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The Secret to Fair and Meaningful Appraisals | Forbes India

Fair & Meaningful Appraisal

Ha! Ha! Ha! Did you say fair appraisals? Serious? Allow me to pause and take a minute to LOL. You know that my boss determines this, right? No? It is actually someone or something else?

While that time of the year is upon us and for some, this is the steady “March” towards doomsday, appraisals do not necessarily have to be all translucent (bordering on opaque!), complicated and full of surprises (read: shocks). It does not have to set an example for what the secret ballot system of voting should aspire to be – a bunch of covert numbers being assigned and ratings being so tightly adjusted that you become no more than a sad digit on a Likert scale!

During an independent study done last year, we realized that over 50% of people who responded to our survey, felt that they could not talk openly in their company about how their appraisals were, while only 50% felt that their appraisals were fair. Over 30% of people were unclear of the process itself and felt that they were being judged. Not surprising that 54% of people felt that they expected more direction from their leaders/bosses during/post appraisal.

So, how do you ensure that your appraisal systems are transparent, fair, sensible and meaningful to your employees? How do you make sure that these won’t be one-off chats that are forgotten because the employee either just accepts the feedback but has no clue in terms of an action plan?

Performance appraisal systems across the world tend to be thought of as inadequate, biased and even unnecessary. Regardless of which organization they work in, no matter the industry or the kind of job they do, employees seem to share a mutual dislike for performance appraisals. This unanimous discontent with and loathing of an entire system cannot be rooted simply in the fear of receiving negative feedback. Maybe there really are aspects of the performance appraisal methods that need attention.

Preparing for an appraisal also means that managers need to prepare more than the ones being appraised.

Align to Values

It might just possibly be the most overlooked element of the appraisal process, but subjectivity is the absolute bane of supposedly fair performance reviews. Take a moment to think about it: can an employee’s year-long efforts and overall performance be fairly analyzed on the basis of a reviewer’s personal opinions and scope of judgment? Employees deserve an appraisal system that assesses their performance on the basis of a well-defined structure of factors that they not only understand but firmly believe in.

Well, following in the footsteps of most organizations who have happily and successfully resolved this dilemma, here’s a simple step: bring in your company values into the appraisal process! After all, company values are not just a list of grand words to be included in a manifesto; they are the very essence of your company’s identity. This is why values hold the key to a fair appraisal process: when you affectively communicate your core values to your employees, you help them understand expectations; when you help them understand how values translate into actions, you define the expected work behaviours. With values, you are able to effectively outline and prepare your workforce for what will be expected during appraisals and they in turn, are not left in the dark with respect to what will be expected of them. It’s a win-win situation!

No surprises

Neither the timeline set for the performance appraisal nor the actual outcomes should be a surprise for your employees. What would be a good idea is to conduct a pre-appraisal meeting. This would not only allow you to prepare your employee for what is to come (good, bad or ugly), but also have a less formal one-on-one conversation that helps you understand what went well and what went wrong. An employee might be facing issues that are not work-specific but have the power to affect his/her performance. Try to go behind-the-scenes of any performance. Your employees will then get to feel that you are willing to actually make an effort to appreciate their work and also measure their output more holistically. Remember that it is not about a number or rating but rather, a blend of ratings and rationales. One on one – two way chats that make sense and a difference.

Taking Sips v/s Downing Quarter

One of the basic and most effective parts of following a diet plan is to regularly keep checking one’s weight to track progress. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Progress is best understood with the help of frequent feedback. If you have done something differently in a particular month, it is rewarding to discover that the new process works, or conversely to find out that there is a need to rethink the status quo. But if you’re made to wait for months on end to find out the judgment on the initiative you are taking now, how will you be able to track your own process?

I suppose what I’m trying to say here is: don’t leave your employees hanging before the appraisals even appear on the horizon. Effective feedback works best in small, well-timed doses when they are needed and matter the most. As an employer, make sure to engage in year-round conversations and commentaries on performance that can serve as reference points for when the big appraisal day does come around.

Going all the way around- 360 degree appraisals

When it comes to appraisals, feedback, my friend, should be a two-way street.
Even the greatest leaders falter (often), but they don’t always have the benefit of having someone come up to them and tell them what they are doing wrong and how to go about fixing it (possibly out of fear of speaking ‘out of turn’ or worse, dire consequences). I see that as a great disadvantage. Everyone needs feedback. The world progresses on the basis of feedback! Popular perception might view appraisals as ‘undesired confrontations’, but I believe there is no better opportunity for a working professional to learn strengths, find weaknesses and align what they seek (their potential) with what they have (their current performance).

I find that employers, on the other hand, do not always make the most of this opportunity. If an appraisal process wants to be truly meaningful, it needs to look at performances everywhere, at every level – peers, co-workers, managers – and get perspective on how these performances align and how they can help each other work better. So come appraisal time, make sure there’s enough feedback to go around!

Take feedback

Here’s the last bit I have to share on this matter: In the bid to achieve fair and meaningful appraisals and as effective as all the points I mentioned above are (and they really are effective), there is always scope for improvement. So consider this: if the purpose of an appraisal is to give feedback and make things better, shouldn’t there be an appraisal for the process of appraisal? I believe there should! And who better to give you pointers on how the appraisal process can be improved than the people who are on the other side of the table? Make sure your employees feel free to discuss their appraisal processes, give feedback on their experience and share suggestions on how the process can be improved. It is only fair!

This article first appeared on the Forbes India website on April 24, 2017

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