Best. Appraisal. Ever.

Odd title for a post eh? And not one you’d think would be that awfully exciting either. I’m certainly not promising to make it exciting, but hopefully interesting. It’s one of the biggest bugbears of all involved in HR/L&D. And let’s put aside the debate for now of the future of appraisals and if there are better ways to conduct them. As it is, we’re stuck with them in the main. The biggest issue we’ve always had is how to make them less unnecessarily time intensive.

The best end of year review I ever had lasted 45 mins.

I’ll come back to that a bit later.

So far I’ve been lucky to work in organisations where there aren’t really that many barriers to making appraisals a useful part of a person’s development. I’ve experienced everything from annual reviews to quarterly reviews, and known there to be 4 hour reviews and one’s as short as mine above. Some can turn quite heated and emotional, others can be non-descript, and some can be seen as a waste of time. And through all that, there’s only really one thing I consider – that the line manager has not taken the time on a regular basis to give regular informal (and sometimes formal) feedback to their direct report which helps them to continually develop.

It’s the hardest thing for a manager to do, but an absolutely vital part of their work. Direct reports need to know if they’re doing a good job, and the main person they’re going to hear that from is the line manager.

One of things I’ve not really considered is that there are going to be organisations where taking the time to do this regularly and consistently with all your people is just practically difficult. The demands of the day job for organisations such as the NHS, police service and fire service are such that the people development side of work just gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Yes, people can and do attend the appropriate training courses to help give them the skills to review their people, but what it fails to take into account is the practicality of doing so. And in truth, this training is woefully lacking – not the delivery, but the breadth of the content.

So here’s something to throw in the mix. We’re not giving enough attention or efforts to actually equipping line managers to do reviews amazingly well.

How about instead of sending line managers on simple appraisal training, we made the learning and development they go through so robust, line managers would not only feel more confident about holding regular reviews, but they would fundamentally change their perception of what people development is all about.

Here’s what I’m thinking. As L&Ders, we know plenty of ways to enable managers and leaders to be great, but – AND THIS IS A BIG BUT – we hold this for the reserve of those on leadership and management programmes. We don’t, in principle, tend to think of appraisal training – or performance management training, as being anything other than mandatory training for line managers. And as such, we keep it simple, and basic.

All it needs is to re-think the skills we provide managers in respect to this. How about if they learned what Situational Leadership could do for them. That they don’t need to take large chunks out of their day, but deal with things as they arise. That they could follow up with informal notes and emails that check in with progress. That they could mentally chart the development of each person based on day to day interactions instead of an annual meeting and feedback which is third party information.

How about if we taught them how to give feedback which is meaningful and direct. I’ve long let go of the concept of the ‘praise sandwich’. We’re adults for crying out loud. If we’re doing something right or wrong, and there is evidence to support it, give it to us straight down the line. How we deal with that feedback is up to us, but there’s nothing better than knowing where you stand.

How about if we taught what Diversity truly means amongst team members and encouraged not just toleration of others’ differences but downright praise and proper conversation about things that matter to team members. Much, and many, complaints and grievances in the workplace come down to a lack of understanding of someone else’s perspective, because we’ve not encouraged the permission to have those discussions without causing offence. I only know a handful of people who can have this conversation well, and I love those people.

How about if we took the time to actually provide training on business development and commercial acumen skills to all line managers, instead of competency frameworks and balanced scorecards? Then we’re helping to give everyone the knowledge and skills to move the business forward. Line managers can and should be enabling that in their direct reports, now leaving it up to the Execs – who are only just acting according to what they think is right anyway.

How about if we taught line managers how to spot positive behaviours so that they could actively encourage those amongst individuals and team members. Praise is infectious, both receiving it and giving it. If you hear someone in your team has done a good job, you’ll start to act in ways which bring about the same response. If you spot a team member doing something encouraging and positive, you’re likely to spot others in the team doing the same.

I’m sure there are better ways of giving line managers the confidence and skills to be able to make appraisals meaningful when they need to happen.

The best end of year review I ever had lasted 45 mins. This is because there were no surprises in what we talked about, we agreed on all the important points, and had nothing contentious to be challenged.