This is a guest post by Sean Conrad of Halogen Software.
There are a lot of articles around today arguing both sides of the employee performance appraisal debate. Do they provide value to the employer and the employee? Are they an outdated HR/management practice? Do they do more harm than good? What can we do to make them more effective? Should we abandon them all-together?
I think, as with most things, that the value and impact of employee performance appraisals depend on our reasons for conducting them, and the way in which we conduct them. While our corporate culture will certainly influence both of these, we also have a level of choice and responsibility – both as managers and employees. If we want to, we can use them as an effective coaching tool.
But let’s step back for a minute and look at why we even conduct employee performance appraisals.
Why do we do we conduct performance appraisals?
As with most management questions, there are lots of possible answers:
- To help guide employee performance
- To ensure that employees know what is expected of them
- To give employees feedback on their performance so they can continue to develop and improve
- To communicate the competencies or values that are important to the role and the organization
- To identify employees who are not performing as expected and help them improve their performance
- To identify training and development needs and put plans in place to address them
Some others might add things like this to the list:
- To compare and rank employees
- To identify low performers and document their poor performance so they can be fired
- To guide compensation/pay increase decisions
- To identify high performers for rewards and/or promotions
At their root, employee performance appraisals are a coaching tool
When I look at the list of reasons why we conduct performance appraisals, it seems to me that these are all (or at least the items in the first list) fundamental goals of employee coaching. So how do we transform employee performance appraisals into an effective coaching tool that helps our employees be their best?
- Engage employees in the performance appraisal process
- Foster an ongoing, two-way dialogue and relationship between them and their manager
Engage employees in the performance appraisal process
I think that employee performance appraisals often fail to help employees be their best because they’re conducted as “top-down” exercises. The manager gives the employee feedback and ratings, and assigns them goals and development plans. Where is the employee in all of this? What about asking them to provide feedback and ratings on their performance? What about asking them to identify areas where they need/want to develop? What do they think the chief goals of their role should be?
Part of helping someone to be their best is giving them the responsibility to be their best. If you’re the passive recipient of feedback, goals, ratings, development plans, it’s hard to feel engaged with them. By finding ways to let employees actively participate in the performance appraisal process, we increase their engagement with the process and with their performance. Why not have them complete a self-appraisal? Why couldn’t they put together a list of potential training courses/activities to help them develop? Why not ask the employee to draft their goals? And if your manager doesn’t explicitly ask you to, why not take the initiative and do these things yourself?
Foster an ongoing, two-way dialogue and relationship
If employee performance appraisals are a “top down” exercise, directed by the manager, they only represent the manager’s perspective. Yet much of our judgments are based on our perspective or perceptions; and these are often limited or even wrong.
By encouraging a two-way dialogue and relationship between a manager and employee we get a truer perspective on employee performance. Because the employee is engaged and involved in the discussions, managers and employees can get a better, truer understanding of what is driving the employee’s performance and challenges.
And by making employee performance management an ongoing practice rather than a once a year event, we take the judgment out of them, and deal with any performance issues when they’re small and easy to fix. The dialogue should be about how the employee is performing and what can be done by all to improve that, rather than about giving ratings and/or criticism. Managers should be asking employees how they can help support their performance. Employees should be telling managers what they need to succeed. And both should be allowed to be human beings who have strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days.
This kind of open communication allows employees to seek help or coaching without fear of judgment or consequences. It also puts the manager more in the role of coach than judge. This ongoing dialogue and relationship is a great way to help an employee to be their best.
The value and outcome of your employee performance appraisals depend largely on your reasons for conducting them, and the way in which you conduct them. Are you making the most of this potentially valuable process and using it as one of your main tools for employee coaching?
Sean Conrad is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of performance appraisal software solutions. For more of his insights on performance management, read his posts on the Halogen blog.