Welcome to the annual a**e kicking!

This is a quick blog on the hoof, because 140 characters on twitter was not enough to make my point. I was involved in a twitter track in the early hours of the morning with a good friend from America @KarlaPorter and a few others. The subject of our heated tweets, appraisals.
My view is that the appraisal system is an essential part of employee development. The problem, like most of the managments ill’s is not in the process but in the delivery. Sadly it’s often done badly and is massively demotivational when it should be the opposite.
In my old firm i had the task of overhauling the system for this reason. We refered to the appraisal as the annual a**e kicking because it was purely a collection of the various shoeings received throughout the year (and in this culture there were many) delivered by one giant boot over 2 hours or so, followed by 2 minutes of a well done and a degree of pay review/promotion. They were also delivered every February and i spent all of February completing the 100 or so appraisals i had to deliver. My feet were sore from all that kicking and the staff felt awful!
Then we turned the system on its head and got a great return from it.
The monthly performance review is the place to talk about performance, so we banned it from appraisal. The staff already knew how well or badly they were doing as we told them often.
The new process was the opportunity for the employee to appraise the company and us, as the management. This takes broad shoulders but if you listen you get to hear things you need to know, and many changes came about this way. There also needs to be no recriminations or defensive stances, or else the process fails.
The meeting focussed on the future. The apraisee set the agenda around where they wanted to go over the next 6 months (12 is too long) and laid out what they wanted from the company to make this happen, and what they were prepared to do themselves to make it happen.
We changed the schedule to avoid management “death by appraisal.” They happened every 6 months from the date of joining and they ALWAYS happened at the time and date scheduled.
The meeting was set to discuss and not to resolve. It was an opportunity to start the discussion, not to conclude it, and the meetings concluded with action points on both sides. We also banned all talk of pay because this clouds the conversation. Your unlikely to be critical of your boss, then ask them for a pay rise!
This process was hugely succesful and is one i have now implemented with many of the recruitment companies i work with. You can download the forms that go with the process from my website in the “free download” area.
In conclusion, appraisals are absolutely essential for employee engagement, but it is their meeting and not the managements. The process is sound, but the delivery often lets it down.
I hope we continue the debate at The Recruiting Unconference London on 19th November. It is just the kind of open debate from which true solutions evolve. Book your place and bring your views, we want to hear them.

13 comments on “Welcome to the annual a**e kicking!

  1. This is an excellent topic for lengthy conversation. As you know bill, i am not a fan of appraisals, performance reviews, or whatever name they chose to go by. It seems every decade a new appraisal system is developed. I’m curious to know, if monthly performance feedback is given to employees and the annual appraisal is for employees to provide feedback to the company, how this is beneficial to either.

    I am in favor of open dialog and open doors and team and personal goal setting. A good Manager who has a pulse on his reports and has frequent and open dialog with them will have these conversations all the time. I would never wait a month to have a conversation with someone reporting to me. And on the other hand, if I as as employee have ideas, feedback or commentary for the company or my Manager, I provide it as it occurs, I would never wait.

    I think we have to keep thinking… thee isn’t a Manager or report that I have ever met that enjoys the appraisal process, giving or receiving them. Therefore, they suck.

    We can do better. Why don’t you try to come up with something at #trulondon and report back? I can’t wait 🙂

