The owners of most small firms don’t like doing performance appraisals and avoid them, or at least procrastinate over them. Yet they want to improve productivity (and atmosphere) in their firm. Logically a trick is being missed! What’s more, many firms want to improve their structure to deal with changing situations and to be able to move to being compliance led. Here’s how to improve your performance appraisals and make them relevant to your strategy.

Fearful child, like you with your performance appraisals?

Is this how you feel about performance appraisals?

The most common problems in performance appraisals.

  • You don’t like them, they lose you chargeable time and you put them off for as long as possible. That’s where performance appraisals start to go wrong.
  • Delaying, or cutting them short: This really shows your team that you are not bothered about their performance review, and be default not bothered about them. Not a good start!
  • Pre-determined. You already know what you want to say, you say it, write it down and move on. No chance to discuss, or learn. No wonder they don’t help your team’s motivation or commitment.
  • Unfocused. You have a vague idea of what you think, but don’t like telling your staff “bad news” so the conversation staggers around like a party goer leaving the pub after closing time.
  • No strategic linkage. You have a discussion about how they’ve done, but there is no framework that links the discussion to what the firm is trying to do, where you know it needs to go, or how your team need to change in order to do this.

5 tips to improve your performance appraisals

  1. Set the discussion around things you expect them to be competent at: A discussion based around the competencies you need, and a common way of defining them helps keep the discussion relevant to your strategy.
  2. Set the date for each performance appraisal well in advance, prep the staff member well (get them to complete their thoughts first and hand them to you first) and stick to the time allocated. Don’t cut the conversation short.
  3. Listen first. Let your team be heard and feel safe about what they want to say. If not, they won’t have the head-space to hear you or take anything on board.
  4. Good and bad: Ensure you highlight good things, but don’t avoid discussion about weaknesses. Perhaps you’ve watched me talke about “The Sandwich”? If not click here and watch me talk about it . If you have discussed good points, you really should be frank and open about the weaker areas too; most people avoid those bits. You may enjoy our six page guide to “difficult conversations”, you can download it by clicking here
  5. More than one discussion each year. Your ‘formal’ performance appraisal should be a summary of the good and bad performance aspects you’ve discussed throughout the year.

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Making your performance appraisals strategic

Performance appraisals should help your team to improve their skills in the core competencies you need to happen in your firm. Reviews are not just about ticking some boxes because your HR advisor insisted!

Core competencies are those things that need to happen, in order for you to deliver the client service, productivity, “company culture” and future growth in your strategy. Think about the core competencies you need, before the round of performance appraisals start.

Each competency should then have some standard levels of attainment, so you and your team can all review themselves on the same, fair, and strategically relevant scale. Some things to get your team to measure themselves against might include:

  • CLIENT SERVICE: Focusing on delivering “Wow” to our clients.
  • COMMERCIAL AND MARKET FOCUS: Growing our business and contributing to our strategic success
  • INSPIRING LEADERSHIP: Creating energy in me and others to follow a particular direction.

There are many more that your firm should be using, that relate to where you are taking your firm. Each of my examples are relevant to all levels of staff.

At the lower grades inspiring leadership could be “Showing positive self-leadership in approach to work and relationships”, where a manager might need to be “Creating a team environment that engages and recognises all members”. Each of your competencies should have some  definitions showing different lewvels of attainment. By using the same, strategically relevant, competencies you can help guide people to what they need to do in order to be promoted/ improve in your firm.

Performance appraisals – a summary

Performance reviews are a key tool in improving what is probably your most expensive asset (liability?). Link the review process to your strategic needs, don’t hold back and remember you’re dealing with people.

Read some more ideas that may help – “The appraisal” and “Improving your Staff Appraisals”

How are you thinking of improving your performance appraisals?

Learn how to attract, recruit and retain the RIGHT staff. FREE webinar on 23rd May. Click for more details

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