It is that time of the year again where many of our clients are getting ready to complete their annual performance appraisal cycle. This is a process that (in many companies) seem to bring with it feelings of dread, when in fact getting honest, clear and constructive feedback is critical for personal development and realising your full potential. It should therefore be welcomed and embraced with excitement.
Whether you are required to give feedback or to receive feedback, here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of your performance appraisal process:
- It is good business practice to send out a company-wide communication in advance of the process commencing so that everyone is reminded of the purpose of the process. This communication can include a number of the guidelines below and should reflect the targeted timelines within which the process needs to be completed.
- Managers who are expected to give feedback should be coached to assist them especially with potentially challenging sessions. The intention of the performance appraisal process is not for the manager to choose the path of least resistance (by giving undeserved good grades) or to get even (by giving poor grades).
- The business should have a mechanism to deal with managers who do not adhere to the timelines. I know of organisations where managers forfeit their own annual increase in the event that they do not complete the process on time.
- Ensure that you are thoroughly prepared for the discussion. Preparation is not only the responsibility of one of the two parties involved. Both have an obligation to be thoroughly prepared. Make sure that you have all your facts and necessary supporting documentation readily available. Where applicable, get input from other stakeholders that regularly interacted with the employee in question.
- Schedule sufficient time and make the necessary arrangements to avoid interruptions.
- Remember that giving feedback might sometimes be as difficult as receiving feedback.
- Talk with facts and give examples to ensure understanding. For example, what I consider appropriate attire for a client meeting and what someone else would consider appropriate may not be the same thing. However, if we clarify what we mean through the use of examples and allow opportunities for people to ask clarifying questions, we can achieve a common understanding.
- Remain unemotional.
- Carefully consider the feedback you receive. Not all feedback will necessarily be 100% valid. This is a difficult one, because there is a very fine line between distinguishing what is invalid feedback that you should not internalise and being arrogant. Take your time to go and think about what you have heard and if you put yourself in the other person's shoes, why they may have formed that impression of you. Schedule follow-up sessions if need be to continue the discussion and get clarity.
- Balance giving recognition and giving constructive feedback on focus areas for improvement. A good guideline is to highlight five things that was done very well or where good improvement was made and three areas that need to be improved in future. Remember that nobody is perfect, so we will all have areas that we can improve on. Don't take constructive criticism as a personal attack. Be grateful that someone believes that you can be more and better than where you are today. If you experienced actual performance issues, apologise if needed.
- Giving feedback should not only happen once a year. At any time during the year, people should have a very accurate view on how they are performing and if they are progressing in the right direction or not.
- When discussing focus areas for improvement, try to put an action plan together on how the deficiencies can be addressed (reading, training, coaching etc.). Creating an action plan may need to be addressed in a separate session.
- The discussion should be focused on the period under assessment only. People should not be labelled with preconceived perceptions and they should be given second chances where appropriate.
- Before any final ratings are communicated to team members, ensure that there is consistency between the various departments. Often some managers rate stricter than others.
The performance feedback process is an investment of time and energy. Make sure that you get value out of the process so that the benefit exceeds the investment made. It is all up to you to utilise the information received, learn from it and come back even better! It is a wonderful opportunity to discover more about yourself and work on your future. Enjoy the process!