Performance appraisals are very powerful tools that provide both organisations and their employees with valuable information. Key aspects of the appraisal, like interview structure, communication, and planning, need to be carefully considered to ensure that both the employee and their organisation benefit optimally from the process.
Why performance-related appraisals?
Performance appraisal and management is a key aspect of human resource management, with a huge range of benefits to both organisations and employees:
• Organisations can measure employee performance, as well as many other metrics, such as the allocation and use of employee resources; for example, identification of employees who may be best employed elsewhere in the organisation.
• Allows organisations to to identify potential risks and problems before they become major issues.
• Identify key areas where employees may need further training and guidance, and identify employees who might be suitable for promotion, or preparation for promotion.
• Improve and support communication between management and staff, including the communication of organisation and individual goals.
• Provides and opportunity to recognise and celebrate employee achievements.
• Improvement of employee engagement, morale, and motivation, commitment to the organisation, trust between management and employee, and ultimately, improvement of job performance.
Key elements of appraisal
What does a good performance-related appraisal look like? There are several key elements that are necessary to ensure an appraisal is effective at evaluating an employee's performance, and giving them direction for the future.
Pre-interview self-evaluation: This gives an employee a way to pinpoint situations where they feel they performed particularly strongly and identify the elements that allowed them to succeed, and also think about areas in which they want to improve. It's best to encourage employees to frame self-evaluation in a positive light; for example, instead of questions that ask them to identify weaknesses, ask them about future development goals.
Interview: An appraisal interview should be held in a private, quiet location without distractions and interruptions. It's important that employees feel at-ease during the interview, and this can be facilitated by laying out a clear structure for the interview at the start. It's also important that equal time is allotted for both listening and talking; an employee shouldn't leave an interview feeling as though they weren't heard, or didn't get enough of an opportunity to speak.
The positive-framing rule is important here, too - even more so than in a self-evaluation. It's important that employees come away from an interview feeling positive and motivated, even when there are areas where improvement is needed. A performance appraisal should positively motivate employees to improve; negativity promotes resentment and mistrust.
Post-interview follow-up: Following appraisals, employees should be provided with a copy of any written report that is created. There should also be in place procedures for employees who feel they've been unfairly treated during the appraisal process.
Eliminating unconscious bias
There are ongoing concerns about certain aspects of performance-related appraisals, one of the most significant being the influence of personal bias. This is difficult to control, as everyone is biased in one way or another, even if only subconsciously. The trouble is that when we have subconscious bias, we filter our perception of people and events through the lens of that bias, which produces factual distortions that make it more difficult to detect bias, and which may also affect performance appraisals.
There is a need, therefore, to keep the possible effects of unconscious bias in mind when conducting performance appraisals, and to minimise those effects by ensuring that feedback is factual, evidence-based, and highly specific.