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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Annual Appraisals Time? Ditch Them for Great One-to-Ones!

I have been banging on for years in Ivan’s Blog about the use and indeed the value of the annual appraisal.  An excellent presentation this week to my Vistage Key Executive peer group by speaker, David Smith (www.davidsmith.uk.com)  brought this to mind again.

Although the ostensible topic was Performance Management, David made the point that on the face of it, this does sound rather negative and he prefers to refer to it as managing performance which is far more anodyne and less threatening.  

To generalise, most people want to know two things:

  • How am I doing? and 
  • Where are we going?

To analyse, both of these questions imply that people need some reassurance in an uncertain environment.  One is essentially personal and the second is there to reassure members of the team that there are plans in the future for the business which will include them.

Most importantly, when and how should these questions be addressed?  In the past the annual appraisal has been the preferred vehicle but things are really changing, thank goodness.

I have always compared the annual appraisal to the year-end accounts of the business. In any well run organisation management accounts are produced monthly, ideally within a week of month end, to give the leadership a regular snapshot of the financial position if the business.

I recall the dreadful example of a CEO who never enjoyed the arrival of the accountants to do the annual audit and always arranged his skiing holiday to cover his getaway.

On his return from one of these breaks, the accountant suggested that he come into the office and sit down quietly as they have some news for him. The news was of course that the business was insolvent and he didn’t know simply because he thought that he didn’t need monthly management accounts.  

If we formally monitor the performance of our biggest and most unpredictable resource, the people, only annually then what does it say about how we manage them?  At the most basic level it ignores any possibility and consequent effects of significant changes in performance during a year. Sickness, family issues, poor line management and much else can contribute to a sometimes unnoticed decline.

The fact is that the very thought of having to go through the annual appraisal for both parties is frequently viewed as an unpleasant chore to be completed as quickly and painlessly as possible.  You will note that I didn’t say accurately.

Even worse the management can cop-out by imposing online appraisals using what is laughingly called artificial intelligence. Where is the human interaction there to make a realistic assessment of a real individual's performance and  potential?

Even worse using a rating system with only three alternatives reduces the whole practice to,a nonsense.

The much vaunted 360 appraisal system where the line manager, peers and subordinates all contribute opinions has its flaws. The top down is binary and can suffer from prejudice, peers can do mutual deals of support so in the main the most valuable input is the upwards one.

All of this however assumes an annual event that is very undesirable. We need to be in regular and formal interaction so that even minor changes are noticed and, if needs be, fixed.

By far the best solution is a regular and diarised one-to-one meeting. Yes, I know that we talk to people every day but this is different.

It is sacrosanct to the leader who should not on any account except dire emergency cancel or change. The team member can miss the occasional date but only the occasional one.  Regular cancellations can result in the leader making negative decisions.

A great one-to-one is a great experience for both participants. It needs to be open, honest, well thought out and above all, non-confrontational.

Actions?  Ditch the annual appraisal, replace with one-to-ones and take a look at www.davidsmith.uk.com.

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