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20 February 2019
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The cure for poor annual appraisals

7 April 2014 

Ever had a bad job appraisal? Do you dread that time of the year? Do you worry about having to appraise your team?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then read on, for the cure is here. You need never to have, or give, a bad appraisal again.

At the heart of the appraisal system is a significant flaw. They seek answers to questions that don’t need answering. Every job is about doing something so why wait for an appraisal to discuss it? Discussing what you are supposed to be doing and how well you are doing is what your supervisor is being paid to do on a daily basis. Raising some formal documentation of that once a year is just a waste of time and paper for all concerned.

Just looking at an example of an appraisal form here is making my blood boil; four sides of A4 and not one thing there that could be described as being of any real use. I can recall 30-odd years ago undergoing my first annual appraisal and being asked  as part of the preparation to list my strengths and weaknesses. 

I listed dozens of strengths, but only a couple of weaknesses (OK, I was young and full of myself) only to be told by the personnel person (they had yet to become human resources) that I should list around five of each and being given a new form to start again. I scraped up five weaknesses and cut my strengths down and waited. My boss did her bit and then I was summoned to see her boss for my interview. All we talked about were my five weaknesses and those topics were to haunt me for three years. And this was all supposed to be motivational?

Later in my career I had to write the final comment on each of just over 350 appraisals that would come across my desk. Fortunately, I knew all of those people and could write something different for each, but doing it was spread across the bulk of three days because I would read every one of those appraisals.

I’ll stop my rant now and get to the point, pausing just to thank my good friend Down Under, Ian Berry, for having triggered a return to this train of thought in these musings. The cure for this blight of the annual appraisal is to stop doing it; yes, stop it and stop it now. Join the growing movement of people and organisations that are doing something different and better.

While you are at it you can also get rid of every job description that you can find; have a celebratory shredding session as you liberate yourself, your people and your organisation from the oppressive regime that these documents bring. I’d recommend a bonfire, but fires are dangerous and smoke pollutes, so while it might be fun it’s probably best to just shred it all and put it out for recycling.

The way forward is to replace the job description with something that clarifies each employee’s role in the organisation and shows why this person – and what he or she does  – is important. It will also set out how they will get continual feedback on their role and how they will be able to give feedback.

Instead of the appraisal there will be regular conversations where the supervisor or manager will spend more time listening than talking, and will be about how the employee contributes to organisational goals, what they find hard to do and how things can be made easier for them to succeed.

John Bowen is an FM consultant