Performance appraisals help employees to understand how managers view their work, but if they only occur once or twice per year, this feedback can be a source of extreme stress. Ideally, the annual or semi-annual formal appraisal process would only serve to summarize points that have already been discussed through the rest of the year. Informal appraisals can be performed more frequently and with greater impact. Examples include standing meetings between the manager and employee, providing immediate feedback for achievements and challenges, establishing and tracking performance metrics, and incorporating team appraisals.
Managers can schedule recurring meetings on a regular basis with each employee to review employee progress, provide coaching and address developmental gaps. The goal is to promote improvements in quality of work and employee development. The frequency of meetings might be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, but will be dependent on team sizes and other factors. If employees are able to meet regularly with their managers, formal appraisals will be less stressful, because employees already know what to expect and are less likely to be surprised by their annual review.
Another approach to informal appraisals involves providing immediate feedback about events as they occur. The manager approaches the employee to celebrate achievements or address challenges. Employees who are immediately told they've done well after successfully completing a project or task will know what to do to get the same results the next time around. If they are also immediately told of a problem, they will be more likely to recognize what went wrong and change tactics for future assignments. These should not be one-sided discussions, as employees should be given the chance to express their own thoughts. Managers should use these sessions to explore opportunities for development, building employee confidence and competence.
Annual performance appraisals should be based on establishing goals that can be assessed by a series of performance metrics. An example might include targeting a 10 percent reduction in the number of errors, or a 10 percent increase in sales figures. The metrics should be revisited on a recurring basis throughout the year to track progress. Actions can then be adjusted to keep the employee moving successfully toward meeting the goal. This technique is designed to measure change and recognize specific areas that may warrant added coaching. The metrics review also promotes accountability for employees as they work to meet measurable and well-defined goals.
Appraisals are typically thought of as a means to assess the performance and growth of individual employees. But in most organizations, work is accomplished by teams and success is based on the performance of the team. This can be reflected by a project initiative or an ongoing, team-based operational activity. Management can introduce periodic team performance reviews designed to provide feedback, as well as motivate and address any problems the team is encountering. At the end of a project, managers and team members benefit from revisiting these reviews to identify both positive and negative events as lessons learned to drive continuous improvement.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.