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By: Radwa Badr

Nothing can trigger pangs of unease for a manager like a pop-up reminder telling you that it is time for the annual performance appraisal process to kick off. Performance appraisals likely should take second place as the most dreaded process for managers and employees alike (first place having been reserved for communicating termination notices).

Despite the initial negative feelings when hearing the words ‘performance appraisal’, it is a fact that most individuals would rather hear the truth. However, even though we prefer honest and candid feedback, not everyone looks upon feedback occasions with pleasant anticipation.

So just why is it that managers and employees have so many misgivings regarding the performance appraisal process? Let us start with the forms used to initiate this process. The intent behind performance appraisals is to have a candid discussion with employees to talk about how they performed during the year and what can be done to improve performance. What we find, based on the preferred organizational method, is that managers are provided with a standardized and sometimes onerous format of what they need to ask and how to assess each employee. Providing input on performance, employee perception and line manager’s input can raise some very thorny issues.

A performance appraisal session that started out with the intent to be objective can turn personal very fast. Managers can fall into the trap of evaluating the employees’ characteristics and behaviors, instead of their actual work performance during the year. Managers are more often than not, totally unprepared to deal with the range of emotional responses that appear because of a difference in perception. When performance appraisals do not go as planned, it can create a difficult relationship between the manager and the employee for quite some time. Recovering from a bad performance appraisal process can be just as painful as recovering from a breakup.

if your line manager is telling you that you are not showing enough enthusiasm and positive energy when you consider that the outward signs of absence of enthusiasm have in no way diminished your ability to deliver or even exceed the expected results. As you sit there listening to this feedback, your mind has already wandered off to the start of the year trying to piece together situations where you could have been more enthusiastic? You then start to think this feedback would have been great if it had been explained that overt enthusiasm was a parameter to be considered in assessing performance. It would have been perfect if the feedback had been shared earlier in the year, or on the spot, rather than waiting for the end of the year to bring it up. As an employee you start to blur the distinction as to whether you are being assessed for what you have delivered to the business during the year, or for your general demeanor during delivery.

Equally, employees may walk into a performance appraisal with a belief that the entire process is management-driven, in the sense that the employee has no say in the ratings of his or her performance. As an employee you may be given the attempt to share your own feedback and push back on what you see as a misconception on the part of the management, however, in most cases the process is a one-way street where the role of the employee is to accept management’s decision on their performance.

As you skim through human resources literature, you will find that there has been a movement to abolish performance appraisals altogether because many people feel that they just do not work. However, in the absence of any other reasonably objective means of assessing performance, it appears that for now the performance appraisal is here to stay. So, what can we do to improve the process and make it more bearable? As managers we can begin by being timelier in giving feedback. There is no point in waiting till the end of the year and leaving an employee in the dark if there is an opportunity to help redirect the employee to a more productive outcome.

As a rule, in life, the more you do something then the more likely you are to keep on doing it, so feedback needs to be featured into all team interactions and made part of the normal operating mode. Performance appraisals need to be a positive experience by interspersing positive comments with areas for reflection to present a balanced picture. As we all know, it is much easier to say positive things and highlight on what has been done well, rather than on areas that need developing. However, even developmental feedback can be given in a positive light, if it’s done within a balanced scenario and in a positive spirit.

Happy performance appraising to you all!

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