Appraisals can be one of the most difficult activities to get right.
When implemented effectively, they are a source of development for both the appraisee and the appraiser, and they open up organisational communication. The trouble is, the prevailing organisational culture and the attitude of individuals means you may well experience the following approaches.
“This is your annual appraisal interview”
Approach “This is your annual appraisal interview as required by the company, in which the manager, that’s me, has the opportunity to critique your performance over the last twelve months. I’ve been interviewed by my boss. Now it’s your turn to be done.”
Analysis An appraisal process that is seen as one way and downward, right and wrong, reinforces management hierarchy and control. Staff are suspicious because this approach focuses on what the organisation demands, rather than what the individual might potentially contribute.
An effective appraisal is a collaborative approach, a two way process in which both people give feedback to each other. An effective appraisal is based on a shared overall aim – to explore how we, together, can be more effective.
“The problem with you is…”
Approach “The role of the boss, that’s me, is to provide clear direction. I won’t beat about the bush. Both of us need to know where we stand. These are your faults and you have got to work on them or you won’t get anywhere around here.”
Analysis Many managers feel that an appraisal means criticism, that it is a process of correction, more like a disciplinary hearing. One company I worked in openly called it “character assassination.”
There are two issues here. One is that the focus of an appraisal should be forward, constructive and about potential; not backward, destructive and about faults.
The second issue is that one individual is using their position power to pass judgment on what they consider to be right and wrong – imposing their views on another, rather than engaging in an exploratory conversation.
Feedback should provide the appraisee with more options in the future, not fewer.
“If I were you…”
Approach “If I were you (you have a big disadvantage in not being me)….”
Analysis This is a crippling message to send out. First of all, it may appear as advice but is, in fact, an order: “Do it my way, and properly.”
Second, the boss underlines the fact that, in their position, they universally have more wisdom, greater experience and a barrow load of charisma – all of which are lacking in their subordinates. This discourages creativity, energy, innovation, initiative and commitment.
The best appraisal process is one which enables the appraisee to draw conclusions for themselves.
“You shouldn’t have done that”
Approach “I’d have done it differently (and much better.) And we wouldn’t be wasting time now talking about it, if you had tried to use common sense before you started.”
Analysis This is another crippling message, stifling originality and limiting development. This approach is negative and backward looking.
There are so many positive ways discussion can be opened: “How do you feel negotiations with the suppliers went….How are you getting on with Chris….What personal development do you want to focus on this coming year?” And the big one: “What can I do for you that will help you do a better job?”
The best feedback helps people grow, it does not diminish them.
“I think you did that because….”
Approach “Nothing escapes my attention. And I am pretty astute when it comes to psychology and I’ve got you worked out. I know what makes people tick.”
Analysis Not only is the boss a snoop but, beware, they are also a mind reader with superior powers.
When giving feedback, provide examples and focus on observable behaviour. Avoid speculating about people’s inner thoughts or pursuing personal theories.
“I know how it feels”
Approach “I’ve actually experienced the same as you, only worse. So you have my sympathy. It’s not funny, I can tell you. I conquered adversity. So….”
Analysis The receiver of this comment has had an experience that is personal to them and it might have been painful. The boss has not had that experience and doesn’t know what it feels like, however similar they feel their situations may have been.
The next phrase is likely to be along the lines of “so you have just got to grin and bear it” or “just pull your socks up” or “do what I did”. In other words an unsympathetic response followed by an order. This approach is another means to exert control.
Avoid clichés like “I know how it feels” and avoid showing pretend sympathy. Instead, ask questions: “Looking back, how do you feel about it now?”
“My door is always open”
Approach “In conclusion, I want you to feel you can come and see me any time. No problem is too small for me if it’s worrying you. I’d like to think we can work things out together. You know, heart to heart. Now, I must get on….”
Analysis My first boss used to say this to me and I was immediately confused. Maybe his door was open but he was rarely in there and, when he was, he seemed to have far more important things to do.
I would be interested to hear of similar comments you have experienced in the name of providing feedback, so please let me know.