    Cheers ~ Karla

  2. The title you chose for this post, “Welcome to the Annual Arse Kicking,” is reminicent of a refrain from a song from my favorite 70s band “The Allman Brothers,” It goes a little something like this: “sometimes I feel like I’ve been tied to a whipping post, good Lord I feel like I’m dying.” Great song, but not a great feeling when it’s your boss with whip in hand, degrading you for all your hard work. There’s nothing more deplorable than using 360 instruments/employee appraisals as a tool to cause injury to another human being. Either train the employee, coach the employee or the terminate employment. But don’t berate employees, and use 360 tools to allow other employees to berate each other. The way 360 tools have been distorted and misused in the US . I am astounded, so please understand why so many HR Professionals here are disenchanted by the current “appraisal” system as it has its flaws. Not all 360s are bad in organizations, nor are all appraisal systems flawed. Back to your discussion with Karla, it’s not necessarily a future event or a past event. It’s performance event. Whether we are setting s.m.a.r.t. goals to establish bench marks for key performance indicators, or assessing the past to evaluate progress; as HR Professionals, we still have a lot to learn. There is a vast cultural difference in HR here. Take for example the recruiting business. In the US recruiters work almost exclusively for the employer who pays their fee. From what I’ve learned from you and Mervyn is that in the UK recruiters are stakeholders in the wellbeing of their candidates. Ok, I digress from the topic. What I’m trying to say is there is a different view, and way that appraisals are done here -vs -in the UK. We are treading stormy water when sweeping generalizations are made. Each company culture determines the process by which appraisals are handled. Each vendor has a different method, tool etc. Most vendors believe theirs is the best. Is there a best? I’m not sure? But I am sure of one thing, there is a wrong way of doing appraisals. The first thing new medical students learn is “first do no harm.” I wish they taught that freshman year to HR majors in US and UK Bill, don’t you? I loved the conversation tonight between you and Karla. It was an interesting exchange of ideas.

    I agree the the best take away from any appraisal meeting are goals for accountability. In the team training programs I facilitate, my goal is to build trust, accountability, and recognition. Without trust-there will be neither productivity, nor accountability. I would like to see a shift toward Recognition. I wish I could attend #trulondon. I’ll be reading all your tweets. It’s the next best thing to being there.

  3. Ah-this is a case of poor leadership execution if you ask me (thanks for asking)- I believe strongly in process and appraisal- the reality is is should not be an event, nor a surprise if communication between manager and employee is great. If Coaching and development is happening throughout the year, and feedback on progress is given, and feedback on items to focus on is provided- and career discussions happen informally and throughout as relationships of trust develop… the event itself should be a non-event regardless of the tool used?

  4. Why can’t we all just get along?

    Oh that didn’t work with the LA cops. I probably won’t work with a really tough bunch like this!

    Here is my take on performance appraisals:

    1. I think measuring performance is important.
    2. Most organizations seem ill equipped to do it well.
    3. The ones who get it have gained a competitive advantage, especially when strategic objectives and performance measurement and compensation are aligned.
    4. None of what I just said applies in the financial services sector. There, it is just an incentive to steal money.
    5. For reasons like these and more, I hate performance appraisals.

  5. Wow! What a great thread this is turning into!! I take same pride as it was a tweet from me regarding a piece in HR Magazine on appraisals that kicked the whole thing off…and it’s testament to the strength of twitter and the passion of the HR/Recruitment networks that even on a Saturday night, the issue got bandwidth and seems to be growing.

    It’s interesting that on the one hand HR do not appear that keen on performance reviews/appraisals as they are at the moment – however spending most of my time interviewing experienced HR pros, I would say that when I ask candidates for 3 or 4 key achievements where they added value, probably 90% will cite an overhaul of performance management/appraisals as one of those key achievements.

    Returning to the base material, research showed that there were 4 areas in which about 40% of employees felt appraisals fell down:

    1) Talent do not feel engaged or recognised because managers don’t take appraisals seriously
    2) Appraisals fail to give employees effective objectives for the future
    3) They fail to provide a roadmap for the development of Talent
    4) They do not feed into broader promotion and reward

    Summarising then, if employees have appraisals/performance reviews, they want to come away from them feeling recognised and engaged, with objectives for the future, and a clear path for their personal and professional development. Oh, and they want to feel that positive appraisals have an impact on pay rises and promotion.

    Seempls!! (as a current, very popular series of UK TV ads featuring an East European accented Meerkat may say!!)

    Seriously though, those findings are probably not that surprising…so if there are to be appraisals then the challenge would appear to be to design a process that delivers this. Performance management may well be something different, delivered separately, though the appraisal may well set out the goals or framework by which the employee would like to be measured.

    As a last point, I am intrigued by who delivers these meetings. HR generally believes, and I am sure conventional wisdom would also say, that it would be the line or departmental manager who deliver these, and I would agree. I note Bill that you delivered over 100 appraisals a year, yet were the Director of Training. I think that this is interesting and would love to know the reasoning behind this…I can certainly see the relevance of you being involved in the issues regarding personal and professional development, training needs and identifying areas in which someone may need to be upskilled in preparation for a promotion.

