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April - 2007 - issue > People Manager
The Wonder World of Performance Appraisals
C Mahalingam (Mali)
Friday, March 30, 2007
It is appraisal time in most organizations! And it is characterized by rising temperatures, anxieties and apprehensions, hurried and half-hearted conversations and decisions around performance ratings that are not always accepted as resulting from fair and transparent processes.

Appraisal Review sessions are like going to a Dentist!
Have you ever seen anyone going to a dentist with a smiling face? Rarely ever. Appraisal review sessions in most organizations create the same level of anxiety (and enthusiasm) as going to a dentist. There is, however, one difference. When you go to a dentist, it is very clear as to who the patient is and who the doctor is. But when it comes to performance review sessions, both the appraisee-employee and the appraiser-manager behave like the patient; no smiles, anxiety writ large on the face of each one.

< b>Now, what is common between a Motorcycle and the Appraisal Process?
When you speak to HR folks and line managers about what happens to these appraisals that come through after anxious and animated discussions, the situation gets scarier. It reminds me of a billboard advertisement I saw many years ago of a then newly introduced motorcycle. The message was around how trouble-free and comfortable the bike was. The billboard read: “fill it, shut it and forget it!”

That is what happens to most of the appraisals, if employees are to be believed. The forms are filled out; they are then closed with some signatures and finally filed and forgotten. The motorcycle advertisement of yesteryears applies equally to the modern day appraisal process as well.

Appraisal Process can be very satisfying and motivating
Good managers know that an appraisal process does not have to be as difficult and disappointing (as mentioned above). In fact, if handled well, the review sessions can be fulfilling and motivating. And like with any other skill, it comes with practice. Good Managers have made a habit of doing good appraisals. They prepare well, deliver the review in a manner that enables the employees get a 360 degree perspective into their contributions; their strengths (competencies & attitudes) that helped them contribute and their weaknesses (lack of competencies and unhelpful attitudes) that hindered them. Effective managers do this in style, through a process of feedback that helps employees reflect and relate.

What do these managers do that make them so very effective?
They follow some simple rules and follow them religiously:
1. They consider the appraisal review session as a culmination of a year long of work, planning and review. They clarify expectations and do so every time there is change in the context.

2. They provide feedback on an on-going basis and do not reserve it for the year end. The appraisal discussion and the consequential performance rating does not come as a surprise to their team members, but something the latter can predict and understand.

3. They listen to the employees more than talking themselves. In good appraisal review sessions, managers talk only to facilitate reflection and clarify apprehensions. They do not argue, shout down or even rebut.

4. They invite feedback. They shatter the myth all the time that the appraisal review sessions are meant to engage in one-way feedback from the manager to the employee.

5. They sandwich negative feedback with positive feedback. They understand that employees do not resist feedback per se, but only suspect feedback that is exclusively negative as if there is no good in the employee

6. They never complete the review sessions without asking two very powerful questions. The first question is easy and the second one is really tough. It takes a lot of courage on the part of the manager to ask the second one. But they know they will benefit a lot from showing this courage and asking both the questions:

* First Question: Please tell me three things I must do in order to make you more effective in your job.
* Second Question: Now, please tell me three things I must stop doing to make you more effective in your job.

7. They clearly differentiate between obstacles to performance that are within the control of the employee and outside of their control. They commit time and support to help the employee manage these obstacles

8. They keep track of their commitments made to the employees and follow through to their closure

9. They show a genuine interest in the learning and improvement of the employee beyond the work and annual goals

10. Finally, they play Pygmalion! When managers play Pygmalion, they not only demand extraordinary performance, but also do everything they must, as managers, to facilitate, provide resources, coach and thereby create an environment for such a performance.

In the final analysis, performance appraisal sessions can be made very rewarding both for the manager and for the employee. All it takes is an attitude of preparation, positive approach, and genuine interest in the process and in the employee. And all this cannot be faked at the time of appraisal. Either you have it in you as a manager or you don’t. The good news is all of us can unlearn the bad habits and learn the good ones.

If you are committed to making the appraisal session a great experience for your employees, do it and show it. After all, it all about choices, for you and your employee. You choose to do a good job and your employees stay. You choose to do a lousy job, and your employees have choices – often outside. Good luck as you rush to your next appraisal review.

The author is Sr.VP-HR with Symphony Services Corporation. He can be reached at mahalingam.c@symphonysv.com

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