How to improve feedback during appraisals and assessments

Most of us have been on one or both ends of an appraisal during our careers. This process can offer a variety of benefits for both the employer and employee, provided it is done correctly.

In theory, an appraisal can provide an extremely useful forum for both businesses and individuals to take a considered and constructive look at what is working for them and where there is room for improvement. Crucially, the process can present a good time and place to agree steps needed for an individual’s career path, as well as how they can play a part in the future and growth of the business.

However, some appraisals may not be handled in the best way. Some meetings are often crammed in a short time slot between seemingly more important work commitments. Then there are the cases where appraisal forms are filled in by the employee but aren’t read by the appraiser ahead of the meeting. Even when the appraisal takes place and a plan agreed, in some cases the minutes from the meeting only gather dust in a drawer with little or no action taking place weeks or months after.

One way in which we can redress the balance of appraisal anxiety and indifference is by being clear of the purpose of an appraisal. Ideally, appraisals should not simply be about taking a retrospective look at work to date and giving a “could do better” oral work report.

Both sides need to be clear of the purpose of the appraisal – is this a chance to meet face to face to review certain working practices and potentially how obstacles can be overcome? Will the appraisal provide a good opportunity to map out the next steps for an individual’s career? Will it offer the opportunity to discuss promotion or a pay rise? Both sides need to be clear about the parameters to ensure discussion at the appraisal is focused and expectations are managed.

Appraisals should also be conducted in a holistic, 360-degree manner. It’s often said that the most inspiring bosses are the ones who listen. They don’t run a business with an iron fist, but create a work culture which is more democratic, listening and encouraging employees to have their say.

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A more open workplace culture, via 360-degree reviews where senior management’s performance is also assessed, can go a long way to making an employee feel part of the business and not simply like a work-horse. Provided the reviews are constructive, this can be great opportunity for the boss or line manager to hone in and improve their leadership and management skills.

Based on feedback, it seems all too often the appraisal finds its way down the list of things to do and is often bumped to another date on one or more occasion. The hour slot then becomes a rushed twenty minutes.

Essentially this sends a message that there is often someone or something else is more important than the career of the individual being appraised. While money talks, the lifeblood of the business is also the talent itself, so it’s important to ensure enough time is allocated – ideally between 45 minutes to an hour – and the meeting isn’t constantly moved.

Likewise, many appraisals only take place on an annual basis. This is a long time given the changes that can take place, such as other members of the team leaving, creating shifts in workload or responsibility. If possible try to hold appraisals twice a year to check that any agreed targets and requirements are still relevant, being acted upon and supporting all parties.

Filling in a form ahead of an appraisal meeting can be a useful first step as long as it is read by the appraiser and detailed responses provided.

However, if you’re being appraised don’t just leave it to the form to communicate your thoughts or to ask for a promotion or pay rise. You may want to write up a summary of what you believe to be some of your best work highlights over the past six to twelve months. This could include endorsements from clients and team members. If it helps, do a run through with a family member or friend ahead of the meeting to ensure you are clear and confident during the appraisal.

Likewise, if you are the appraiser, discreetly ask other team members for their feedback and look into how they believe a certain individual has made a valuable contribution. However, it is important that you are not inviting unnecessary negative remarks at this stage. The appraisal should be perceived as a positive and constructive process within the organization.

A few days after the appraisal has taken place, the appraiser should send a summary of agreed actions with relevant timelines attached to each point. It may even be worth diarizing a short meeting to follow up a few weeks down the line to ensure everything is on track.

A few extra steps before and after can ensure that the appraisal will make a huge difference to a person’s career and in turn the business itself – a far cry from a simple box-ticking exercise.

Michael Armstrong (FCA)
The writer, Michael Armstrong (FCA), is the ICAEW Regional Director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

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