Why are do ‘Performance Management’ and ‘Performance Appraisals’?

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This was a key question at a recent networking event and forum, where the desire was to find a new way to implement performance appraisals and performance management in a way that was productive and engaging.

We often find that when talking to clients about another area of our expertise, namely, 360 degree feedback, that this question of ‘Why are we doing this?’ is more readily discussed and easier to identify.

This is because the concept of conducting a 360 degree feedback process is a conscious decision for the organisation; it might support a leadership development programme or be part of an assesssment centre initiative – in any case, it is evaluated with a specific purpose in mind.

However, when it comes to performance appraisals, this conversation doesn’t always happen, because there are just accepted as ‘something we have to do’.

As a consequence, it can become easy to focus on the process and the detail of performance appraisals, without really considering what you hope to achieve with them.

Once there is a clear understanding of what you truly want performance management and appraisals to acheive within the business, ideas as to how you can make them productive and engaging become much easier.

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When to show the 360 degree feedback report?

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This post is provided by Linda Doe, following an exchange of emails where we disagreed on when to hand over the feedback report.  My comment on the post will follow!  Many thanks to Linda for providing the following:

"A question I am asked often is: but when do we show the person their 360 feedback results? Before they have their feedback session? Or wait until they get there? There is no one answer to this, it’s a question of judgement. But generally, I advise that reports should be given to individuals about a week in advance fo their feedback session, providing of course that the 360 views are non-attributable to the individuals who have contributed.

Why? – several reasons. Because there should be no harsh surprises with appraisal data: if managers and apprasiers are on-the-ball, any serious relationship or management issues should be dealt with in a timely fashion, on an ongoing basis, not left until yearly appraisal.

Often the fear of upsetting or difficult responses is greater than the reality: in my experince of helping companies with appraisal, more often than not, responses to 360 are helpful, constructive and – and here is the important bit – need time to sink in for the individual to appreciate their impact and to prepare and engage in discussion about them. Further, appraisal at its most effectrive should not be a top-down, management-led tool: individuals need to be highly engaged in its process and buy-in is essential. How can someone prepare for their appraisal session, contribute meaningfully, when they are seeing the results for the first time at the session? The apprasier has not only the unfair advantage, but this also sets up a "teacher knows best" scenario.

My advice would be to place appraisal carefully in the culture of the organisation, so that no nasty surprises emerge…and if on those rare occasions that they do, make sure the data is sent to the individual accompanied by a telephone call or note of reassurnace that "everything will be discussed fully when we meet". If you are really worried, then last resort is to show the responses at appraisal interview - with an explanation of why.

On balance, its better, in my professional view, to risk the odd sensitive set of responses being misunderstood, than to perpetuate the "manager knows best" top-down approach. That said – if your organisation has avoided difficult and sensitive issues – watch out! – they will certainly emerge with a good, confidential, 360 tool and process.

From, Linda Doe, Chartered Business Psychologist, www.psychatwork.co.uk

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Grading on performance appraisal forms

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In my corporate life I was very used to an annual grade on my performance appraisal.  Indeed, many years on I can still remember some of the grades I got – I certainly don’t remember my objectives or development plan items!  The annual grade is very common but, of course, very controversial.

Commonly we see two sorts of grade.  A numeric grade (1,2,3,4) or a narrative grade (Strong performer, Competent, Development required).  What we see less commonality on is how this grade is determined.

In a forthcoming white paper on performance appraisals I will spend some time on the merits or otherwise of the annual grade.  For now, I am simply looking to describe options for creating such a grade.

End of the form grade

Still the most common, there is a simple drop down box of options that the manager selects from.

Calulated average

Seemingly growing in popularity, we see grades calculated from other ratings on the annual performance review form, or built from grades in interim reviews across the year.

Suggested calculated average with override

A late entrant, but increasingly a request, is to calculate an average within the system and then give an option for the manager to override the calculation – normally with a forced narrative option to explain the discrepancy.

