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Common Mistakes Managers Make During Performance Appraisals

An employee of a midsized company had filled in his performance appraisal form in a very hurried way. It turns out that he and his reporting manager weren’t quite on good terms, to begin with.

The feedback his manager gave him was excessively negative, to the extent that an HR manager had to tone down the language and rework the feedback on the form. He also decided to sit in on the review as a neutral moderator to ensure that the feedback was constructive, and conveyed the right intentions. One of our clients came to us with this situation, and we know that this story repeats itself in several organisations.

What does it tell us?

a) That an employee, who has the room to step up, ends up apprehensive and defensive during his or her performance appraisal.
b) A manager who is excessively negative does not get the point across.
c) The real purpose of the review, which is to improve the work output and ensure that the team goals are met, has not been addressed.

The other overarching feedback we get is that the majority of the employees dislike the process and find it very unpleasant and sometimes unfruitful as it is done as a tick-mark exercise.

As a result of all this, the organisation does not seem to be getting measurable outcomes from the process. At times they find that their top executives are constantly being wooed away to another firm, despite all the training you have been providing them. You may just end up with underqualified people moving into leadership roles because there is no one better to take over.

While there are many reasons why appraisals don’t meet their objectives, however, one of the glaring issues is how poorly managers sometimes handle it. Here are the most common mistakes managers make in a performance appraisal and a few tips to reverse them:

1. Being too negative or positive:

As an effective team manager, you must hit the nail on the head and give accurate feedback, whether positive or negative. This can sometimes be uncomfortable. Some managers shy away from constructive criticism required to identify areas that need improvement. And sometimes they may be over-harsh or overly critical, leaving the employee with very low morale, wondering if they have done anything right.

Typically, you should give an honest opinion during the appraisal process. Remember, you also want your employees to understand as well as appreciate what you are saying concerning their performance. Thus, rather than being too negative or positive, you should think about giving balanced feedback.

If appraisals are still to be conducted:

Preparing in advance is the only way to ensure that the feedback is balanced. If you have two negative comments, also make an effort to think of two positive comments to balance the discussion. There can’t possibly be everything wrong with one employee, else the person would be asked to exit. Likewise, there can’t be everything good with an employee; else he/she would have replaced you by now; isn’t it?

If appraisals are already over:

If you feel the feedback has been lopsided for a particular team member, prepare your notes once again. Conduct another meeting with him/her, set the right context and share the additional feedback. I would go up to the extent of saying ‘I have some additional feedback for you. Don’t worry; it will not affect the already submitted appraisals forms’.

2. Focussing only on recent events:

It’s common, and we’re all human. Many a time, when the appraisal process is annual, employees step up just before their review. And, without a doubt, it works in many cases because we all have a top-of-the-mind recall. So, as a manager, if you aren’t taking the time to take note of things as you go, or meet with your employees on a quarterly basis, you are most likely only going to recall the beginning and the end of your employee’s year.

Also, encourage employees to keep a track for themselves, so they too have clear and targeted answers during self-appraisals. This will help to focus on the job and not the person.

If appraisals are still to be conducted:

I personally maintain an excel with all small and big accomplishments of my team (even for my outsourced teams), along with notes on who took the lead and who were the main contributors. Keeping track of accomplishments helps me in dealing with team members who tend to heighten their work performance closer to the appraisal period.
Make a quick excel yourself. A simple format with project names, team members, key accomplishments and preferably time/month of accomplishment should do the trick for now. And then, try to maintain this sheet going forward.

If appraisals are already over:

You could still make the accomplishments sheet, conduct a team meeting and establish it to the entire team that going forward you would be maintaining a list of accomplishments. If done right, it will become a tool for you to keep your team motivated and focused on achieving more.

3. Not actively following up on feedback and comments discussed in the review:

I cannot stress enough on the merits of giving and receiving feedback. Most performance appraisal tools have a provision to capture feedback not only of the employee who is being reviewed but also feedback for the manager who is conducting the review. Many large organisations adopt the 360 degrees appraisal model, especially at the mid to senior management levels, to ensure a holistic evaluation is conducted before the review ratings are submitted. While all of this adds to the time taken in completing the review, it is a critical step that is often overlooked.

