Some time back, I composed a couple of newsletters that basically proposed the elimination of performance appraisals. Needless to say, these were the most opened newsletters we’ve sent to you. These were also the most controversial, not because of the belief that performance appraisals are the best thing since sliced bread, but because it will take too much darn work to get rid of them. And, as I said last year, your question is probably what are we gonna do instead!
Okay, so assuming that you are going to keep your appraisal system, how can you make it better? Well first of all, start by stopping something. Stop reworking the questions and the numbering system. Whether you are using a 1-3, 1-5, or 1-10 Likert scale doesn’t make a bit of difference to the recipient of the appraisal. Also, the questions you already have are probably good enough in that different questions aren’t going to work big magic anyway.
What employees want to know—and which is really the key to performance improvement is this:
-Do I have a sense of belonging here (do people care that I am here)?
-Am I competent (do I have a sense of effectiveness, control, and mastery)?
-Will you help me achieve these two things or are you going to hammer me when I don’t?
If you can remember something fundamental about humans it is that we have an amazing tendency to strive even under adverse circumstances. History, literature, and movies repeatedly recount and depict this. At the same time, most humans will protect themselves from personal disapproval and rejection with near equal tenacity. The outgrowth of this self-preservation can vary from withdrawal to acting-out, and none of the responses are particularly positive.
Performance appraisals inherently carry the possibility of disapproval via low numbers and personal criticism of one’s work.
So what to do?
1. Keep the appraisal items as they are.
2. Replace the Likert scale with blank spaces for feed-forward comments and goals.
3. Keep thinking of ideal future performance rather than looking back at what went wrong. Think of yourself as a teacher.
4. Meet fairly often instead of once a year. Keep the meetings short and pleasant.
5. Focus on character strengths, not weaknesses. Make sure the individual is in the right job/the right role. Job fit is when the characteristics, traits, and attributes of the individual closely match the requirements of the job.
6. Show people you care about them: ask about their family members, ask them what they are interested in, ask them whether you are being the kind of leader they need you to be, find out their hobbies, interact, interact, interact.
7. It’s OK to have an honest conversation with the individual about a job-fit mismatch. Just because I want to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon doesn’t mean I’m well-suited to do so.
8. Trust that most people will rise to the occasion and reveal their strengths when they feel accepted for who they are. A sort of magic occurs in the workplace when people experience a feeling of safety and trust.