Forced distribution

All of the above options can be subject to a forced distribution (e.g. 20% of people will be an A, 40% will be a B, etc.).  Some form of scoring drives this distribution which can be across the whole organisation or across departments.

360 degree feedback influenced

From scoring on 360 feedback, the annual performance review grade or evaluation is influenced or calculated.

Our view

I have to say our view is not set in stone here.  In an ideal world I suspect we would avoid the annual grade – it can be distracting and it can be more controversial than it is useful.  But, if you are going to run performance related pay (a debate in itself) then a grade is likely to form an element of the review process.  I believe then that having followed a sensible process, managerial discretion is required on the grading.  Whether that is assisted – through averaging – isn’t actually that important.  

With such an important topic area, training is the key to ensuring the managers’ are able to apply the chosen process in a fair manner and in a way that achieves the performance appraisal process objectives.


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CIPD 360 degree feedback factsheet

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The CIPD factsheet on 360 degree feedback is a very useful summary from a well respected organisation.  I would suggest that you won’t go far wrong following their guidance.  You will find our own whitepaper has a great deal in common with their recommendations.

I was just reviewing the factsheet – someone had referred to it in a blog post.  One item that struck me was "360 feedback should not bring any surprises to people".  I suppose that is true in theory but I have to say that in practice I find people’s 360 reveals something that the individual was not previously aware of.

I can see the point of this statement but I would be cautious of working from that basis.  Because there is the possibility of surprise, you have to take the debrief process very seriously and competently.  If 360 only summarised what we already sort of knew then emailing someone their report would be fine.  Because it does not – you need a trained person to give that feedback.


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Making Performance Appraisals easy..

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I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review which made me  reflect on how placing performance appraisals on-line made things easy for everyone concerned, and here’s why…

It discussed how lasting behavioural change can often come about through changes to ones environment.

The author described examples from everyday life, where for example, he moved their garden furniture to outside their patio doors rather than in the garden – suddenly where they once aspired to eat outside and enjoy the weather, but didn’t because the table and chairs were ‘too far down the garden’ – they found themselves eating outside all the time….why?

He attributed to the simple fact that it was perceived as being ‘easier’ to do it….just open the patio doors and sit down!

The act of making the environment more conducive to sitting down outside, made it more likely to happen.

He extends the same observation to work life; if you can make it easier for people to do something, or have them perceive it as being easier, then there is a greater chance of them doing it.

He cites many examples but not unsurprisingly my interest was in the comment regarding making day-to-day tasks simpler by using technology; for us this is the most straightforward argument for on-line performance appraisals – it just makes things easier.

We consistently see improved completion rates, higher levels of engagement, and a more cohesive approach to appraisals because on-line systems make it easier to administer and use.

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CIPD poll on performance management and economic crisis

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Interesting set of poll responses in this CIPD article.  It highlights the general view that managing performance is critical now (and I suspect always has been).  Reading between the lines though I see a potential shift away from a heavy handed approach to performance management and better recognition that it is a task of ensuring understanding, alignment, and setting expectations.

I believe unrelatedly, we have seen an increase in performance related pay discussions recently.  Performance Related Pay (PRP) is a topic in itself of course and there are many arguments against its ability to deliver improved performance.  I believe in situational management of performance.  For some clients PRP sends a message that the process is being taken seriously that other methods simply can’t deliver.  Often organisations with a history of poor performance management find this to be the impact solution they require. 

If we take that "impact need" from the equation I would be slightly suspicious of PRP as a method of improving performance.  Rather I would look to management capability, coaching, systems and processes, clarity of goals and objectives before implementing PRP.  PRP can be a hammer looking for a nail some times.


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360 vision – a useful viewpoint

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I was talking with a friend about 360 vision in sport.  A rugby league fan, he referred to Phil Larder – a former England coach – as stating that the key to developing peripheral vision is by ‘understanding’ the images which appear outside the central vision.

