots between an employee’s appraisal and their ongoing development plan.

For some, the word appraisal is enough to induce a cold sweat. It may come but once a year, but it has a reputation as one of the most dreaded appointments in an employee’s diary. It’s an unfortunate reaction given that the appraisal plays a vital role in the management of a worker’s long-term career development.

While some of the pessimism surrounding the appraisal comes from staff members’ fear of direct and potentially negative feedback, it also arises when the appraisal is viewed as a standalone event with no positive, lasting outcome for the appraised.

Taken by itself, a performance appraisal is of little benefit, especially when the employee believes it has no real impact on their future career. In cases like this the employee may view the appraisal simply as their superiors’ opportunity to openly criticise them, which of course is disheartening and will make it much harder for them to feel engaged in the process. Therefore, it is important to ensure the advantages of the appraisal are fully understood and appreciated by everyone involved; the appraisal should be seen as the first step in an employee’s career development. As such the employee’s line manager and HR director must be able to visibly demonstrate to an employee the relationship between the appraisal and their learning and career development plan.

The appraisal, by its nature, is less forward-thinking than a development plan and should initially be treated as a retrospective look at an employee’s behaviour and performance. However, the objective of the appraisal should not just be to look back and tell an employee where they have excelled or fallen short; it should be to enter into a two-way conversation in which future goals are decided upon. These goals should be chosen with the employees’ input and should be achievable within a set timeframe.

It goes against the traditional approach whereby performance goals were dictated by the manager and employees simply ‘did as they were told’. Nowadays managers should be encouraging their employees to set their own objectives, the intended outcome being an increase in business performance as staff come to better understand their job. This understanding develops because, as employees set out their goals, they are also expected to consider the company’s objectives and their own contribution towards their fulfilment. This will reinforce the employees’ sense of worth and help to motivate them.

Goals can take two forms. In the first, they are specifically aligned with wider company objectives: for example, someone in a sales team may aim to sign 100 new customers per quarter. It should be obvious to the employee how meeting these goals is advantageous to their company. The second type of goal is linked to individual professional development. These goals may not be exclusively related to the employee’s position in the company, but may instead take the form of something more personal, such as improving communication or presentation skills. This type of goal enhances engagement and productivity by showing an employee how their skill set can be improved, and how they, not just their company, will benefit as a result.

That is not to suggest that employees are motivated only to better themselves in order to be promoted in the immediate future. On the contrary, most see the benefit of building on their current abilities whether they are in line for a promotion or not. However, by upskilling the employee knows that when the time is right, even if that is two years down the line, they will have the necessary expertise in place to successfully make the transition to a new role.

To join the dots between the appraisal and the creation of a career development plan – and to make this clearly visible – the manager and employee should work on a set of scenarios, laid out on a timetable during their meeting. These scenarios can be set six months, one year, even five years from the date of the appraisal, and should include predictions or targets of where that employee will be on their career ladder at each given point in time. Once this has been decided, the pair can consider how the employee can work to that timeframe. For example, in order be promoted to client manager within one year, it might be decided that a management training course would be of benefit. Alternatively, someone who wants to become a public representative of their company may be asked to participate in public speaking classes or media training.

If the bridging of the appraisal and the development plan is managed correctly then the experience will become more engaging for staff and this will ultimately lead to a motivated and productive workforce.

However, while appraisals usually take place annually, employee goals do change and are likely to develop in the time between assessments. And while a development scenario may be planned to take place over six months, the employee in question may plough so much time and energy into their objective that they end up achieving it within one. Personal development must therefore be treated as an ongoing process, something which is reflected in a lot of today’s HR technology. Most of these platforms now allow for constant feedback to be passed between an employee and manager, thereby helping to keep goals in check.

If the process isn’t revisited regularly then the initial increase in productivity can in fact reverse. The employee may spend three months committed to meeting their goals and feeling engaged with their company only to find that they spend the next nine months, prior to their next appraisal, demotivated and without clear targets.

The link between the creation of development plans, as a result of appraisals, and improvements in staff engagement should not be underestimated. Once employees understand that appraisals can help them map out their future careers and achieve their, as well as their company’s goals, a culture built on motivation, engagement and productivity will develop. Eventually appraisals will become something that staff look forward to, rather than dread.