The Dichotomy of Appraisals

Aug 14, 2014
Philip Bottle

Tags: appraisalperformance management

Appraisals are not a new concept within the NHS (or indeed in any organisation for that matter), but hand on heart how many of us can say they are effective and meaningful? If we are honest appraisals for most individuals are seen largely as a waste of time, and are treated by many organisations as a tick box exercise driven by compliance and percentages, with little or no impact, other than to be mistakenly seen as a performance management tool.

The process of Appraisal and its impact is something very close to my heart, and not just because I was Head of Learning and Development within an NHS Foundation Trust, but more importantly because I truly believe in the overarching aim, when undertaken well. Appraisals in my opinion should be a process that is incredibly powerful helping an individual and as a natural consequence the organisation to grow. A chance to plan for the future, to develop skills, to communicate future goals and to immerse those involved into the very fabric of what an organisation aims to achieve.

I have my own experiences and memories of appraisal, which on reflection tended to culminate in a heightened state of nervousness and trepidation as well as never feeling like they would achieve anything, but why?

Firstly as I always felt it was an opportunity for my managers to pull me up on any shortfalls I may have had or been perceived to have had, which is always a scary prospect. I have spoken to people that have said they felt there was a disconnect between what they actually do and what their managers think they do and an appraisal was a chance for managers to attack.

Secondly the level of complication involved and the amount of work required trying to build up a picture of the past. When I started in the NHS our appraisal form was 14 pages long, and for some trusts this was considered concise. This also led to the feeling that an appraisal was truly a once a year event and not an ongoing process.

Thirdly the fact that it always seemed to focus on the past, on what I had done with a little section at the end about what I was going to do. I always felt that this was the wrong way around, surely as important as the past was, it was in fact in the past and the focus should be on the future. A reflection on the past and a focus on the future?

Finally, follow up was always interesting, setting objectives and goals which unfortunately were only ever followed up the following year when everything had changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had some great appraisals and appraisers, but they all followed the same principles. Appraisals were always seen as an important ongoing process, they were always forward focused and they always followed the same structure shown below:

  • What does the individual want to achieve?
  • What is the organisation is trying to achieve?
  • How do we marry the two up to ensure we all win (utilising objectives, goals setting, follow ups and development.)

They were also always given importance, and not seen as a compliance task, ‘have you got five minutes to talk about your current and future contribution to the organisation?’ If an organisation is going to stick with appraisals then it must feel they play an important role and if so why are they not given the stature they deserve?

So what do I think needs to change? I have had a long held belief that appraisals should be forward facing, developmental and weaved into the very fabric and culture of what the organisation is and what it is trying to achieve. They should be simple and ongoing (this does not mean lengthy regular meetings, but ongoing acknowledgment of work and progress). Both managers and staff should feel that they are worthwhile and therefore worth the effort to get them right.

Overall I believe appraisals should be simple, motivating, effective and above all meaningful.

I wanted to end on some questions for us all to think about.

  • Should appraisals be developmental or another performance management tool?
  • Do they have any meaningful role and make a positive difference
  • Should they take place at all?
  • Should they be about what you have done or what you are going to do?
  • Should appraisals be shorter?

I do not propose to have all the answers just my opinions and would be great to hear your stories and to find out what you think could change? Feel free to contact me or email me if you have any thoughts.

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