Sometimes we get asked "why do 360 degree feedback?".  For anyone interested in sport this may prove a useful perspective.  Many manager’s have blindspots.  They build a self-image of themselves as a manager – often encouraged by others and reinforced through promotions.  They believe that their one style will fit all and that all team members are responding well to this style.

360 degree feedback can develop their self-awareness and understanding of how team members perceive them; providing them with a fantastic insight into how their management style impacts on others.

When debriefing 360 feedback we often look to see what level of self-awareness the individual has.  When you meet someone who is aware not only of how the majority of people see them but also those people not always on their immediate radar then you know you are working with an impressive individual.

I suspect Phil Larder was referring to something quite different.


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Development times, appraisal times

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I have a fledgling thought about the merits of separating the annual performance appraisal process from any personal development work that comes out of a competency based feedback process – such as 360 degree feedback.

The thoughts come from the different mindset that I have seen in people when they are being assessed – particularly with a link to pay, compared to how they approach a conversation about their personal development.

I suspect that to make this effective you would have to separate that development that is linked to targets/goals and that development that is linked to personal capability or competence on a broader level.  The former will often fall out of an objective setting exercise whereas the latter tends to fall out of 360 feedback.

We notice a number of clients making 360 feedback part of the performance appraisal process – some during the annual review but many deliberately at a different time of the year.  I am coming to favour the two processes not being linked.


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Social Networking – A way of spreading best practice in Performance Appraisals

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Given the fact that we have a rapidly growing base of some 30,000 users accessing our on-line performance appraisal and 360 degree feeback systems every day, I was keen to attend the recent Social Networking Forum at Olympia this week.

We have a community of users that already interact with us regularly and with the technology changing at such a fast pace, this ability to listen, engage and respond can only improve.

The media often skew the picture around ‘social networking’ as being the domain of Facebook or My Space and alike – as a consequence, it can be perceived as something that adds little value to the day-to-day productivity of an employee and subsequently the organisation.

However, the idea of establishing network of individuals who can help each other, pass on knowledge, and experience that relates to their work makes perfect sense.

With some careful forethought, one could establish communities that actually create efficiencies and improve productivity through sharing best practice on many tasks that are common to most organisations; one such area would be performance appraisals.

As with worked with so many different clients, we often share best practice through our discussions as we advise, guide and suggest ways to implement an online appraisal process.

To open up this discussion to a wider audience both within the client organisation or between organisations could help to create a new standard in performance management and appraisals.

Now, let’s have a look at this thing called ‘Twitter’……!

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Sharing a 360 Degree Feedback report…this is the one key thing to remember

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Enticing a title as it is, with the promise of one key thing to remember in sharing 360 degree feedback reports, there is a grain of truth to it!

Having run another of our one-day training programme, ‘Conducting effective 360 degree feedback debriefs’, I reflected on what was the key thing that most delegates appeared to take away from the day.

It centered around one of the first topics within the programme, which is to ask ‘What is the purpose of the debrief?’; this in turn, has the delegates explore what their role is within the debrief.

The key fact is that the debrief is not a coaching session, although coaching skills may be deployed; similarly, it is not a counselling session, albeit that appropriate support of the individual is required; and finally, it is not a mentoring session, you are not there primarily to offer your insight or experience..

So, what is the purpose of the debrief?

It is to ensure that the recipient comes away with a balanced understanding of the feedback they have been given.

In doing this, you as a debriefer look to raise their level of self-awareness and ensure that there is a degree of acceptance of the feedback.

I think this is best illustrated with the following simple image:

360 Degree FeedbackDebrief v Coaching
Your role is to primarily allow the recipient to explore the feedback, raise their levels of self-awareness and take responsibility.

It is all too easy to jump over the line too quickly and try to have someone set goals, take actions, etc before they have had that chance to reflect and accept the feedback.

Resist this temptation in the debrief and the indvidual will reap the rewards.

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