Appraisals, the dinosaur framework of performance reviews


For too long HR and Management have relied on the good old framework known as the annual appraisal; a tool that was designed for good by our HR ancestors but is being  likened to household chores, unfulfilling, stressful and not fit for purpose.

I got rid of them completely in a previous role, I found them too rigid, impersonal and artificial. I simply used check in meetings with my team to create an open and ongoing dialogue. There’s absolutely no point waiting all year for my team to tell me that they needed support, the moment has gone by then and demotivation sets in quickly!

This week’s HR Hour widely debated if there is a place in the current world of work; most participants said absolutely not.

In some cases it seems that it is a framework which is highly misunderstood and is used as a tick box exercise, form is completed, sent back to HR and nothing of value is done with it. I maintain that a tool like this can only be beneficial if it is clearly defined and that managers have a thorough understanding on how it should be used, without this, you might as well forget it. It can also be used as an opportunity not to have regular communication with employees, using it as something to hide behind “save it for your appraisal” is a phrase we’ve all overheard in our HR careers.

@MarkSWHF tweeted “It’s fundamentally about skill of the leader. Avoidance, inability to have an honest & difficult conversation & basic decency means it’s hard to give constructive feedback, much easier to downplay the areas for improvement & overegg the positive.”

The skills of the leader are something I strongly agree with; too often we see a talented individual and throw them into a leadership role when they are not necessarily ready for the accountability that comes with being a leader. They are also lacking in support, demotivation sets in and they become complacent making it difficult to establish who the leader is from an outside view.

When it comes to the employee perspective, often the appraisal is associated with criticism and negative feedback, this is almost always linked to repercussions which can make it feel like a “telling off” instead of it’s intended purpose of being a constructive meeting and providing opportunity for learning from any mistakes.

@_Lara_HR summed this up perfectly; “Most people link ‘negative’ feedback with negative consequences…celebrate mistakes and learning opportunities and try to focus on self-awareness so individuals recognise their own performance levels and don’t need to be ‘told’.”

Employees may not need an annual appraisal but they do need guidance and support, this has to come from their line manager and they must be willing, this type of behaviour is not something that can be taught and must be underpinned by a positive influence; in other words, an approach from the top down.

@JayneHarrison3 said “Not sure you can ‘teach’ behaviours. The how ought to be self driven. You can certainly coach around impact vs intention and work from there.”

@HRBloggerGail agreed “I think people need something to guide them still. But Isnt it upsetting, someone who is mean to lead and develop you only speaks honestly once a year? How do people deal with this? I’m a kinda instant feedback, otherwise the moments gone hasn’t it?”

It’s hard to pin down exactly what the solution is; in short, it needs to be tailored to the requirements of the business. Each organisation is different and will have its own way of doing things, so when it comes to opening regular communication channels, it lies in the culture, not in an off the shelf solution.

Getting managers to buy into new ways of working can be a hurdle in itself but it is a crucial to ensure they are comfortable in providing and receiving feedback. Employees generally want to know how they are performing in their roles, some will be more open to this than others, therefore it is essential that they are supported and given the correct training to encourage communication effectively.

@BrightStarLisa tweeted “I think by showing them we are trying to help & support them, rather than criticising their lack of skills or knowledge. Training can be seen as a great or terrible thing depending on how it’s suggested to you I think”

Another suggestion was to remove the phrase “difficult conversations” to @JamesGilfoyle appropriately put; “This is it for me and while its not the root of the problem (confidence, capability) I dont think the language we use helps here… “difficult conversations”? Its just a conversation – like you say – and its the responsibility of leaders and managers to have them.”

The conversations do not have to be complicated or overthought, asking someone how they feel about their job and what are the challenges they currently face can generate a lot of useful information to a manager; they can quantify workloads and see where efficiencies can be introduced. It is a way of encouraging continuous improvement, a great business example of this is Jaguar Landrover who always seek continuous improvements and allow employees to make suggestions to improve processes.

@GarryTurner0 said “Conversations that are forward looking, stretched & positive i.e “what is getting in the way of you doing great work right now?” or “how do you feel we could improve as an org?” – these types of open, engaging questions are as complex as it has to get for me.”

A positive of this approach is the gaining of trust within the organisation between employee and employer but by enabling an effective two way conversation, this is when the opportunity to work together truly presents itself; and let’s be honest, that’s all we really want isn’t it?

My predictions from this is that positive performance strategies may become a phrase of choice that you may start to see more of. They are less of a traditional framework approach but they encourage employee and manager to work together, enabling open, regular means of communication so that performance is measured in real time and without any surprises!

In conclusion, I think it’s time to say goodbye to appraisals as we know it and make way for more effective and flexible approaches to performance management; they have served us well, but like the dinosaurs, they cannot survive in the modern world by failing to evolve.





One thought on “Appraisals, the dinosaur framework of performance reviews

  1. I like this: “positive performance strategies”. I wouldn’t say performance reviews have ever served anyone well. It has been tolerated. Managers need to be trained to have ongoing conversations to drive and align performance, so there is an investment to be made. There also needs to be a framework for managers and employees to hold performance conversations (versus telling managers to have more conversations or check in more frequently, which will likely result in more conversations that focus on tasks). Thanks for Writing and sharing your article. This topic should be front and center for any progressive HR professional.

    Liked by 1 person

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