Saturday, 16 April 2011

Appraising Appraisals

It's that time of year again, when people across organisations - Managers, Supervisors and staff alike - wake with a song in their heart, looking forward with eager anticipation to their annual appraisals. Managers thrill with anticipation at the prospect of conducting those deep and meaningful conversations - that they have so diligently prepared for - with their enthusiastic and motivated staff; whilst those same staff have assembled their evidence and documented their progress against the specific, meaningful, achievable, realistic and timely objectives which they agreed with their managers at their previous annual and then their interim review 6 months ago...

Hang on a sec! If there were a soundtrack attached to this blog, this would be where you would hear the record player needle scratch across and fall off the vinyl record, wouldn't it?

I am a big fan of Appraisals. I think that , done effectively, they are powerful tools, engaging and empowering managers and staff alike. I have been conducting them for over 14 years now, and being appraised for longer than that. I have worked with different appraisal models. For me, it's not the model itself which is important - it's the conversation, the human face-to-face interaction - that matters!

I particularly like the concept of a Professional Development Portfolio, whereby everyone has their our own folder (physical or virtual) into which they file their reviews, their agreed operational objectives, their development plans and their record and evidence of achievement. This is very effective, generating a real sense of ownership and personal responsibility amongst staff at all levels. It becomes a living document, reviewed formally twice a year, but updated by the owner throughout the year as they achieve objectives and gather the evidence from both planned and unplanned activity.

I've also found a simple Leadership Model - 'Set the Direction; Enable; Monitor' - to be the key to managing my team's performance, and being managed myself. I use the same approach in applying any appraisal system. Let's just look at that Model in more detail, by posing some questions that are particularly relevant whilst the annual appraisal round is in full flow everywhere (remember, this works bottom-up just as well as top-down):

'Set the Direction' - Did your manager set your direction for this year? Did you agree your objectives with him or her? Were they SMART objectives? Did you understand how your objectives contributed to the departmental and organisational strategy and plans? Did you agree with your manager what measures you would use to determine weather or not the objective had been met? Did you discuss whether or not you had the skills required to achieve those objectives, and if not, how you were going to acquire them (this leads us nicely on to...)

'Enable' - Did you have the right amount of time, the proper tools, the skills and the motivation, to achieve your objectives? If not, did you discuss this with your manager during your appraisal? Did you agree an under-pinning personal and professional development plan to ensure that you could? And did you take/were you given the opportunity to get that learning and turn it into the delivery of your objectives?

'Monitor' - Do you and your manager have formal or informal one-to-one's in between your appraisals? Do you talk to him/her if you have any issues between times? Do you keep him/her informed of your successes? Do you record them for inclusion in your Appraisal discussion? Does your manager know what else is going on in your life which may or may not be having an impact on your ability to do your job, and is he/she making provision for that? I guess the main thing for me here is - do you have an open and honest relationship with your manager?

I'm not sure that I can honestly say I have been able to answer all of these questions effectively as a Manager (Appraiser) or as a member of staff (Appraisee) this year. But as we all complete our appraisal forms and prepare for those discussions with our managers, I encourage you to think about those questions, and to consider the Leadership Model I have outlined above. Remember, good leadership is something we can ALL demonstrate, whether or not we are actually managing other staff, and thereby ensure that this year's appraisal conversations are authentic and meaningful.

What's been your experience and your thoughts on appraisals?

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