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Opinion The secret to managing a stress-free employee review

January is the time of year when most employees have a performance appraisal with their manager – but what are the benefits and potential pitfalls facing the employer?

IMPROVING MARKET CONDITIONS mean that employee retention has yet again become a focus for most organisations wishing to retain their top talent. In challenging market conditions, appraisals can often be put on the backburner as more business critical issues come to the fore. Although understandable, this is not viable long-term as employees will soon disengage from the business if they feel that there is no clear strategy to progress in their role and their input is not recognised by the business.

A well-executed appraisal can be key in maintaining staff engagement and retention levels, ensuring that any areas of under performance are addressed, goals are agreed for the future and any issues affecting an employees performance can be discussed in a fair and objective manner.

The crux of a successful appraisal is ensuring that the managers who are conducting them are well-prepared and trained in this area.

It takes time to become a good at conducting these meetings – a good appraisal is one where appraisees do most of the talking, there is active listening from the appraiser, there is scope for analysis, emotion is taken out of the meeting and objectivity prevails, concluding with a consensus on future goals. To control such a meeting can be a skill in itself. Often appraisals can focus on insignificant points and be fuelled by emotion which negates the aim of the meeting in the first place.

Key elements of a performance appraisal are:

Measurement – having certain metrics which will enable you to assess performance against agreed targets.

Feedback – providing a forum to discuss performance, emphasising what has been done well and pinpointing areas of weakness which could be improved on in a constructive manner.

Exchange of views – the employee should be made feel at ease and encouraged to be as open as possible about how they feel their performance (of themselves and the company) has been. Employers should also be frank and honest.

Consensus – all parties jointly come to an understanding about what needs to be done to improve performance and overcome any issues raised in the course of the discussion.

Preparation for performance appraisals is crucial for both parties in order to be successful. Many appraisals are not prepared for well enough in advance and turn into “just another meeting”. Metrics should be kept relatively simple and serve as a guideline for what needs to be achieved:

The common mistakes typically made include:

  • Lack of preparation by both parties
  • Unskilled managers performing appraisals
  • Lack of objectivity when reviewing performance
  • Allowing the meeting to become emotional; appraisers not wanting to highlight areas of underperformance for fear of upsetting staff
  • Not setting targets to enhance future performance
  • Not reviewing the goals set in the previous appraisal – if you don’t review them you are sending out a message that they are not important and therefore they cease to be credible

The ability to give constructive criticism is an art form and you are looking for the fine line between telling an employee that their performance needs to be better and motivating them for the future. This takes practise, in particular for new managers who are keen to make quick changes and improvements.

If appraisals are carried out well, they can increase productivity greatly. All individuals need recognition of their achievements. They also need to review their weaknesses and put structures in place to ensure that there are opportunities to improve and excel.

Performance appraisals and salary reviews should be kept separate from each other. If an individual thinks they are going to be discussing their salary raise at the end of an appraisal they will rush through it, spending less time on discussing critical areas of their performance in order to get to the end of the conversation. Despite marked improvements in pockets of the economy, not everyone will receive a salary raise so it is hugely important in a performance appraisal to acknowledge and recognise achievements even if this does not translate in monetary terms.

In conclusion, employers should bear in mind that:

  • Performance appraisals can be hugely important in driving staff motivation and helping them achieve their goals
  • It is essential for both parties to take time preparing for the appraisal
  • Managers need to be trained thoroughly on how to appraise their staff to ensure it is a positive experience
  • Past performance must be analysed and targets set for the future
  • Appraisals are a great opportunity for business’ to get employees back on track to achieve business objectives for 2015

Louise Campbell is MD for Robert Walters Ireland.

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