How Can Staff Appraisals Can Get The Best Out Of Your Team?

Supervisor and employee having a performance review

Whenever people hear the term “staff appraisals,” their minds likely go to their annual performance review. While the idea of an annual review can cause anxiety for many, it doesn’t always have to be this way!

When properly implemented, staff appraisals are an incredibly valuable tool for promoting the development of employees and boosting your overall talent management strategy. In this article, we profile all you need to know about them.

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What Are Staff Appraisals?

A staff appraisal is a management tool to help support employee professional development. Centered around an appraisal meeting, this is management’s chance to determine how an employee is faring, and what they might need to be better at their job in a precise and actionable way.

Why Do Staff Appraisals Matter?

In contrast to annual evaluations, which only happen once a year (typically), a staff appraisal is a more frequent check-in with an employee to see where they are at in their work.

In this sense, ongoing and informal exchanges are essential. That’s because feedback should serve as an integral part of a company’s culture to ensure that it is put into everyday practice. Regular appraisals can also feature as a key part of just about any performance management cycle your organization builds to support employees.

Building on that, though, feedback can take a wide range of forms. It could be:

  • Meeting for a coffee and having a chat about a recent project.
  • A recap every time a project is finalized to discuss what went well (or not so well).
  • Messaging one another using your company’s internal communication tool.

Appropriate Timelines For Staff Appraisals

Annual appraisal meetings are a good time to discuss performance in a formal setting. Processes should ensure that those involved do not approach these meetings randomly.

Staff appraisal meetings, on the other hand, should never be limited to just a single meeting every year. Meetings should instead be held at least quarterly, with some going into greater depth and others remaining more informal.

What Should You Discuss During An Appraisal Meeting?

Staff appraisals are about facilitating an exchange of ideas regarding expectations, plans, and goals (including, but not limited to, monetary goals). This is all in an effort to arrive at a common denominator.

Things like learning how things are going at the moment, some of the high-priority items on an employee’s to-do list, or the outlook for the months ahead. Each of these can help create common ground and understanding between employees and their managers.

Taken together, they are about promoting an employee’s personal and professional development, about motivating them through appreciation, and strengthening overall employee loyalty.

What Is The Best Time For A Staff Appraisal Meeting?

Let’s start with a baseline distinction. There are essentially two types of ‘triggers’ for staff appraisal meetings, which include event-related and institutionalized appraisal meetings.

The first is as it sounds. A staff appraisal based on some kind of event that recently happened, which could include:

  • Particularly outstanding or poor performance
  • Conflicts
  • Necessary interventions in work processes, process changes
  • Failure to meet requirements
  • Optimization of work processes
  • Accidents at work
  • Prolonged or frequent employee illness
  • Absenteeism in the workplace

By contrast, institutionalized meetings are conducted regularly without a trigger beyond the passage of time. These serve to assess employees’ overall performance and are conducted in a standardized form that relies on set guidelines.

During these meetings, managers evaluate employee performance over a certain period of time and develop options to further an employee’s career. This could include a professional development plan, for instance.

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How Should You Organize A Staff Appraisal Meeting?

Let’s say that we want our staff appraisal meetings to be the best of the best. For them to be both constructive and focused on future development, we need to have some rules and structure in place.

That’s why it is so crucial that appraisal meetings are thoroughly prepared, in terms of both content and structure. This way, they can be effective in motivating employees and enabling them to improve their performance.

If any employee feels ‘prepared for’ and ‘part of a process,’ it can help increase their level of investment not only in their own goals but in the success of the company, as a whole.

Basically, staff appraisals need to ensure that employees know exactly where and how to improve. You could even think of it within the guidelines of a performance improvement plan (PIP) for employees who are struggling.

Staff appraisal notes can contain both praise and criticism. However, any criticism should always refer to specific situations to ensure that employees feel they are being assessed objectively and transparently.

HR can provide managers with tools and tips on how to prepare for staff appraisal meetings and conduct them in a structured manner. Here’s a helpful checklist to help you get started:

Preparatory Stage

  • Invite employees well ahead of time and let them know about the points you would like to discuss.
  • Book a suitable room where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Schedule sufficient time.
  • Conduct employee appraisals in a timely manner and provide employees with a self-evaluation sheet.

