An introduction to running a better appraisals process

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Appraisals give managers the chance to review salaries and provide valuable feedback on staff performance. Yet these meetings often feel forced and uncomfortable, with both manager and employee eager to get them over as quickly as possible.

A Gallup survey found that only 14 per cent of employees feel motivated after a performance appraisal.

A poor appraisal process can even have a detrimental effect on your business. Adobe looked into staff appraisals and found that people often cried (22 per cent), looked for another job (37 per cent) or quit (20 per cent) as a result of a review.

It’s time for change. This guide will provide an introductory overview of how you can run a better appraisals process, from common mistakes you might be making to quick wins. The next stage will be to follow the five steps outlined in our dedicated action plan.

What factors influence your appraisals process?

The rise in agile work environments

As technology and markets change quickly, business leaders are increasingly prizing agility over rigid structures.

The CIPD’s Shaping the Future research defined agility as the “ability to stay open to new directions and be continually proactive and helping to assess the limits or indeed risks of existing approaches”.

This need for agility is a key reason why many believe annual appraisals aren’t useful. Staff need more regular feedback for businesses to be proactive.

Staff have different expectations

Workplaces are no longer a place just to clock in and out of – most employees want to be stimulated and engaged in what they do.

That means having a manager who is invested in their progress, provides timely advice and supports continued learning. These are things that annual appraisal processes struggle to facilitate.

Technology allows for more streamlined systems

Performance management software and apps provide companies with a process that’s more streamlined and user-friendly. Rather than burying data in written documents, the use of technology makes it easily accessible.

This lends itself to a system that can be updated throughout the year. Staff can check on their goals and managers can monitor performance and record progress in real-time.


“The traditional appraisal system was not fit for purpose for us. Six months for detailed feedback is just too long a time period to work with staff in a meaningful or dynamic way. We implemented a continuous feedback system where staff take 15 minutes to review their performance each week and managers take five minutes to review that feedback.”

Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4

The cold hard facts

What’s the average number of hours a manager spends on a performance review?

In one study, managers at Adobe were spending an average of 17 hours per review – yet more than half of office workers reported that performance reviews had no impact on how they did their jobs.

Common mistakes that impact your appraisals process

You don’t have managers’ buy-in

One of the biggest mistakes companies make with appraisal processes is not getting management buy-in.

An effective performance appraisal rests on how engaged managers are with the process. Managers will spend more time preparing for appraisals if they believe in the value of them, which results in a more worthwhile and constructive experience for staff.

If your managers believe appraisals are a waste of time then there’s a good chance your process will fall apart.

Questions rely on subjective opinions

Most businesses use open-ended questions in appraisals, for good reason – questions have to apply to everyone at the company, regardless of their level or job.

The problem is, these questions are often too broad to result in useful, comparable data about the state of performance across your organisation.

Questions like: “Describe how the employee’s performance met your expectations” relies on each manager’s subjective expectations. This makes it hard to measure performance in different teams and assign relevant bonuses.

Too much focus on the past

A common mistake is focusing the majority of the appraisal on past behaviour, rather than future development and actions.

While it’s important to reflect on the good and bad of the previous period, these things are in the past. Appraisals should prioritise what the employee can do to contribute to company goals and progress in their career moving forward.

No follow-up to check on progress

The purpose of a follow-up session is to check your employees’ progress against the goals you set in your appraisal meeting. However, this part often gets forgotten about.

As a result, managers miss out on the opportunity to keep the line of communication open and check whether employees have taken any advice on board.

“We’ve introduced self-evaluation forms for feedback. We try to accentuate the positive and let the employee do the vast majority of the talking. Obviously, it’s a great time for them to open up to us and for improvements to be made across the business. I think it’s key to understand that the meetings are an opportunity to focus on performance and certainly not personality.”

Matthew Hulbert, head of operations at Finnmark Sauna

The cold hard facts

What five words do UK workers most associate with annual appraisals?

Respondents to a YouGov survey of 874 workers described their appraisals as time-consuming (39 per cent), pointless (39 per cent), stressful (29 per cent), useful (26 per cent) and supportive (24 per cent).

Quick wins to run a better appraisal process

Increase the frequency of your feedback

If regular feedback isn’t encouraged, managers may save up praise and criticism for annual appraisals – so it’s no wonder many employees feel stressed going into these meetings.

Increasing the frequency of your feedback gives managers the chance to provide timely information that your employee can learn from straight away. This should not only help them to work more effectively, but managers can discuss potential issues before they grow into something bigger.

It’s a good idea to put a structure in place to get managers used to sharing feedback more often. Monthly one-to-one meetings are always a good way to open the channel of communication between managers and employees.

Another option is a “continue” and “consider” email. This approach divides behaviour up into positive things an employee should keep doing (“continue”) and areas they could change or improve (“consider”). It’s a simple approach, but prompts managers to give both positive and negative feedback.

Book in time to prepare for appraisals

A quick win to run better appraisals is to ask managers to set aside time to prepare for them.

Too often, client projects take priority over internal meetings like staff appraisals. Remind your managers that appraisals are just as important and they should book in time a few weeks in advance to focus on preparation.

They will go into the meetings better prepared as a result, and your employees will get far more out of the process.

Survey your employees

You can spend weeks trying to improve a process, but there’s no guarantee of success if you don’t know where to start. A quick employee survey will find out where the biggest pain points are with your current system for appraisals.

Find out:

  • What your employees find useful about the current system
  • What they don’t find useful
  • How often they would like the appraisals to take place
  • Any specific improvements that they would like to see

Remember, anonymous surveys are likely to receive the most honest feedback.

Ann Chambers, HR Director.JPG

“When planning an appraisal, calibrating concise feedback from other members of the team can be valuable to measure each employee fairly. Naturally, some managers may be slightly ‘softer’ on how they rate performance, so calibration supports a more level playing field and lessens potential bias.”

Ann Chambers, HR Director at Wessanen UK

The cold hard facts

How do you think different age groups respond to performance reviews?

Interestingly, preferences for performance appraisals vary between age groups. One study found that millennials fear performance reviews the most and prefer more frequent feedback. Baby boomers, on the other hand, prefer less frequent feedback and are more comfortable with traditional appraisal processes.

What to do next?

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