7 Tips on how to better prepare managers for performance appraisals

For leaders, performance appraisals often constitute a delicate walk between navigating an employee’s emotions the right way and meeting the objectives of the review. While the intent is always to motivate superior performance, feedback from managers can be misconstrued by the reviewee, leading to sub-optimal results.

It is the organization’s responsibility to adequately equip its leaders to strike a constructive and long-term conversation around appraisals with their people. Here are 7 things organizations can do to help their managers effectively conduct appraisals:  

#1 Provide holistic information to managers, including organizational growth goals

To lead performance appraisals effectively, it is important that managers understand why it is done and how it adds value to the organization. Constructive appraisals call for deeper reflection – beyond just a year’s review - on where a team stands vis-à-vis the larger organizational game-plan. For instance, why was a reviewee hired, organizational performance graph over the years (at least past three) versus the goals, response to changing business dynamics – are some of the aspects that managers need to understand to construct a comprehensive set of parameters for the review.

#2 Chalk out a robust appraisal strategy

It’s important to sketch out the strategy around appraisals to help managers stay on track. For instance, defining framework where goals and expectations are set early on and further reinforced through a continuous feedback mechanism could be an effective appraisal strategy. Such a framework ensures that accountability for success is equally shared by the manager and the reviewee.
 
#3 Set up performance planning sessions

A ‘Performance planning’ session is an exercise with a narrow focus such as defining specific employee goals and manager expectations. Ideally done at the beginning of the year, they help set clear expectations. In addition, such sessions also assist managers gauge their team members’ career goals and aspirations –  creating a larger impact by synergizing an employee’s inclinations with the company’s business goals.

#4 Make coaching part of manager’s KPI

As a business layer that’s in constant touch with what’s happening on ground, it makes sense that line managers become the first coaching intervention for an employee. They are the ones who understand their business unit’s goals and how it all adds up to create organizational value. It’s important that this knowledge cascades down. Coaching team members to appreciate the larger business goal should therefore be an important KPI for the managers.  

#5 Provide training on delivering negative feedback

As surprising as it may sound, studies show that employees do not mind receiving negative feedback as long as it is delivered the right way. Conducting role play sessions can empower managers with effective tactics:  how to help employees understand the problem and its impact, exercise patience when there are denials, and correlate performance issues with attitude problems.

#6 Create an appraisal template that’s star performer friendly

Spotting high performers is a challenge that several managers grapple with. Experts say the solution might lie in rejigging the conventional performance review process - from setting a low benchmark to one that begins with outstanding performance. HR can help set specific descriptors to drive performance expectations, a tactic that a typical rising star will respond to.

#7 Sensitize managers on non-verbal communication

It’s important that managers go through sessions that sensitize them about communication emanating out of body language. Reviewees are listening to not just what their managers say but also what they don’t. Body language - the tone, expressions, emotions – reveals a lot, and people are quick to catch and interpret those. Self-awareness can go a long way in avoiding communication gaps.

Clearly, appraisal is not a one-time activity. A structured long-term approach comprising constant interventions and engagement with teams along with the right amount of learning can help managers make appraisals a welcome activity.

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