Performance appraisals are a bit like vigorous exercise, most managers think they should do them but never quite get around to it.

Also, like vigorous exercise, they are a bit scary to think about but never as bad as you think once you actually do it.  The ‘high’ after you do one is great and the long-term benefits are wide-ranging.

Why should you do performance appraisals?

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses in your employees and identify their training needs or opportunities for them to share their skills with others.
  • Provide balanced feedback to your employees about how you see their performance. Also, receive feedback on how you could better manage them.
  • Make plans for both you and your employee to do better in the future.
  • Help keep your staff and influence their behaviour in a positive way.
  • Help them grow into a more useful staff member and maybe even a better person.
  • Make your life easier in the long term.

If you have not done this before, it is the same as exercise. There is no time to start, like now!

My recipe for success

Here is a recipe that I have found makes it easier, less stressful and more likely to succeed. Don’t do this if you have a current serious performance issue. Sort that out first with the person involved, or you will poison the ground before you start.

Create a form

It should cover the relevant facts, one that will make sense to the employee. I have a template which you can start with, but it is pretty common sense.

Include headings and subheadings like:

  • Safety: Safe behaviour and tidy workspace.
  • Knowledge: Have a number of skills they use in here.
  • Productivity: If you have KPIs great, if not use another measure.
  • Quality of work: Returns/spoilage/complaints – again if you have measures put them down.
  • Reliability: Days off, late arrivals, smoko compliance.
  • Attitude: to other staff, to customers.
  • Other skills/extras: Tasks they do or could do that are outside their job description.

You need to have a rating scale of say 1 to 5. Mine is non-numerical: Serious issue, Area of concern, Skilled, Talented, Towering strength, It sounds a bit cheesy but it is a bit more descriptive.

Explain the process

So you have made up your form, now all you have to do is get your employees to fill out the forms right? – NO!

If you have not done them before, make sure that you explain why you are doing appraisals before you start the process.  No one likes surprises! Tell them about why you are doing this. Use a toolbox meeting or similar face-to-face opportunity, where they can ask you ‘why?’ Be truthful but make sure you talk about the positive outcomes. They know who the people who drag them down are and will be happy if you can improve their performance. Make it as non-threatening as possible. This process is about both of you finding out how they are going. Kiwis are notoriously bad about giving feedback both good and bad. So it is likely they have no real idea of how you see their performance. They may not know you appreciate the areas where they are a towering strength or the areas that you have concerns about.

Now fill out the forms

You and your employee should rate all of the subsections and make comments ahead of the performance appraisal meeting. Get them to hand these back before the meeting. This is very important. That way you know if either of you is miles apart in terms of rating their performance. The good thing is most Kiwis underrate themselves, so you usually have to talk the score up not down.

You should do your assessment before you get theirs back so it is not biased. You can, however, change yours after you read theirs. You need to set a deadline for getting the form back and you may need to remind them. No one likes doing this. It’s a bit like the first half a kilometre when going for a run. After you get the forms back, you should set a date. Make it in a day or so, so everything is still fresh.

Hold the meetings

Start with one of your better employees to get your feet wet but don’t leave the worst till last. They will smell a rat if you do. Performance appraisals are a bit like hanging wallpaper, if your head is in the right place it is easy, so make sure your thought process is clear before the meeting.

Give yourself 10 minutes or so to get there before the meeting starts. Re-read both appraisals and figure out what you need to talk about. Then jot these points down so you don’t forget them. Be positive, this will be fun exploring what opportunities there are and making plans. These plans will help your employee improve, grow and be a better worker. I have to say that, but it does help. Sometimes you have to fake it until it becomes real.

Make sure you write in the comments section what you have agreed to do differently. Do this in the meeting and you should both sign the form to acknowledge acceptance.

Act on your plans

Finally, make sure that you and the employee actually do the things you agree to. If not you will lose face and will have wasted all of those positive motivational good intentions.  Furthermore, you will poison the ground for future performance appraisals. Have a look back at the appraisal forms regularly (at least every quarter) and check things have changed. If they haven’t, talk to the employee about why what you agreed is not happening.

By Russell Bacon, Advantage Business Advisor for Wellington/Kapiti