Performance Appraisals:
Are They a Thing of the Past?

Good news! You don’t need to do Performance Appraisals anymore as they are antiquated and no one else is doing them. Right? Not quite. Performance Appraisals as they used to be may be a thing of the past but that doesn’t mean you can stop appraising performance.

Published Categorised as HR Best Practice, Managing People Tagged , ,
2017-09-22 - Performance Appraisals - Are They a Thing of the Past - Lighter HR
2017-09-22 - Performance Appraisals - Are They a Thing of the Past - Lighter HR

Good news! You don’t need to do Performance Appraisals anymore as they are antiquated and no one else is doing them. Right?

Not quite.

Performance Appraisals as they used to be may be a thing of the past. However, that doesn’t mean you can stop appraising performance.

Various news headlines that people read came as a big relief to so many of our clients because:

  • They really hadn’t ever seen what the business was getting out of the time invested in appraisals.
  • Their employees seemed to dread the entire process as much as the managers. Everyone completed the process because they knew that it was something they were supposed to do.  No one really got anything out of them.
  • They took the time to set 12 month objectives and a development plan that resulted in nothing really happening for 10 months and then a mad scramble in the last 2 months of the year whilst everyone tried to do everything they said they would. 
  • Then, having dragged everyone through the process, people just go back to doing what they’ve always done. Then you repeat the whole thing in 12 months’ time.

That may sound very cynical but it really has been the reality for so many people we’ve spoken to. In this blog post we’ll look at the following areas:

1. What’s Really Going On with Performance Appraisals?

The stories about the large companies who did away with performance appraisals weren’t wrong.  That painful, annual process described above should absolutely be a thing of the past. This is what some companies stopped doing.  However, the headlines did not give a true picture of what was happening in relation to performance appraisal in the companies that were no longer conducting annual reviews.

Businesses may have done away with the traditional performance appraisals but this was really only where there was already a strong culture of good people management and feedback. What was never reported was that many of the organisations who ditched formal performance appraisals, subsequently ended up re-introducing some form of process.

What organisations found was that employees felt that they had lost the opportunity to feed into discussions around performance. Employees were aware that discussions were still being held about how they were performing but employees no longer had any insight into how those discussions were going. Equally, even with a well developed culture of people management, without some form of structured approach, it became very easy for performance discussions to simply not happen at all.

So, if you are still supposed to be doing performance appraisals, what’s changed and what should you be doing?

2. What’s Gone from Performance Appraisals?

The things that a lot of companies have stopped doing are:

  • Scoring people – giving someone a score on a scale of say 1 – 5 in their performance appraisal doesn’t really achieve a great deal. You end up in a debate about whether someone is a 3.5 or a 4 and the messages that you really need the individual to hear get lost.
  • Annual appraisal process – it’s always been the case that best practice has been to do more than just an annual review. However, when people don’t see value in the process, they aren’t going to find time to do it more frequently.
  • Backward looking – historically performance appraisals have been about what has happened and dissecting historic events.

3. What Should You Do Instead?

The best thing to do is to reframe this subject and call the process Performance Development.  That’s really what you’re looking for.  You want a process that helps your employees to develop the skills and behaviours they need in order to add more value to your business.  You’re more interested in what they can and will do than what they’ve done in the past.

Here’s what you should be considering:

  • Continuous improvement – we recommend moving away from something that happens annually to something that happens quarterly. Given the frequency it needs to be light and focus people on what they are looking to achieve in the coming 3 months.
  • Conversation – do you have the right skills in your management team to have meaningful conversations with your employees? This may seem obvious but the employee wants to talk about themselves and how they can develop the skills they need.  Yes, they are responsible for their careers but you need to be able to help them work through how they can get better at what they do.  This isn’t something that comes naturally to all.  Equally, lots of managers don’t really know how to deal with problems and under-performance so can shy away from those topics.
  • Development plans – the focus now is very much on continuous learning. Employees want to feel that they are gaining new skills. You need to be prepared to talk through a wide range of options as to how they can gain those skills.
  • The ‘how’ not just the ‘what’ – you need to make sure that your process allows you to easily address any issues that relate more to behaviours rather than to technical competence. Some form of behavioural framework can be really useful here as it de-personalises the conversation.

4. What Help Can You Get?

At LighterHR, we have a range of services that you might like to use to get your performance development process to where you want it to be:

We also like to talk about these things so you can always give us a call on 0203 319 1649.

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