Taking the dread out of performance appraisals – Part 1

There are two words that spark dread in the hearts of most professionals – performance appraisal! It is a system by which organizations measure employee’s productivity against a pre-specified job responsibility. Frankly speaking, no one likes to be on the hot seat of being evaluated! However, it’s a constant reality for most of us. Newly hired employees get appraised in the at the end of their probationary period, established employee’s also get appraised periodically to assess productivity and compensation, and managers get appraised, by the senior management, on their leadership skills and their ability to mobilize their teams to achieve pre-specified target goals. Even company executives get appraised on their leadership and profitability of the company they lead by the board of directors and shareholders. Preparing for performance appraisal can even become nerve-racking especially when considering its use to determine who get rewarded for being productive (e.g., promotions, bonuses, etc) or who gets sacked, especially during economic downtowns when organizations make difficult decisions about their work force. 

In coaching several professionals across multiple industries, I have listened to many complain about the subjectivity of performance appraisals and how negative feedback has ruined their chances for success and left them in a career rut. While I don’t doubt that subjectivity play an important role in performance appraisal, I have realized that many have a limited understanding of what performance appraisal entails. In fact, most professionals think performance appraisal is all about compensations and job security, but it encompasses more than these two points. According to the legendary Harry Levinson, performance appraisal provides an avenue to provide feedback to individuals about their work performance, serve as a basis for quality improvement at individual or corporate level, and provides evidence to identify top performance and inform compensations and promotions. Ignorance about what performance appraisals can be your Achille’s heel that limits your effectiveness and opportunities for career growth. Before getting into strategies for getting the best out of a performance appraisal, we need to first unpack strategic meaning and functions of performance evaluation. 

The marketplace is a performance-driven work environment.

For those who struggle with performance appraisal, it’s important to know that the marketplace is a performance driven environment where productivity is interpreted with respect to value delivery. No one gets rewarded by the number of degrees or professional certifications you acquired. It’s about the extent to which you can meet or exceed expectations about your pre-specified job responsibilities. Therefore, performance appraisals are not meant to reward you based on how long you have been in a role or how long you have been in a company? It’s all about what you bring to the table. In what ways are you adding value to your team or organization?. When last did you check your appointment letter to review the expectations about your positions? Is there an alignment between your daily work responsibilities and your duties outlined in your offer letter. Have those responsibilities evolved in the past year? Are you and your manager/supervisor on the same regarding your expected responsibilities and those day-to-day actual duties?

The performance appraisal and personal development.

One commonly overlooked function of performance appraisal is the opportunity to provide feedback to the employee on his/her performance. Most times, performances are appraised based on the outcomes or target job responsibilities, but a truly robust and meaningful performance appraisal will not focus on the achievement of target goals alone, but it also provides a 360-degree evaluation that might include feedback on areas of strengths and weaknesses based on feedback from team members, managers, and clients. Such feedback can be a gold mine that can set you on your way to success.  For example, such a robust appraisal can spur conversations about the aspect of your works that needs improvement and how to set personal development goals for the next appraisal period. Losing sight of such important feedback while complaining about missed promotions or bonuses can be damage careers. 

The performance appraisal is a two-way street.  

Performance appraisal is a two-way street. While managers and supervisors provide feedback and appraisal of employees’ performance, employee can provide important feedback on grassroot perspectives about the organization, business processes, and challenges in discharging their duties too. Wise managers and executives will pay attention to such feedback and use such information to tailor support for each staff member, optimize the organizations’ business processes, improve customer relationships, and ultimately increase profitability. This creates a win-win situation for both parties Having an employee-focused, lopsided view of performance appraisal can rob an organization of the rich insight their employees can bring to the table. 

Performance appraisal and compensation. 

Performance appraisal processes are directly linked with compensations in most organizations. It can serve as a tool for identifying high-performance employees or rewarding productivity across board in an organization. Compensation packages might include salary increases, bonuses, more flex hours, promotions, new facilities (e.g. corner office), paid professional development opportunities, among other things. Such compensations incentivize employees by assuring them that their contributions to the organization is valued and that their growth are assets to your organization. Compensation packages can also serve as a way retain the top performers from being poached by other organizations, especially in a competitive market situation. 

In summary, performance appraisal is more than just negotiating compensations. It’s primarily about exchange of feedback between employees and employers in way that optimizes the growth and progress of both parties.