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Performance appraisals have been around almost forever as a means of providing feedback on employee performance. Just about everyone has been involved in one and knows the drill. However, there are nasty downsides to a feedback procedure that’s often done only once or twice each year and is seen as a burden by everyone involved.
When we hear the term “performance review,” many people have a visceral distrust of the tool otherwise known as a “performance appraisal.” Some of the reasons:
What we just listed are criticisms of annual or bi-annual performance REVIEW. What we should look at, however, is ongoing performance DEVELOPMENT. The key distinction is that development happens regularly, isn’t a function of performance reviews, and looks ahead rather than back.
Performance appraisals focus on past behaviors. One-time evaluations of past performance (whether that’s every six months or annually) are ineffective because they look at performance that is six to twelve months old! They’re looking in the rear-view mirror. Not only that, the performance appraisals focus on “stand-out” actions (good, bad, and indifferent) and not at those actions that necessarily demonstrate growth and development. Performance appraisals are also subject to several types of bias, including selection, anchoring, recency/frequency, and confirmation, among others. For example, anchoring and recency/frequency biases are about evaluating employees based on one or two outstanding events (good or bad) and how recent or frequent certain events were. Both biases unfairly judge employees based on terribly limited information.
Ongoing performance development is where the biggest payoff is for you, the employee, and the company because it’s not about “appraisals,” it’s not about “management,” and it’s not focused on what the employee needs to do to “improve.”
Performance development, rather than performance appraisal, is about reinforcing employees’ existing skills and developing new ones, and it’s done in real-time (“ongoing”) rather than waiting for a formal performance appraisal meeting. Think about an annual appraisal where your boss forgot about something you were especially proud of, but which happened 11 months ago and it skipped your boss’s mind—or they may not remember it at all. Ongoing performance development doesn’t let that happen because conversations between boss and employee happen frequently and are documented at that time.
If your company is firmly committed to the quarterly, bi-annual, or annual performance review process (and most companies are), a great way to ensure your employees are evaluated more objectively, with reduced bias, and a reduction in your workload, do two things:
Performance development has several moving parts, but they fit together nicely. One of the greatest payoffs is that this process contains everything you need to conduct a formal performance appraisal because you’ve already done most of the work!
The essential element is feedback—conversation. While the past-performance-based conversation is helpful, it’s future performance that we’re trying to emphasize. And, don’t forget that conversations with your people don’t always need to be focused on how they’re performing. Taking an interest in an employee’s long-term personal goals—including non-work interests like hobbies, vacations, reading preferences, etc.—can establish the kind of trust bond that’s absolute gold.
When you focus on development rather than appraisal, your conversation changes. It goes from looking at past performance to how you and the employee can work together to develop the employee’s current and future skill sets. It looks at how those skills can advance the company’s mission and the employee’s growth prospects. It expresses your appreciation for their professionalism and how you value their contributions.
Most of us still need to conduct a formal appraisal. But, because we’ve already completed the lion’s share of the effort, the appraisal will be shorter, more positive, and much more meaningful to us, the company, and the employee. The appraisal will be a continuation of performance development and focus on the future, not the past.
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