Appraisals can be the perfect opportunity to motivate staff - but they must be done right
It's that time of year again - when your boss tells you how you've scored, what your pay rise and promotion prospects are and what kind of workload you'll be shouldering for the coming year.
However, it's now widely acknowledged that these review or appraisal systems are in crisis, prompting luminaries such as Adobe, General Electric, Microsoft, Motorola, Accenture and Deloitte to take new approaches - including 'appraisal by app' and 'mindfulness' courses - to this most sensitive of subjects.
Many of these new approaches agree that scoring staff does damage. That is, scoring employees on a scale or series of scales at the review meeting can be a recipe for ill-feeling. Hence, there are widespread concerns about rating and then applying a 'bell curve' thereto (i.e. 10pc of staff rated 'top score', 10pc rated 'bottom', with the remainder spread in between).
Scarily, Ford, Goodyear and Microsoft have all recently reached multi-million dollar out-of-court settlements with employees who were disgruntled about their scores. Even Google got caught for the relatively modest sum of €110,000 before the Irish courts, arising from allegations about inaccurate scoring and inappropriate 'bell curves'.
Despite growing concerns, staff rating or scoring systems continue to be widely used in Ireland and elsewhere. For example, Willis Towers Watson recently found that only 10pc of organisations across Ireland go 'ratingless', with 7pc in this category worldwide. So given the rating scale's popularity and potential, it really should be used properly.
The primary purpose of a performance management system is to motivate staff. So there is nothing more ludicrous than demotivating or losing a valuable staff member over a '4' score, when they felt they deserved a '5'. Allied to this 'motivation' objective, the review process is about discussing with staff how they are doing, where they are going and how they can maximise their strengths, whilst addressing their development needs. It shouldn't simply be an occasion for 'telling them' what grades they got and rushing them out of the door. But it often is.
That is, the review meeting is a precious (and often rare) opportunity to exchange ideas on how things are going. Of course, given the pay bonus link, and the fact that the outcome is recorded for posterity, both parties to the process may be so worried about the grades that as soon as they are announced the meeting is effectively over, without reference to wider and more relevant issues.
It can also help if the manager suspends final judgment on the employee's scores until such time as the discussion concludes. An 'open mind' allows the reviewer to gather new information in the course of the meeting that may influence the outcome and the ratings allocated. A related benefit to this 'open-minded' approach is that one cannot be accused - for example, in the course of a subsequent appeal hearing - of breaching a principle of natural justice and 'having made up one's mind before hearing all of the evidence'. That is, the review meeting should not simply be seen as an opportunity to deliver judgments.
So it is important to involve the interviewee and to ask them for their opinions and recommendations on matters which ultimately affect them.
Dr Gerard McMahon is a lecturer and consultant in human resource management at the Dublin Institute of Technology