The hated annual appraisal

Around 30 years ago the idea of annual appraisals became fashionable, especially among bigger companies, writes John Gadd. Some years later the bigger pig units took up the idea, and it has never been popular with anybody, neither the interviewed nor the interviewer.

Before I left salaried employment to set up on my own, I had what I considered to be two pretty unfair reviews: I left the first shrugging my shoulders and put it down to experience, but the next year’s went the same way and really upset me. Both experiences contributed in part (but only in part) for my decision to go off and work for myself.

It also set me on course to try to find out from experts where my own interviews went wrong – was it my fault or the interviewer’s? So, over the years I have contacted personnel and sales managers of several respected retail companies. This has fairly relieved me that my own uncomfortable experiences were almost certainly due the interviewer’s faulty technique rather than my own failings. One very kindly allowed me to see videos of several interviews “done properly” that were used for managerial training. Here is what I have learned.

Why are appraisals useful?

The employee should learn how have they done in the employer’s eyes? What chance is there of advancement and what changes are likely in their workplace – or not. Some of the answers to these questions may be tough, but it’s better for the employee to know than not know. The appraisal provides a forum for expressing and resolving concerns – on both sides. And it enables the employee’s job description to be revised if required.

The employer should use the apparisal to help assess and record the employee’s behaviour and attitude. Identify performance problems and forestall others. It’s best if the appraiser goes into the interview with some ideas what instructional training and motivation may be needed. These interviews need the greatest tack and skill if the employee isn’t to go away demotivated and aggrieved – as I was!

Tips for a good appraisal session

  • Ensure the employee knows what a job appraisal is; this helps remove apprehension.
  • Choose a neutral venue.
  • Not behind a desk; better out of the office altogether.
  • Be friendly, smile, establish eye contact and never pace about or fold your arms!
  • Early on, ask the employee for his own self-assessment. This is a great ice-breaker. Then continue with the employee’s successes before dealing with any underachievements.
  • If the employee strongly disagrees with you, say you do take thecomments on board and ask him to write out in his own time exactly what his views are, and promise another talk soon to discuss these in more detail.
  • Never, ever write notes during the interview – do them between interviews.
  • Set written goals by mutual agreement, both short term (three months) and long term (12 months). Some companies call this document the “Death Warrant”, which brings some welcome ironic humour into any appraisal.
  • Review the goals on the Death Warrant at the next appraisal. If they have not been met, ask how you can help.
  • Don’t use annual appraisals to fix wage rises and promotions. These must be done at another time. The same for performance bonuses, which are best based on team, not individual, achievements.
  • A good annual appraisal should take about an hour. That long? Good sessions with both sides benefitting do tend to last that long. Make time for it – your employees will respect you for it.

Next time we’ll look at setting bonuses.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)