  6. Instead of a manager making time for constant reviews, how about empowering employees to review their own progress? If they know what is expected and their are metric associated, they can measure their own performance and there are no surprises. Takes a bit of doing for the boss to make the individual performance statements, but what a time saver, long term. Plus, everyone is on the same page all the time. Why haven’t we done this in more companies. It empowers to employee.

  7. Mervyn,
    To answer your question, while i had the title “Director of Training”, a more appropriate title might have been “Director of everything not owned or wanted by anyone else!”. In a growing business, and we grew from 30 to 460 staff in 12 years, this covered a lot of areas from traditional HR, performance management, new branch openings, management development, appraisal, process and procedures, new branch openings, corporate sales, PR and communication even IT implementation. As a seasoned recruiter you know that a title means very little, it’s what you actually do that counts!
    In our business the policy was that every appraisal was delivered by the line manager and a senior manager/director. As there were 5 Directors this meant splitting the appraisals between us and i got the lions share, hence 100+ each February.
    Having a senior manager in the meeting gives credence to the importance of the meeting, allows the senior management team to get real feedback and act on it, as well as occasionally acting as mediator between Manager and employee.
    Hope that answers your question, i comment as a practitioner rather than observer on HR issues amongst others.

  8. Great comments everyone. Each of your comments struck a chord, and made me think, which is what intellectual dialogue is all about. Here are my after thoughts: I like the open door approach. Feedback ought to be a just in time, in the momentexperience that triggers a teachable moment. If your annual appraisal is a suprise, the risk is it could be too late. A performance appraisal should never be a surpise, nor should it be an arse kicking.

  9. What a great topic. I have two points to make before I give my comment:
    1. I think feedback is critical to long term employee engagement
    2. I have not found any company that “gets it right” all the time. Some have more skill at delivery of feedback, others do not.

    I think a good discussion at #trulondon will be IF the current method of delivering feedback in a majority of companies is not working, what IS the direction company leaders and HR should take to improve it?

    I agree with Karla that there is no magic number of times to give feedback. The best feedback is given immediately (or at least within a couple days) whether that be positive feedback or constructive feedback.

    The closest I’ve come to seeing a process that worked was in the accounting industry. Each employee was assigned a “coach” upon joining the firm. Once they got to know people better, they had the option of switching to a different coach. The coach was someone that the employee did not report to, but was a manager level or above. Throughout the year, the employee worked on many different clients and projects. At the end of each project, the supervisor for the project filled out something akin to a “progress report”. These were delivered at the end of each project.

    At the end of the appraisal year, the coach would collect and read all these reports, talk to each person the employee worked for that year, and read the employee’s self assessment. The COACH, (an impartial person) would write the appraisal based on all the data.

    All coaches would then meet together over a couple days and talk through each employee’s performance before the appraisal was discussed with the employee. Also, near the end of the appraisal year, we had an anonymous upward feedback system so that employees could comment on the performance (in a constructive way) of their supervisors. As HR, it was our job to help people learn how to give tough, honest feedback in a way that was not a personal attack on the boss. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect system, but a majority of employees, myself included, loved the way it worked. I never spent one day working there where I didn’t know how I was doing.

    I’m interested in how this conversation progresses and think it’s discussions like these that make us all better at what we do.

  10. Peronal experience.

    I have an annual appraisal this week. For my part, I have commented on my view of my last 12 months, covering:
    – Achievements
    – Where I think my performance improved
    – Difficulties I have encountered
    – Thoughts on fees/assigments/clients/changes
    – Goals for the next 12 months, personal & professional

    In the meantime, our HR team have taken feedback on me from 10 colleagues and fom a cross section of candidates and clients. My Business Head will likewise have discussed my performance with other members on the management team.

    We’ll be together for about an hour…by the end of the appraisal we would have covered my performance and agreed my goals, I will know what the business expects from me for the next 12 months, and any plans they have for me. I will know about my annual bonus (as per my own blog post, my annual bonus is based on the feedback of candidates, clients and colleagues) and pay rise.

