Are Performance Appraisals really the Grinch that Stole Christmas?

Truth be told, I am yet to meet a team all eager and waiting for their appraisals – work or otherwise really. Whether it’s the weekly touch base with a line manager, a monthly evaluation or annual overview, most do not look forward to appraisals. Maybe it’s because it has become an opening for something other than an actual review:


Or perhaps it’s the fear of failing as one would a test. A fear ingrained in us since we were old enough to know you get a cookie when you shine and a pass, or worse, when you do not. So possibly it is more psychological than anything else. However, it could also be largely because most performance appraisals are becoming less and less holistic. However, performance management is, by all means, a necessary evil so to speak.

We need to know how we are doing if we are ever to get what we want to be done: done – are we heading in the direction that we ought to be? Do we have all we need and do we know what we need to do? (Unfortunately, in most cases, the latter two are seldom given as much consideration as the former). The race to continually achieve meaningful bottom lines and the increasing need to throw in words like ‘streamlined’ and ‘successfully delivered’ into every board meeting power point presentation means we are prone to focus less and less on the people and more on the systems, tasks and duties. All these despite the fact that the people are in the real sense a constant, major determinant of the overall performance.

The bottom line is and always should be, people matter and not at the expense of the organisation or as much as the organisation because it’s really not a matter of one or the other if the people are the organisation, now is it?

So how do we change this narrative?

Today’s fast paced work culture gives quite the thriving ground for orderly amnesia – everything moves so fast that it becomes increasingly difficult to remember every detail. Remember that thing you did that got you a string of glowing congratulatory emails, and maybe even a mention in the office newsletter or the top boss’ address for the quarter? Remember that idea you had that saved the business a lot of time and money or that extra hour you pitched in to help the team get the annual sales reports ready for the big presentation the next morning?

Well, if it takes you more than a minute to list a couple of your ‘fireworks’ moments in the last year, I can only guess that some of them missed their appearance on your annual appraisal. They were not included in your review because you couldn’t recall all of them well enough to document them and most likely, neither did your boss. Your achievements, though well deserved, were recorded in the annual reviews and appraisals somewhere but perhaps, with little or no credit to you or worse, to someone else entirely. Sound familiar?

You cannot recall in great detail all the pros you piled in a fiscal year at its end, great as one mind can be. Unknown to many, lacking material to toot your own horn when needed works retrogressively. If you can’t remember what highs you attained, you don’t suppose your line manager – also supervising x number of employees under his docket to remember; now do you?

So when that annual self-evaluation form is sent around at some point of the year, and you cannot adequately defend your turf what happens? Mostly two things really. First, you lose out on credible career mileage and second, always risk having your achievement passed as either someone else’s (malicious intent or otherwise) or an overall team result which honestly leans more in favour of management often without due recognition to the individual (who did not remember to claim it anyways). And therein comes the spanner in the works. You get frustrated for not receiving due recognition. Whether in the form of an end year performance based bump or that move to the next pay grade. Maybe even that corner space you’ve been eyeing that someone ‘less deserving’ just negotiated for because they mentioned they came in early two days in a row to help on a project you have been volunteering on also – every morning for a month now. But who knew?

For anyone interested in mobility, upward or otherwise, recalling and openly expressing past victories or challenges overcome whether at a job interview or appraisal can be one of the things to let you on the other side of the door. It’s not a call to memorise events, but one to recognise that you are best placed to be your cheerleader. How? These may be a good place to start.

For you:

  • Document, Document, Document

Whatever means you will prefer to use, keep tabs on your own progress. We have been cultured to shy away from clearly stating what we are good at and what we have accomplished because it is many times mistaken for a show of pride. However, you are your best advocate, and you need to speak up for yourself more. Not for pride but for progress. When given the platform, you need to be able to have the information you need to toot your own horn. For what use is a horn no one blows through?

  • Use the Data

The documented milestones, good and bad, can be very helpful in charting one’s course. We need to understand ourselves better and what better way to do this than to consider our triggers for success and failure?  The workplace is becoming increasingly competitive, and you need to chart your own growth. Using the data trends from your own self-observation is a good way to have a clearer vision of what contributions you have made to the department, let you know if  and where you’re slacking, help you think of other ways to engage and of course, give you useful information to defend your turf and even ask for improved terms when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Recognize others

Never shy away from sharing the stage. Many feats will not be accomplished alone. It is not only just but rewarding to acknowledge those with whom you toiled; even when the event could pass as your own. In the long run, a good turn will deserve another, and you need to remember that one does not soil the plate he will need tomorrow. People give to people so appreciate those you scale the mountains with for a time will some when the same people will give you your leg up.

For the manager:

  • Be proactive and list it:

We get it; you have a lot on your plate. But how about listing at least two highlights of each of your employees’ achievements in the fiscal year. No one expects you to have every detail done but being equipped to give a thought through appraisal when called for not only guides an employees career growth curve but also, reflects well on your interpersonal and management skills. It also encourages you to actively engage and observe your team through the year and in so doing; you garner a lot of information about the processes and the team dynamics that feed into your planning and klanking processes as well. Win-Win, no?

  • Ditch the critical incident approach to evaluations:

It does boost team morale to have a manager who sees each team player holistically and does not selectively consider events therefore only focusing on the most recent success or failures.

  • Boost your own morale:

At the end of the day, having enough ammunition on what your team achieved under your guidance not only looks good on you but the department as well. This may open up opportunities for greater responsibilities for you and broader horizons for the team due to demonstrated stewardship. Say no to amnesia, know how well your team is playing and be ready to show it.

Do I think performance appraisals should be done away with? Not at all. I firmly believe they can be a critical tool in strategic management if considerable thought is put in its structuring. If we all care enough to let it work for us. Even more so, what I do think is needful, is an evaluation of what we believe to be our role in the process. Performance appraisals are not necessarily the Grinch that stole Christmas. Whether in management or not, we all need to understand that the process can work for us, if we choose to use it and not passively watch it influence our flow.



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