Not every team member gives constructive feedback or comments during the review, however, those who do often feel that there was no outcome or action on their feedback. For example, a team member may express the desire to avail a slightly flexible work schedule for he/she has been working long hours for the past year. After the review, work returns to normal and this request/feedback/ comment is lost in everyday work.

Of course, the team manager has to be able to differentiate between genuine feedback and disruptive feedback. But don’t make the mistake of dismissing all feedback.

If appraisals are still to be conducted:

Encourage the team members to share constructive feedback with you. Ask questions like ‘what can I do to help you improve your performance?’ or ‘what would you like us to do differently going forward?’ rather than the typical question of ‘do you have any feedback for me?’ Once you have all the feedback, classify it into two broad heads – feedback for me and feedback for the organisation. While the feedback for the organisation can be passed on to the central HR team, don’t forget to follow up on specifics once in a while. As for the ‘feedback for me’ section, try to write down at least one action point that you will undertake. Communicate the action point to the team member as well.

If appraisals are already over:

Put some time aside to review all the forms, jot down feedback that may be received and follow the same approach mentioned above. There is a possibility that there may be no feedback or comments. This is a very scary situation because one of the two things is true – 1. The team thinks you are not open to feedback or 2. The team feels there is no point is sharing feedback as on changes will be seen. No feedback is the most crucial feedback one can receive. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to begin with creating opportunities where your team members can express their feedback freely.

4. Not looking beyond performance:

Let’s face it. All of us, including team managers, want that salary hike at the end of the annual performance appraisal. It is, after all, an effective, measurable and tangible way to tell someone you value their services.

However, the typical pay-for-performance approach is ineffective because the difference in pay for a top performer and a mediocre performer is usually not significant enough to be meaningful. Well-intentioned attempts at pay-for-performance at times backfire because given sufficient time; everyone can perform a certain role and delivery mediocre performance. You might just end up giving a salary raise to everyone. But is that sustainable form the organisations’ point of view? When you look beyond performance, you will be surprised to see how many team members actually are comfortable doing just about as much is required and have no zeal to do more.

If appraisals are still to be conducted:

Consider looking at multiple factors that can be taken into account such as their ambition, their potential and drive to perform better. When you are aware of your team members’ ambition, you can play an active role in enabling your team member in achieving their ambition. It also sets precedence in the team that ambition and drive are as important as day to day performance.

It will give you the opportunity to create alternative perks that meet their expectations. Like offering them very good mid-career study options in top-notch universities that can go a long way in enhancing their skill set as well. It can also offer future leadership special training, for high potential employees, etc.

If appraisals are already over:

Make it your agenda to have one-on-one sessions with your team member to understand their ambition. If they don’t have one, inspire them to think about it. At times, team members may not be ambitious. It does not mean they are not good performers. Try to understand from them what their motivations are. Ask questions like ‘what do you want to achieve next?’ or ‘Who would you want to collaborate with on your next project?’ or ‘what new skills do you want to learn?’ You will be surprised with the kind of insight you gain with these simple questions. Do this informally too if you share a good rapport with your team.

Well, no one is saying it’s easy; else everyone would have nailed it by now. We’d all be working on high-performance teams that are completely loyal to the company.

The biggest challenge is to ensure that every appraisal is managed in a consistent manner. I assure you, even if every team manager commits to avoiding the above-mentioned mistakes, the organisation will see a visible difference in the employee’s morale, dedication and productivity.

The appraisal offers a valuable opportunity to discuss workflow and goals, address existing gaps and encourage positive performance. When done systematically it will help your firm offer a valuable work experience that meets professional needs and expectations of the employees. That way, any business can drive employee satisfaction, workforce engagement and loyalty and hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.

At Yellow Spark, we design innovative ways you can improve manager-employee communication for a holistic performance appraisal. To know more write to us at contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.

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Common Mistakes Managers Make During Performance Appraisals
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Published on:  April 11, 2019