OK, so it’s that time of the year again. You are snowed under, rushing to meet your deadlines, running around closing deals, signing lots of papers, preparing the business review presentation… and then you realize it’s appraisal time. Damn! Damndamn! Admit it.
For many managers this is a pain in the proverbial. Why? Because, to quote a classic, they are doing it wrong…
We tend to set up appraisal mechanisms designed by benevolent people with several assistants to ensure people get a fair review. What they end up ensuring is that a manager (usually with no assistant) up to her neck in urgent matters ends up rushing through the process for the purpose of compliance. This usually happens in the larger type of organization. In smaller operations these items tend to get filed under “BS” and never get done.
In both cases, we are missing the essence of the matter: You need to pay attention to your people. In a small company, appraisals are usually continuous and part of the daily routine. “Nice job, Georgia”, “Let’s take a look at that report you set up, Paul”, “What the hell were you thinking, Jean?” and so on. Fair enough. But if you want to develop professional co-workers, you must first act professionally and treat them as professionals. That means taking the time to pay attention to their performance, taking time to understand what makes them tick and then sit down with them and tock (sorry-couldn’t help myself).
People prepare for their appraisal. Many get stressed out about sitting with the boss. They lose sleep the night before and may even rehearse what they are going to say and try to anticipate your input. So don’t take it lightly. Prepare for the meeting and set aside the time. Avoid interruptions, set up a neutral space (a conference room) and have a numbers based discussion. Yes, it’s back to the numbers. You should be able to build a case by combining the cold facts with the personal reality sitting in front of you. If you have been clear in setting targets for your people, appraisals are so much easier. They have their hard targets, their soft targets, their professional development targets and they know how they measure up against them. If you have not set your targets carefully you are in for surprises. People without clear targets will always assume that they are in the green. Wait for the shocked silences when you paint a different picture. “What do you mean I’m below target? I’ve brought in LOTS of revenue and a BUNCH of new customers!”. Of course when asked how much 5% of LOTS is they usually have some trouble quantifying.
Always make allowance for that annoying little thing called human nature. People have things going on outside the office. Some are good, some not so good, others may even border on the illegal. Try to know if there is a personal reason behind the sudden drop in performance. Then handle it discretely.
Remember, a co-worker should walk out of an appraisal meeting feeling refreshed and focused. There should be a sense of justice, recognition and direction. Otherwise just send the targets through the mail.