Simplification is the big trend in performance management at the moment. Latest research from the likes of Deloitte, CEB and CIPD author Michael Armstrong all conclude that performance appraisals need to be made simpler and less bureaucratic. As Deloitte points out, employees and managers in modern organisations are becoming overwhelmed with the sheer volume of messages, emails, information and activities they have to deal with. So if we want them to truly embrace performance appraisals, we need to streamline the process so that they can focus on having high-value performance discussions.
What is an Appraisal?
It’s simply a way to evaluate how employees are doing in their roles. Usually, a manager and employee will have a meeting to discuss their progress and areas for improvement. Traditionally appraisals have been annual with long forms that require hours of admin work. Fortunately, the word appraisal doesn’t mean that it has to be any of those things.
Here are 5 ways in which you can simplify your organisation’s performance appraisals:
1. Lose the pre-appraisal forms
Many organisations ask the employee, and sometimes the manager, to complete a pre-appraisal form in advance of their appraisal meeting. The purpose of this is normally to ensure that both parties adequately prepare for the appraisal discussion. However, this leads to two (or sometimes three) different forms having to be completed, rather than just a single appraisal form. No wonder many employees dread performance appraisals!
Our advice is to drop the pre-appraisal form and instead, ask the employee to complete the actual appraisal form in draft with their initial thoughts and send that to their manager to review before the performance appraisal meeting. Then after the meeting, either the employee or their manager can update the form with the necessary amendments to reflect what was discussed and agreed. One form, one process — simple.
2. Assess values rather than competencies
Competencies have become a feature of many performance appraisals over the past decade. However, competency frameworks have frequently become over-engineered with their assessment forms adding a substantial amount of time to the performance appraisal process. Because of this, organisations are starting to assess values as an alternative to competencies in their performance appraisals.
The advantage of values is that they apply to all employees throughout the organisation, so employees can be assessed against a single set, rather than with competencies which are typically function or role specific. This simplifies things enormously. Secondly, values tend to focus on a smaller number of items (typically 5 or 6) as opposed to traditional competencies where assessing 10 – 15 different competencies is not uncommon.
The key to assessing values in performance appraisals is to ensure that each value has clearly defined behavioural indicators that can be easily understood and objectively assessed — normally a maximum of 5 per value. For example, a behaviour indicator for the value of ‘Quality’ might be ‘Delivers work to a high standard with minimal errors’. Without these underlying behaviour examples, values can be too vague and employees and managers will find them difficult to rate against.
3. Don’t bother with ‘grandfathering’ the performance appraisal
‘Grandfathering’ is the process whereby a second, more senior manager, signs off an employee’s performance appraisal after their line manager has already done so. The original purpose of this has been to help to ensure quality and consistency in performance appraisals. However, it adds unnecessary bureaucracy and time to the process and does not necessarily encourage better quality performance appraisals.
An easier approach is to ask senior managers to review a selection of appraisal forms from different line managers in their department, rather than making them sign-off every single one. This will be sufficient to identify any managers who are not putting satisfactory effort into their team’s performance appraisals. Where ratings need to be checked for consistency, this can easily be achieved by extracting the ratings from your performance management system (if you have one) and having senior managers review them, often in collaboration with other senior managers, so that ratings from different teams can be compared.
4. Encourage objectives and PDPs to be reviewed throughout the year
Reviewing how well an employee has delivered against their objectives and personal development plan during a performance appraisal will be time consuming if their progress has not been reviewed at all during the year. Therefore, you should encourage employees and managers to periodically review employees’ progress against their objectives and PDP on a monthly or quarterly basis. That way, the objectives and PDP review during the year-end appraisal can be a fairly swift recap of achievements and learnings, rather than a detailed discussion of what was and was not achieved and why.
Getting your staff to do this is not always easy, but you can encourage them by emphasising the importance of regular progress reviews in your performance management training and communications, and selling staff the benefits of this approach (which typically include higher levels of employee performance and engagement, increased numbers of objectives being successfully achieved and shorter appraisal discussions). Using performance management software which allows objectives and PDPs to be reviewed and updated throughout the year will also help to encourage this (our Clear Review software makes this really easy).
5. Use performance appraisal software to streamline the appraisal process
Performance appraisal software can help to simplify your performance appraisals in a number of ways, including:
- Having objectives, personal development plans and performance appraisals in a single place, rather than having separate forms floating about.
- Making it easier for the employee and manager to collaborate on completing the performance appraisal form, rather than having to pass a paper form or Word document back and forth.
- Streamlining the sign-off process — both parties can sign off the form with a single click, rather than having to physically sign it and send it to the other person.
- Automatically collating the appraisal forms — managers don’t need to make copies of the form and send them to HR, as HR can access them directly via the system. The software can also chase up those who have not completed their forms.
- Easy analysis of performance data — HR and senior managers can run reports to review performance ratings and training needs across the organisation or within specific departments.