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HR Insights 

5th May 2013 
 
Returning this week to our theme of 'Performance Management', we will start to think about the area of Performance Appraisals and will begin by looking at the 'less than helpful' approach to these. From time to time, I share the following examples of how not to provide feedback to someone; 
 
Since my last report, he has reached rock bottom and has started to dig. 
His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity. 
He would be out of his depth in a puddle. 
This young lady has delusions of adequacy. 
She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them. 
This associate should go far - and the sooner he starts the better. 
This associate is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot. 
 
These are said in humour, but the reality is that many people see appraisals as an opportunity to denigrate a persons performance and believe that remarks such as these are appropriate in a performance appraisal. 
 
My earliest recollection of performance appraisals were that they lasted between three and five hours, usually done in two parts (no one can stand that amount of negative feedback in one hit) and the purpose of them was for my Manager to berate me for everything that had gone wrong in the department over the course of the previous year - irrespective of whether what had gone wrong actually had anything to do with me or not. 
 
At one stage, I was told that I was ineffective and inefficient because I didn't know every single payscale and paypoint off by heart... At the time, I was working in the NHS prior to 'Agenda for Change'; when there was ten 'Whitley Council' Handbooks and every staff group and grade within those groups had an individual payscale - so, about 100 payscales in total - which were updated every April. Whilst I guess that John Von Neumann or Swami Vivekananda - both renowned for having eidetic memory would probably have found this task extremely easy; people with an average memory capacity would find this extremely challenging to say the least. 
 
At this point, it became clear that my manager was in fact bullying me and others in the team and was using a legitimate appraisal process as a tool to damage self esteem. A year later; having 'escaped' that role, I found myself in a new job with a much more supportive manager and all too soon it came round to appraisal time again... On the morning of my first appraisal with this manager, we shared a lot of laughs as we attempted to take the workforce planning figures that we had been given by managers in the hospital into something that was realistic and cohesive. We then went out for a relaxed pub lunch and then at 2 00pm, we returned to his office to commence my appraisal. As soon as I sat down, I became tense and that feeling of dread returned to my stomach as I felt that the lunch I had just eaten might not have been such a good idea... My anxiety and tension did not go unnoticed by my new manager, who could not believe the difference from the relaxed person he had been working with that morning, to the person who was sitting in front of him now; and the process was paused whilst we explored what was going on for me at that moment in time... 
 
Once I had explained to him what 'appraisals' meant to me, a weight was lifted from my shoulders and we were able to proceed with what turned out to be a highly positive appraisal experience; one where my achievements were recognised and the areas where I still needed to develop were identified in a constructive manner that enabled the identification of ways in which these could be addressed and improved upon. 
 
So, when Appraisals are used badly they can become: - 
 
Divisive and a source of workplace tensions 
Damaging to an individuals' self-confidence and esteem 
A trigger for a negative, downward spiral for the individual concerned 
Demotivating and demoralising 
 
... All of which will ultimately adversely affect the overall performance of the team and the business; which will in turn have an impact on the 'bottom-line' of profitability or on service-delivery... 
 
When used in a positive and constructive way, the opposite will of course be true and next time, we will look at the positive side to performance appraisals... 
 
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