Prepare Contents:

  • Which points would you like to raise?
  • Do you have all the information and evidence/examples you need to support your reasoning?
  • What change would you like to see after the meeting? Think about what you’d like to achieve with the meeting.
  • What are the employee’s strengths? What do you appreciate most about working with the employee/the employee’s work?
  • Get an overview of the employee’s personal situation, e.g. family or health problems. This is particularly important when you want to raise criticism.
  • How did past meetings between you and the employee go? Prepare yourself for possible points to be discussed.
  • How will you deal with the situation if you can’t reach an agreement with the employee? Think about possible reactions.

During the Appraisal Meeting

  • Create a pleasant atmosphere for the meeting without interference, e.g. from mobile phones.
  • Encourage dialogue and allow the employee to share.
  • Define goals and contents to be discussed at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Be attentive and listen actively.
  • Document important points.
  • Make realistic agreements. Employee goals and target agreements should always motivate employees rather than overwhelm them.

After the Meeting

  • Reflect on how the meeting went. Are there any points where you could do better at the next appraisal meeting?
  • Create a record of the meeting that both the manager and employee acknowledge.
  • Support the employee in implementing their agreed-upon goals.

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5 Common Staff Appraisal Mistakes To Avoid

These common pitfalls are worth sharing with managers within your company, to help prevent leaving a negative impression during a staff appraisal. Here is what you should be on the lookout for:

1. Spontaneous Meetings & A Lack of Time

It’s important not to treat staff appraisals as necessary. Instead, view them as a valuable part of your management tasks. Staff appraisals should become a fixture in your schedule, and you should communicate with employees about their appraisal meetings well ahead of time.

With that in mind, make sure to schedule enough time for each employee to avoid having to conduct meetings under pressure. After all, you definitely do not want to give the impression of being stressed for time.

If necessary, spread meetings out over several weeks. This will ensure that you leave your employees with a competent, committed impression. It will also make it easier for you to reflect outcomes from meetings back to HR.

2. Poor Preparation

When appraisal meetings are conducted annually, their purpose is to review an extended period of work and to discuss what has been achieved over that period (and what has not). Therefore, you need to know how respective employees performed throughout the entire year.

Otherwise, you will risk looking poorly prepared. This communicates a lack of appreciation to the employee.

Preparing for workplace appraisals is not an easy task. It requires not only selective but continuous records. Log certain things, set reminders, and keep track of any events that may be relevant to the staff appraisal meeting throughout the year.

This also includes recognizing further training opportunities, salary potential, and other organizational matters. If your schedule is too tight to allow you to prepare for a meeting, it is always better to postpone it.

3. Accusations & Unspecific Statements

It’s not uncommon for an employee to struggle in their role. That said, it is important that managers do not harangue their employees with broad, negative statements or accusations.

Instead, they need to give specific feedback on facts. Statements such as “your performance is unsatisfactory” or “your work is not up to our expectations” should be avoided at all costs. That’s because they are unspecific and unproductive.

This type of criticism does not allow employees to identify what went wrong or what they did wrong. In a worst-case scenario, this approach can even result in the employee losing trust or a break in their ‘psychological contract.

It is, therefore, best to stick to specific observations and examples. Avoid generalizations and keep in mind that, in the best-case scenario, employees should be able to come up with a concrete plan for improving their work after your meeting.

4. Not Involving Employees In Setting Their Own Goals

Before an employee ever can reach their goals, they need to set them! If employees are not involved in this process, things can go wrong, very quickly. If goals are imposed using a top-down approach, it can make employees feel as though their goals are unachievable right from the very beginning.

When done right, staff appraisals can avoid this entirely. In short, it is essential that employees and their managers engage as equal partners in the process. Otherwise, it is not possible for both sides to present their arguments and opinions.

This also ensures that any failure to achieve these goals can be managed. It may require future collaboration, training, or assistance, but an action plan can be designed in a more meaningful way.

5. Apply Pressure Using Career Opportunities or Salaries

Achieving goals and employee development are closely related. Productivity problems or unsatisfactory outcomes cannot be solved by simple if-then equations.

This is where you need to show real leadership skills and work together with employees to establish how goals can be achieved. If you apply excessive pressure in your position as a manager, you usually have more to lose than to gain.

What Is The Key To A Great Staff Appraisal?

Some employees eagerly anticipate appraisal meetings months ahead. They see them as an opportunity to vent anger, receive praise, or address a hoped-for salary increase. Give them the space to do this and allow for a frank discussion.

In addition, prepare for each meeting, listen attentively, and try to make the most of this opportunity to reflect on your collaboration. If you keep the pitfalls outlined above in mind as you prepare for your next appraisal meeting, you’ll find that you’ll be able to turn the ‘dreaded performance reviews’ into a productivity driver for both you and your employees.

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