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Why performance appraisals are so painful for HR

Woman sitting on a desk worrying about Painful Performance Appraisals

Many of us in HR who have had some form of respon­si­bil­i­ty for per­for­mance man­age­ment will have expe­ri­enced the fol­low­ing sce­nario at some point:

It’s annu­al appraisal time. A feel­ing of dread kicks in. An email is sent out to all staff ask­ing them to have their per­for­mance appraisal meet­ings and com­plete their forms by x date. A week before said date, most peo­ple still haven’t done it. So you chase up line man­agers, who com­plain that they don’t see why they should be doing it anyway.

The dead­line pass­es and still lots of peo­ple haven’t had their appraisal meet­ings. So you trawl through the paper­work try­ing to estab­lish who has and hasn’t returned their forms, then do some more chas­ing. A cou­ple of months after the dead­line most peo­ple have now returned their forms, but you’ve spent so much time chas­ing and man­ag­ing the admin that you’ve got no time to review the qual­i­ty of the appraisal dis­cus­sions or the objec­tives that have been set. You muster up enough ener­gy to sift through the appraisal paper­work once again to pull out per­for­mance rat­ings and com­pile the train­ing needs for the year.

Feel­ing despon­dent, you won­der why you put your­self through this every year and whether it’s real­ly worth it.

That might sound like a cyn­i­cal take on appraisals, but it’s still an all too com­mon occur­rence. In ear­ly 2015, we car­ried out a sur­vey of HR pro­fes­sion­als on LinkedIn to under­stand if, and why, they were find­ing per­for­mance appraisals painful to man­age. The results were clear-cut:

95% of respon­dents said that they found man­ag­ing the per­for­mance appraisal process a hassle

The 5 most com­mon rea­sons giv­en were:

  1. Line man­agers not buy­ing into the process and fail­ing to under­stand its benefits
  2. The admin­is­tra­tion involved in run­ning a paper-based process and hav­ing to man­u­al­ly com­pile data
  3. Doc­u­men­ta­tion is too com­plex / time con­sum­ing to com­plete so it becomes a tick-box exercise
  4. Hav­ing to con­stant­ly chase people
  5. Anx­i­ety from both employ­ees and line man­agers about the process

So what can be done to over­come these prob­lems? Whilst there is no one mag­ic solu­tion, there are a num­ber of things that HR can do to reduce the pain and make per­for­mance man­age­ment a success:

  1. Get buy-in to per­for­mance man­age­ment from top man­age­ment. Ensure that key com­mu­ni­ca­tions come from top man­age­ment rather than HR and coach them to lead by exam­ple when it comes to car­ry­ing out their own per­for­mance appraisals.
  2. Engage line man­agers by involv­ing them in eval­u­at­ing and improv­ing your per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es and tools. You can do this by run­ning sur­veys, focus groups and car­ry­ing out inter­views to seek their feed­back and get their ideas on how things can be improved. This will encour­age greater own­er­ship of the process amongst managers.
  3. Con­tin­u­al­ly sell the ben­e­fits of good per­for­mance man­age­ment in your com­mu­ni­ca­tions and train­ing. Always empha­sise What’s in it for me?”. Rein­force this with suc­cess sto­ries from around the busi­ness of those who have embraced per­for­mance man­age­ment and the ben­e­fits they have achieved.
  4. Train man­agers and employ­ees in per­for­mance man­age­ment skills. Ensur­ing that your peo­ple have the nec­es­sary skills to engage in effec­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment (objec­tive set­ting, giv­ing and receiv­ing feed­back, coach­ing, han­dling dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions, etc.) will reduce anx­i­ety and lead to high­er qual­i­ty per­for­mance appraisal discussions.
  5. Use an online per­for­mance appraisal sys­tem to sim­pli­fy the doc­u­men­ta­tion, reduce the admin­is­tra­tion and com­pile the per­for­mance and devel­op­ment data.

We cov­er all the above con­cepts in more detail on our free Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Mas­ter­class.

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