The purpose of an appraisal process is to optimise the success and contribution of each employee, with a view to ultimately maximising the performance of the business.  While the theory is fine, in practice appraisal systems too often don’t’ delver on their purpose and end up with a bad name.  Frequently businesses do not get the full benefits from their appraisal processes because managers make one or more basic mistakes.

Here are just a few of the most common pitfalls to avoid.

  1. The board and other senior managers think that appraisal is ‘for everyone else’.  For appraisals to be successful, they must be lead from the top and clearly linked to the business’ strategies and goals.  Leading by example is key – if you are a senior manager and don’t take appraisals seriously, then why should your managers?
  2. Nobody is accountable for implementing the appraisal process properly in the first place.  When implementing an appraisal process, appoint a project manager to implement the new process.  They can report progress and completions to the board so that everyone knows and understands progress.
  3. Implementing a highly complex / comprehensive system.  Making a system complex or difficult to understand will instantly turn off managers and staff, so start with the basics first.  Use a simple paperwork system to record targets/objectives and an annual (or biannual) review of achievement.  As managers and staff recognize the value of the process, more ‘features’ can be added in such as a 360° appraisal.
  4. Have a system that ranks staff.  Ranking your staff will kill an appraisal system.  It is often easier for an individual to improve their ranking by undermining the performance of others than it is to improve their own performance.  The result of this is destructive and divisive ways of working.
  5. Setting vague or inappropriate targets.  It is vital to set clear and realistic performance targets, and not ‘simply do your best’.  How will you or the individual objectively measure whether they have ‘done their best’?
  6. Having conflicting targets and measures.  It is important to have congruent targets and measures across the organisation.  For example, a target to reduce purchasing spend may seem an appropriate target for the purchasing manager.  However, buying ‘cheap’ parts may conflict with an operation manager’s target to improve the reliability and output from their production line.
  7. Reviewing performance inadequately, for example by focusing on one specific incident rather than reviewing the entire period which the review covers.  Also avoid the “halo” and “horns” effects. Just because an employee performs badly in one area does not make his/her overall appraisal bad.  The same goes for good appraisal.  The key to successful reviews is to gather factual data about an individual’s performance and then assess it objectively.
  8. Not providing adequate development support for staff.  One key aspect of the appraisal process is the development of staff to provide them with the capabilities to achieve their targets. People can only improve their performance if they are given the right opportunities to learn and develop.  This may be in the form of on the job guided learning or on a formal management training course.  Businesses that ignore this step do so at their peril.

As stated above, the purpose of an appraisal process is to optimise the success of each employee and ultimately the business.  By taking steps to avoid the aforementioned appraisal pitfalls, managers have every opportunity to realise this goal.