Year-round performance appraisal – how do we actually make it happen?

This year has been all about ‘ditching the performance appraisal’. This does not mean simply moving away from paper but really changing the culture of your organisation away from a once-yearly ‘tick box appraisal’ to something more organic, meaningful and ultimately more effective – a year-round performance management approach.

Let’s face it, many of us dread performance appraisals in its current guise. However, wanting to change the process is easier said than done. This blog looks at the challenge, with practical guidance on how you can actually make change happen.

Accenture; Deloitte and even GE who were particularly famous for their commitment to forced ranking have all ditched the annual appraisal recently in favour of a more ongoing approach. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this means appraisal is dead. Instead, it is more of a change in style away from backwards-looking, once yearly meetings that simplified an employee’s performance down to one performance rating (often ranked against their peers). These meetings are being replaced with more regular employee-led check-ins with a feedback and development focus. Here at Actus, we have always advocated the importance of the one-to-one in supporting high performance (as you can see from the illustration below). However, if this change in process has not happened in your organisation, read on…

So what is different with year-round performance appraisals?

  • Frequency – little and often, ideally monthly and at least quarterly but shorter and more focused (think one-to-ones)
  • Future-focused – Solution-focused, review last quarter and reset/agree on goals for next quarter
  • Feedback and development orientation – a forum for two way discussion, including both positive and developmental feedback

It sounds easy, but to achieve this we are usually talking significant behavioural and culture change for many managers, particularly in this fast-paced world. We have to motivate managers to prioritise time with staff. Recent research by the CIPD suggests that on average, managers spend less than 4% of their time in one-to-ones with staff. This may mean being clear about that side of the role or simply recruiting more people with the ‘people gene’.

We also have to equip managers with coaching skills and give them the ability to be open about performance. They have to learn new habits, spotting opportunities to deliver good quality feedback both positive and negative and overcoming the discomfort of addressing performance issues full on. We also must allow staff to take the lead in driving these meetings or at least making them two way.

If you are not convinced by our cl, bear in mind the potential business benefit of this new approach. Adobe has reported a 30% decrease in voluntary attrition and a 50% increase in involuntary departures — people who weren’t meeting expectations are now dealt with more directly and quickly instead of being able to hide until the next performance cycle.

How do you actually make it happen?

Let’s not kid ourselves that managers who were reluctant to do once yearly appraisals will suddenly bounce around with glee at the prospect of being expected to have more frequent honest conversations with their staff. Many of them just don’t have the skills as the standard of people management in the UK is still letting us down. Ineffective management is estimated to be costing UK businesses over £19 billion per year in lost working hours and 43% of UK managers rate their own line manager as ineffective (BIS, 2012). It seems that little has changed – borne out by the fact that the UK productivity gap is reported to be the widest it has ever been in 2016.

year-round performance appraisal

Steps to help you achieve year-round performance

Year-round performance appraisal is fundamentally about culture change and the following steps will help you on the way:

  • Involve the organisation – Find out what people like/don’t like about the current approach to performance appraisal. Ensure you make the link so they feel it was their idea.
  • Gain clear senior sponsorship – This is about moving the responsibility for delivering year-round performance appraisal from HR to the organisation. Senior managers must be prepared to lead by example and hold their own managers and teams to account.
  • Develop your managers – Give them the skills to coach for development, provide quality feedback and address underperformance when it happens. Support them in practising and developing the confidence to manage all types of performance constructively.
  • Be clear about the new expectations – Define what a good check-in or one to one looks like. Don’t be vague or you will simply go backwards, as managers are too busy for regular “check-ins”.
  • Monitor and follow up – Having set new expectations e.g. 6 weekly check-ins, you need to be able to monitor that these are happening from the start. You will also need to address those resistant managers who are hoping it will all go away. You need real-time visibility of who, what and when meetings are happening to do this effectively. (Our software Actus is great for this of course!) And you need to use all your powers of persuasion to get a commitment from all managers. Recognise and hold up those who have embraced it as great examples and offer help to those who are struggling. Failing that, engage the sponsors and get them to kick butt!
  • Align HR processes – Generate tangible benefits from these ongoing conversations by ensuring that development and training planning is also real-time. So, when development needs are identified, they are addressed quickly, reinforcing the benefit of an ongoing approach.

Management support

Depending on the size of your organisation, it’s unlikely that you will be able to embed year-round performance appraisal on your own. Ideally, you need Champions from within the management population who will take this concept and run with it. Whatsmore, you will always need a change leader or two from HR to help improve the process along the way. As it becomes more embedded, you can layer on enhancements around talent management; recognition, well being and career progression. Done well this is the start of an Organisational Development Strategy that can deliver real benefits for all.

To find out more about how Actus Performance Appraisal Software can help you to embed year-round performance, arrange a demo by contacting us below.

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