Performance appraisals are often dreaded at work, both by the employers who deliver them and the employees at the receiving end. As Nicole Buckler reports, however, with a bit of tweaking, they can be turned into a win-win situation for everybody.

So it’s appraisal time. More often than not, both managers and employees consider it a cringeworthy task and far from what is usually considered fun in the workplace. According to the more progressive business experts, however, if appraisals are causing a lot of trepidation, then they aren’t being conducted properly. They argue that if a performance appraisal is carried out effectively, it can achieve better results for the bottom line of the enterprise. As well as this, experts argue that an effective appraisal system can assist employees in being heard effectively. This can lead to work-friendly policy changes and also to employees receiving training or mentoring in areas where it is deemed they need it. … A well-structured appraisal process should benefit the company and the individual and it should be a collaborative and ongoing process.

Rowan Manahan is the MD of Fortify Services, a Dublin-based outplacement and career management firm, and he is a big fan of performance appraisals. “They are the fairest method of evaluating, promoting and determining who your contributors are. It is best to have one framework upon which you can measure everyone.” Manahan believes that in the Ireland of today, there is homogeneity on the workforce and appraisals can identify who is shining brightest. “So many people are now highly qualified, skilled, accredited and trained. So to distinguish where people stand on the bell curve you need effective tools to enable you to do that. That’s where proper performance appraisals come in.”

“What a good appraisal system will allow you to do is to bring your organisation as close to the ideal of a meritocracy as possible. The brown-nosing, the politicking and the ‘I’m somebody’s grandson’ ways of thinking should never count as much as: ‘Hey! I really made a difference on that key project.’ Well-run performance appraisals will allow you to identify your real performers.”

So how does it all go wrong in some instances? Manahan recognises that a strong appraisal system should have a degree of carrot and stick. “Excepting the small percentage of the population who are truly self-driven, most people need external motivators to get them moving. When I see it going wrong is that management can beat someone to death with the carrot and then try and make them eat the stick! They completely miss the point and the system becomes a political rod to beat employees with rather than a tool to motivate. If that is the case, you are running your organisation on the basis of fear alone and there is something fundamentally wrong.”

So how can a company know how to do the right kind of appraisal? According to Manahan, companies need to make the appraisal part of an ongoing dialogue rather than an annual oh-here-we-go-again event. He also notes that if a manager is bogged down by mountains of administration in order to carry out the appraisals, this can also be unworkable. “There is a danger of this, particularly in flat corporate structures where people can end up with too many appraisals to conduct. The process can take weeks and weeks.” Burdening managers with an annual avalanche of paperwork should be avoided. “If you are conducting appraisals on an annual basis only, then there is probably too big of an interval between meetings and discussions. To keep an ongoing dialogue open, appraisal discussions could be based on a per-project basis or they could be fixed quarterly meetings.”

… So how can a manager be sure that appraisals are conducted in a completely fair way? Manahan says they need to be structured and formal. “If this line is followed, then it will be obvious to both parties if a problem exists. There can be a good reason why there is a problem. For example, if a margin target is not being achieved – because of market conditions or whatever – that can be talked through, particularly if the employee is doing everything that can be reasonably expected. It may be case that there is something wrong with the way the targets are being set. The appraisal shouldn’t be a case of the manager saying to the employee, ‘I’ve got bad news for you.’ Appraisals should be an open and continuous process of dialogue, not a monologue.”

Full article at the Sunday Independent website (free subscription required).