    We’re a small business, so there is an informality about the process which encourages open, 2 way discussion. Although we are recruiters, I am not measured on any metrics or KPIs.

    Having said that, I echo Debbie Brown…I do not expect anything in the meeting to come as a surprise. I meet monthly with my Business Head, quarterly with HR, and being rewarded on feedback ensures that (hopefully) there shouldn’t be any shocks on that side either.

  11. Well now, hows about I roll up my sleeves a little more here. I’m not coming from an observer’s view here. While a Call Center Manager I was responsible for writing an delivering 60 annual reviews. Not 100 (Bill) but still a significant number. Additionally, I held monthly 1-1’s and provided weekly statistical performance data to all of them. On a daily basis I listened to random calls, observed and checked work and provided instant feedback.

    On the HR side of the fence later down the road at the same company I was responsible for co-managing the process for for 300+. It’s just not popular…

    Where I work currently, I’m in the process of analyzing, ripping apart and revamping all HR processes. It’s like a scene from Mad Max.

    I would love to sit around with all of you here to discuss and perhaps come up with a new model or at least a revision of something current. However, right now, #powernapsrule is calling me…

  12. Well, as an ex HR pro im with the ladies here 😉 Performance appraisals have been around since the dawn of management time it seems and apart from the introduction of the 360, there has been little in the way of innovation!

    The overall problem with appraisals from my perspective is that:

    1. they focus largely on the negative or shortcomings or weaknesses

    2. timings – annual reviews are too far apart as others have mentioned here

    Point number one though is the key issue for me. David Beckham (English footballer!) is great at scoring goals. If he was crap in goal or defence, do you think his team captain would stick him in goal for 6 months “to work on his weaknesses”? Eeerr.. No! Of course not. He’s where he is because he puts balls in the back of the net and no one cares about his lack of ability to keep goals out of the net.

    We spend so much time wrapped up in weaknesses or gaps and ignoring strengths. There is now significant research that shows a team made up of individuals that are playing to their strengths outperforms a normal team on every commercial level/measure. More time spent on working out how we can best leverage peoples strengths and less time on crafting another beautiful appraisal process so you can impress Mervyn next time he interviews you, would make more sense to me and be a better use of HR time!

    As others have mentioned, constant ongoing dialogue and feedback is the key, and a relationship open enough for that dialogue to be honest and authentic is fundamental. And that’s where a lot of managers and leaders struggle as they don’t seem to be able to foster that kind of relationship or environment.

    As Mervyn has mentioned, we still have a formal appraisal process which, unfortunately is also tied to remuneration which i don’t like. But, because our dialogue is ongoing, regular etc etc there are no surprises.

    In fact, for me, these sessions are an opportunity to discuss the relationship with clients and customers and their feedback which forms a significant part of the process.

    I do think its time we reviewed the performance appraisal process but not simply to re invent it. Its time for something different!

  13. Okay now I have to weight in here…like that wasn’t going to happen.

    I most often see people on their way in to the organization and on the way out. Unfortunately before become the Uber cool fantastic Sourcer that you all know and love, I was the Toronto equivalent of the Angel of Death. Yup, I look contracts doing mass terminations.

    What struck me the most in those incredibly depressing days was that the one comment I got most from employees being terminated was “I had no idea, I thought I was doing a good job”. At which point I would start to cringe.

    I think as organizations we actually started the appraisal process to mitigate litigation … I mean let’s be real, we do like to manage people’s performance and make them faster, stronger and better, we have the technology, but in reality we do performance appraisals in a lot of cases to make sure that when we terminate the employee our asses are covered.

    I’m not saying that it’s right….in fact I as well believe that with a good manager you should receive constant feedback, and it should be a two way conversation. The best managers I ever had never did a formal appraisal…heck, I still talk to them about my career goals and I don’t work for them anymore.

    That’s the ideal, but let’s face it, those folks are few and far between. So we have to set a system in place to make sure the super sucky managers have to give their employees feedback at least once a year. OH, and to make sure the don’t completely fu@k it up we’d better build an airtight process around it with defined competencies and little radio buttons to click.

    Wish it wasn’t so, but it is. Sad isn’t it.

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